‘I didn’t expect to see you here’
Before I was a priest I would go to church at Christmas. Nearly every year someone I knew would come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t expect to see you here’. They had only come for the Christmas service and were surprised that I was there. Usually after some thought they would say something like, ‘Oh yeah you are a Christian aren’t you’. This is the experience of many people Christians who don’t conform to the stereotype of what we are supposed to be.
The question is when we get to heaven will we be surprised at who else is there. Will we spend a long time going up to various people saying, ‘I didn’t expect to see you here’.
For this visualisation we are looking at the parable of the prodigal father. This is often called the prodigal son, but it is the father in the story who acts in a prodigal way not the son. So to begin read through this passage form Luke’s Gospel: Chapter 15 verse 11-32
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Many of Jesus’ parables are about a party or a feast, this represents heaven. Sometimes heaven is called, the wedding banquet of the Lamb. The Lamb being Jesus the bridegroom and the bride being the church, that is humanity. Notice in the parable the young son is invited in, but the ‘good’ son refuses. Why? because in his mind this is not fair, why should his father forgive the bad son, why should he have to share the party with someone who doesn’t deserve it? This parable tells of a wonderful and terrible truth of Christianity. We are offered forgiveness but so is everyone else, including those people who really wind us up. Each of the sections of this course is titled the gift of Creation, Unity, Jesus and so on. The unsettling truth is that everything that we are is given to us, we do not deserve or even earn it. All the gifts given to us are also given to all, even those who we don’t like or have fallen out with. Those people we find it almost impossible to like yet alone love.
The Lord’s prayer contains the line, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now let’s stop and think about this. We are forgiven we all like that, but that forgiveness must be accepted along with forgiving those who have trespassed against us. We often think of heaven as a kind of elite club where good people are. A party where only the best are invited, trouble is it’s the other way round, God has invited everyone. Have you ever had a party invite and said or thought, I’m not going if he’s going don’t want to spend all night with him. Yes we have been given the party invite but so has the other bloke too, oh dear!
Heaven is a place where all things are made new and all people are reconciled. God stands at the gate like the father in the parable then running up to us to invite us in. But as we get closer we like the older son see who else is there. God isn’t throwing us out of heaven we just don’t want to go in, not if so and so is in there. It is only when we are reconciled with God and everyone else that we will want to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is only when we see people from God’s perspective and not our own that we will want to enter to share eternity with those who we struggle to share an afternoon with. Yes we all want to be with a loving God for all eternity, but what about all the rest of them?
So for this visualisation ponder these things and compile some lists. The rules are you can only have one historical person and one person you don’t personally know per list. So no putting down Hitler, Hitler and Hitler to all the questions. As you answer the questions imagine yourself in the situation. What will you say to these people and what will they say back. Given the choice will you want to spend eternity with them?
So here are the questions
Who are the four people you will be surprised to see in heaven?
Who will be the four people you will be surprised aren’t in heaven?
Who are the four people you would not want to spend eternity with and why?
Who are the four people you will be very angry to see in heaven?
Given all this do you still want to go to heaven or would you rather stop outside?
Don’t forget to put your questions and as much of your answer as you like in the comments below
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