A Birthday Party for Agnes

September 24, 2012

What's the one thing that followers of Christ have to offer that people in our world cannot get anywhere else? Peter Drucker, a business consultant and author, had become a Christian and was asked why a person like him would become a Christian. He said, "Well, I studied all the religions of the world, and when I studied Christianity it had this thing called grace." He said, "Being a business person, recognizing a good deal when I came across it, this was just the best deal to come along."

Philip Yancey writes in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, "The one thing that the world cannot do is it cannot offer grace. It cannot say to human beings, 'You are lost, but now you're found. You were guilty, but now you've been pardoned. You were dead, but now you've been made alive.'"

That brings us to a real sobering question, and the question is this: If grace is the one thing that the church has to offer, if there is no wonder like the wonder of grace, then why do we leave it so easily? Why is it that churches can be filled with people who say they have been saved by grace, and yet become ungracious people? Why is it that if you ask somebody outside the church what they associate with the words "Christian", they will generally mention some political agenda or judgmentalism or self-righteousness, meanness, bitterness, but not grace?

 

Tony Campolo, a Christian writer I have enjoyed reading the last two and a half decades tells a great story from his book entitled, The Kingdom of God Is a Party, God’s Radical Plan for His Family.  He's from Philadelphia, but he was staying in Hawaii, and so he was still on East Coast time. He'd wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning every morning.

 

He went to this diner and he was having coffee. While he's sitting there, a group of women came in, and they were sitting next to him. It was pretty apparent that they were prostitutes, eight or nine of them there. As they were talking, one of them mentioned that it was her birthday tomorrow, and the other one kind of scoffed like, "What do you want me to do? Have a party for you or something?"  It was a woman named Agnes, and she said, "No, I don't expect that. Nobody has ever had a birthday party for me." They all left. So this writer, asked the guy behind the counter whose name was Harry, "Do they come in here every night?" Harry said, "Yeah."

 

So this guy said, "Well, here's what I'd like to do: I'd like to come back tomorrow and I'd like to throw a birthday party for Agnes." Harry said OK. He called to his wife, and his wife came out of the back room, and they told her the plan. "That's wonderful," she said. "Nobody never does anything for her."

 

I’m quoting at this point:

 

"'Look,' I said, 'if it's okay with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake.' 'No way,' said Harry. 'The birthday cake is my thing. I'll make the cake.'  "At 2:30 the next morning I was back at the diner, crepe paper decorations, made big pieces of cardboard that said, 'Happy Birthday, Agnes.' I decorated that diner from one end to another. I had it looking good. "The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall with prostitutes and me. At 3:30 a.m. the door of the diner swings open and in came Agnes and her co-workers.”

 

"I had everybody ready. I was kind of the emcee. When they came in, we all screamed, 'Happy Birthday!' Never have I seen someone so flabbergasted, so stunned. Her mouth fell open, her legs buckled, her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools, we all sang happy birthday to her.”

 

"When we came to the end of our singing, 'Happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you,' her eyes moistened. And when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she just lost it and cried. Harry gruffly mumbled, 'Blow out the candles, Agnes, come on, blow out the candles. If you don't blow out the candles, I'm going to have to blow them out.' And after a few seconds, he did.”

"Then he handed her the knife and said, 'Cut the cake, Agnes, we all want some cake.' Agnes looked at the cake, then, without taking her eyes off of it, she slowly and softly said, 'Look Harry is it okay with you if I keep the cake a little while? Is it all right if we don't eat it right away?'”

 

"Harry shrugged and said, 'Sure it's okay. If you want to keep the cake, keep it. Take it home if you want to.' 'Can I?' she asked. Then looking at me she said, 'I just live down the street a couple doors. I'll take the cake home and be right back, I promise.'”

 

"She picked up the cake, took off carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, and walked towards the door. We just stood there motionless. When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, 'What do you say we pray?'

 

"Looking back on it now it seems strange to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning, but then it just felt like the right thing to do. I prayed for Agnes, for salvation. I prayed her life would be changed and God would be good to her.

"When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice he said, 'Hey! You never told me you were a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?' And in one of those moments when just the right words came I answered, 'I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.'”

 

"Harry waited a moment and then replied, 'No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I’d join a church like that.'”

 

I haven’t been to any birthday parties for a prostitute, as far as I know, but I have been to a few celebrations of 6 months and 12 months of sobriety.  I love those celebrations because of the mixture of accomplishment for the hard work but also the mixture of that deep awareness of God’s needed grace.  We all need to celebrate more in people’s lives the grace God has for us not because we are good but because we are loved by Him.  Recognizing we are loved by Him because of no effort of our own is the very thing that makes us change. Grace changes everything!

 

Have a great day.  I welcome your comments.  God bless, Matt.

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