This Party Is for You

At one point during the BBQ, a parishioner walked up to me and said, “America needs this.” 

Connor Gwin / 7.5.22

Last spring, our church held a party after Sunday services. It featured a huge BBQ feast (with three different sauce choices!), bounce houses, a trackless train, live bluegrass music, a shaved ice truck, and a bubbleologist (look it up). It was a great day with tons of people of all ages enjoying the day together after worship. 

At one point during the BBQ, a parishioner walked up to me and said, “America needs this.” 

One of the side effects of the past decade is the dividing up of Americans into different groups. Social media and advertisers have neatly defined us into political, demographic, and social groups. Of course, it is not simply the fault of advertisers. Humans have always divided ourselves into in-group and out-group. It is one of the ways we survived the wilds of our not-so-distant history.

But something new is happening. New technologies and social media are exploiting our primal desire to be a part of the in-crowd. Jonathan Haidt wrote about this phenomenon at length in a recent piece in the Atlantic. In it, he quoted CIA Analyst Martin Gurri who said, “The digital revolution has shattered that mirror, and now the public inhabits those broken pieces of glass. So the public isn’t one thing; it’s highly fragmented, and it’s basically mutually hostile. It’s mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.” 

We are divided. We are living in different bubbles, different versions of reality now. Or so it seems. 

All of this explains the well-meaning man and his observation that a huge lawn party is “what America needs” after years of pandemic isolation and political division. But as he made his comment, I caught myself immediately thinking, “I don’t know who America is.”

One of the problems with think pieces and long reads that diagnose the problems with our culture at any given moment is they are talking about a nebulous concept, an unknowable generality. 

There is no “America.” There are only the people that live in and make up America. This explains why America can change so dramatically and so quickly. America is people, and people are flighty and double-minded.

Taking a step out of the minefield of the political, it is easy to see this phenomenon in the church. How many times have you heard (or given) the feedback that “people want x or people are complaining about y”?

“People are talking.”

“Everyone is worried.”

“Several people have said.” 

These are all code for “I’ve said” or “I’m worried.” While not a universal truth, I find that more often than not when people start speaking in generalities they are confessing something they believe or at least hope to be true. 


I was recently a chaperone on a youth pilgrimage to Alaska. On the way home, we had a very long layover at the Seattle airport. One of the other adult chaperones and I struck up a conversation that we had been having off and on the whole trip about God and the Christian faith. 

At one point, he asked me point blank where Jesus stands on a variety of hot-button political issues of our day. I responded that the question itself is a non-starter for Jesus as I read about him in scripture. 

When Jesus interacted with people he refused to speak in generalities or declare a stance on an “issue.” Jesus was much more concerned with the individual in front of him. He was not concerned with leprosy as a public health concern but the leper that was sitting before him. He didn’t declare his position on stoning as capital punishment but instead helped the particular woman caught in adultery up off the ground after disarming the individuals seeking to punish her. 

Jesus looked out on the massive crowds of people that came to him and saw the individuals, the sheep who were without a shepherd. And Jesus made it clear that the shepherd would gladly leave the crowd to find the one that was lost. 

One of the wonders of serving in pastoral ministry is that you get to know individuals and families. If you serve for any amount of time in a congregation of any size, you get to know the stories of joy and heartbreak that fill the pews on any given Sunday. Quickly, the congregation moves from being a faceless theory (as it is often depicted in textbooks and seminary classes about ministry) to a very real collection of flighty and double-minded people in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy for their actual, contextual, and specific lives. When I stand in the pulpit to preach, I no longer see a mass of people but each person and each of the pain and celebrations that we have shared in a Christian community. 

I imagine that Jesus sees something similar when he looks across the tapestry that adorns his bride, the church, noting each thread woven perfectly into the whole and contributing its unique shade or texture.

Jesus painted a picture of heaven as a party, an extravagant feast. I don’t know how many BBQ sauces there will be in heaven, but I know it is not a party for “everyone. The heavenly banquet is not even for “Christians” — at least not in the general sense. The party that Jesus is preparing is not for “us,” it is for you.

Jesus lived, died, and rose for sinners lost in their unique and individual sin so that we would each be able to stand at the foot of the cross and say, “I need this.” Jesus conquered the grave and the power of sin so that he could invite you — specifically you — to an amazing party. The only requirement is the acceptance that the whole amazing, ridiculous, extravagant shindig is for you.

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2 responses to “This Party Is for You”

  1. Pierre says:

    Thank you for a fascinating reflection, Connor. I’m grappling with this notion of Jesus not having a “stance” on issues. I think your interpretation makes a lot of sense in the context of scripture. Where I struggle, though, is finding what vital witness Christianity can offer in the midst of contemporary systemic issues. Would we really say that Jesus doesn’t evince any opinion about slavery, for example? If that’s true, on what basis could Christians in the 19th century have led the abolitionist movement? Helping the woman caught in adultery is another notable example: to me, his actions definitely reflect a stance on capital punishment. After all, I can’t imagine Jesus intervening to join the stone-throwers in that circumstance.

    I’m not suggesting a full on Moral Majority-style co-opting of Jesus is good, from the right or the left (for example, there’s a lot of pressure in my ‘progressive’ denomination to basically affirm that whatever the Democrats are doing is consistent with Jesus’ message and vice versa for the GOP). But I struggle to believe that Jesus can be decoupled from any systemic perspective at all. If he is, what does that leave us with besides quietism?

  2. Peter says:

    Good question Pierre. Going back and re-reading, it doesn’t say that Jesus didn’t have opinions. Rather, he chose not to spend his time discussing the political issues of the day.

    There is absolutely a place for having opinions and discerning what is right.
    However, I think people spend so much time and energy ironing out exactly what they believe in hypothetical situations that they miss real opportunities to move in love towards the hearts of the people around them.

    Especially in these examples in scripture I see Jesus modeling exactly that. I hadn’t seen it framed in this light before though, I love the perspective this has given me

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