Drinking With Sinners

By Paul Koch

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My bride and I rang in the New Year in grand fashion. In the waning hours of 2014 we settled into our usual table at our favorite watering hole. We then listened to the brave (if not somewhat delusional) heroes of the night take turns singing their hearts out during their spirit-fueled karaoke performances. Now this is not a glamorous bar; there was no cover charge, no special band selected for the night, no overpriced drinks, and no presumption of being anything other than it has always been – a small neighborhood bar.

Yet as we approached the final countdown, the atmosphere began to change. I came back to our table after refilling our empty popcorn basket and there was a centerpiece on the table. That’s right, O’Leary’s Side Bar had centerpieces; little bits of sparkling tinsel and stars had been placed throughout the room. Then plastic necklaces were passed out, then noise makers, then streamers, and then came the champagne! Looking around, people were wearing New Year’s hats. I particularly recall one fat and drunk man wearing a sparkling tiara that boldly exclaimed “Happy New Year!” The whole place came to its feet and counted down to the arrival of 2015. I kissed my wife and we raised our glasses. Everyone joined together in singing Auld Lang Synge (at least the words we could remember). But the festivities didn’t end there. Next, out came the hot pizza and cookies – that’s right, cookies – and we received hugs from complete strangers and wishes of a happy new year. To cap it all off, some brave souls fired up the karaoke machine and led us all in a rousing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. I can’t imagine how the night could have been any better!

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While I slowly sip my coffee this morning, I think back on last night; all I can say is that it was a lot of fun. That right, fun! And you know, I think we in the church are suffering from a drought of fun. The church is filled with passion, with devotion, with sorrow and seriousness but not a whole lot of plain old fun. Everyone wants to turn everything into a mission opportunity or an evangelism effort, and we are left with no room for fun. The pietists relentless attack upon joy and laughter is simply too prevalent.

At every pastor’s conference I’ve ever attended there have always been a group of brothers who hunker together in a corner. They don’t want to get along with anyone else. These days I simply label them “The Angry Guys.” They are people with whom I would usually have a lot in common. They take a firm stand on Confessional and liturgical matters, they talk about Law and Gospel preaching, they are concerned about the future of our beloved Synod, but their laughter is shallow and forced. They may not be pietists but they are too busy scheming and ridiculing others to have any fun.

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It’s time to end the drought! It’s time to have fun. Real fun: the type of fun that you have when you go out drinking with sinners. It’s a fun that comes in the freedom of the Gospel. I’m not talking about reckless hedonism or some antinomian binge. I’m talking about living in the full assurance of an electing God that has chosen you without any merit or worthiness. Stop allowing the Angry Guys and the pietists to make you feel guilty for having some fun. You are free to love and forgive and embrace your fellow man. You can even wear a tiara and sing Bohemian Rhapsody if you want to!

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