Wanna Have a Party? (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

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Maddie, my daughter who just turned three in August, is ALL about celebrations, especially birthday parties. She had seen birthday celebrations on cartoons and been to a few parties where presents were opened, but this past summer was the first time she really got into it. And, by got into it, I mean she goes all out. Cooper, one of my sons, has a birthday at the end of June, so when I asked Maddie if she wanted to go to Party City with me to get balloons, she was practically out the door before I even had her shoes on her.

A three-year old in a Party Store is like Pastor Steve at Dogfish Brew House. So many amazing things to choose from, you can hardly pick! On my list I had balloons and candles. I mean, Cooper was turning 17. We are past the goodie bag stage. But, that nuance was/is lost on Maddie.

By the time we left, we had:
~4 mylar balloons and 6 latex balloons, in rainbow colors
~A package of leis – Yes, like you would wear at a luau.
~Beaded necklaces – Yes, like you would throw during Mardi Gras. Apparently, jewelry is an essential element to Maddie’s party planning.
~Birthday hats – Which she insisted we wear, despite our continued removal of them, because the elastic kept pinching our necks.
~Celebratory plates and napkins.
~Chocolate candies that looked like little baseballs and lollipops.
~Candles, which were on the list originally.
~Confetti party poppers – which her brothers had previously taught her about.
~Crepe paper

We also made an ice cream cake. From scratch. Well, mostly from scratch; we didn’t churn the ice cream. Cooper doesn’t like cake, but he does like ice cream, and since she insisted that he needed a cake I found a recipe the Pioneer Woman for an ice cream cake, which included three kinds of ice cream, two layers of cake, chocolate magic shell, sprinkles, M-n-Ms, and mini Reese’s cups. 

It’s amazing we all didn’t go into a sugar coma.

Maddie made a little party bag for Cooper with the candies, she set the table, helped hang the streamers, balloons, and Happy Birthday banner (which I had saved from previous parties), made sure that everyone would have necklaces and a hat, and taped up pictures she had colored all over the walls.

She was so excited! More excited than Cooper, I think.
And so, when he finally arrived home from baseball practice, she could not contain her joy, her love, her happiness. She had waited and waited and finally – here he was to celebrate with her. This brother of hers, who wrestles with her, lets her snuggle on his bed with him, and makes her giggle with wild abandon, he was home.

Before he could put his bats and glove down, she had grabbed him by the hand, showing him all the decorations, and was proclaiming, “We made a party for YOU!”

Her enthusiasm was contagious. You couldn’t help but feel the joy and delight she had for Cooper. Cooper may have been a bit embarrassed and much of it was over-the-top for a 17 year-old’s little family birthday dinner, but there’s no denying he knows how much Maddie adores and loves him. She pulled out all the stops to make sure he knew how very special he is.

Everything she did served one purpose: to invite everyone else into her joy.
Rejoice with me! She says.
My brother is amazing! Rejoice with me!

The funny thing is, my birthday is 6 days after Cooper’s.
And then her beloved, Aunt Tami’s birthday is not too long after mine.
So, for each of those special days, Maddie decorated, and sang, helped blow out candles, and made sure that person knew how very special they are to her.
Rejoice with me!
For those who love me. Rejoice with me!

And finally, at the end of the summer her dad returned home from deployment. She made a sign, put her final sticker on her countdown calendar, and was wide-eyed with wonder when she was finally wrapped in his tight bear hug.
“You came home,” was the first thing out her mouth.
Rejoice with me!
For what I love has been returned. Rejoice with me!

As I mentioned at the beginning, Maddie also had her birthday this summer. Her primary request for her birthday party: a pinata.
And so, we suspended a corny, papier-mache donkey-type vessel from the rafters of our vacation cabin just to satisfy her need for celebration. And, she loved it.
What’s not to love?
A pinata’s sole purpose is to rain down candy on all those waiting, creating laughter, delight and delicious mayhem.
In the eyes of a three-year-old, this may be the ultimate expression of JOY.
In the heart of a three-year-old, a pinata is what the Kingdom of God is like.

Now, it’s true that I went to seminary for four solid years to study scripture, explore religion, and figure out God (which was basically a vain effort), however over this past summer a three-year old has taught me more about the importance of celebrating the good gifts of God, holding fast to them, and seeking out opportunities to rejoice and revel over them, than seminary ever could.
Or a sermon, for that matter.
I guess, that’s why I’m sharing this all with you.

Now, we make a party almost every day. Or I should say, Maddie makes a party.
And honestly, it can get a little annoying, because everyplace I look there are stuffed animals having tea parties, scribbled pictures taped upon the walls, and random ‘decorations’ strewn across the table. I find half eaten animal crackers that her stuffed animals have ‘eaten’ and stickers inside microwave.

I mean, who has time for so much party-making?
Only three-year old’s.
And God.

Well, I’m relatively sure the Maddie has more free time in her schedule than God does. I think God is pretty busy with minor things like: gravitational pull, worrying about poverty and war, and finding lost sheep, however… scripture is pretty clear on this:
Rejoicing and celebrating are high priorities for God.

The amount of energy Maddie devotes to celebration can, at times, seem excessive and out of proportion to the occasion (or seemingly lack of occasion), however God’s love, Jesus insists, is extravagant in just this way.
In just the way of a three-year old insisting on throwing a party just because ‘you came back,’ even if you only went on a quick errand to the grocery store

The way God sees it is: the world is more full, more beautiful, more interesting with you in it. Even if we’re wayward lambs who’ve wandered into danger; even if we’re coins lying forlorn under a dresser; even if we’ve utterly lost our way, collaborating with the Empire. ‘Even if’ all of that…
You’re worth celebrating.
Rejoice with me in that Gospel truth!

In fact, according to God, restoration, redemption, and wholeness is not complete until some rejoicing gets under way. So, put on your party hat, slice a piece of cake, gather your friends, and invite them to join in this thing we call life.

Or as Maddie puts it, “Wanna make a party with me?”