He was an upstanding man. He had good manners, always wore nice suits, drank only the finest scotch, and hobnobbed with the highest social circles. He was the president of a Christian university, and he preached on television. On the TV, he would rail against the wickedness of others, denouncing those who were different, those who were poor, those who were mentally ill, those who held political beliefs less conservative than his. For the safety of the students at his university, he would call the police to round up the homeless men and women who encroached on the campus. Then he would return home, to his luxurious house, content that he had done God’s work.
It so happened that this fine, upstanding man passed away, after a long and prosperous life. He saw the dark tunnel and the great light, and it opened up into a beautiful green meadow, full of birds and blossoms and industrious insects.
He swatted and stamped at the insects, though they tried to avoid him. In the distance, he saw the great golden gates, and he continued to walk toward them. When he finally reached the gates, he was greeted by God. And behind God, he saw a number of people he remembered. That woman there — she was a notorious lesbian. And the man to her left — he had sneaked onto his campus week after week, dirty and shabby, to sleep under his trees. And that other man — was that really Fidel Castro?!?
The upstanding man spoke to God, “Where am I? Who are these people?”
“This is my Kingdom,” replied God. “And these are the people of my pasture, my beloved children in whom I am well pleased.”
“I don’t understand. These are sinners, every one of them! How are they part of the Kingdom?” He heard murmuring among the people behind God.
God looked at the man with great love and with great disappointment. “Are you not a sinner yourself, my son?”
The man sputtered. “Well… of course, I mean, we’re all sinners. But… it’s just… I mean, I didn’t sin like him or like her. I’m straight, for heaven’s sake!” The murmuring grew.
“Beloved son,” God answered, “do you honestly believe that I weigh one sin as more grave than another? Do not all sins separate my children from me?”
Suddenly, the crowd behind God erupted in cheers, jumping and laughing and pointing excitedly. God said to the man, “One moment, my son.”
Then God turned to face a woman who had come up behind the upstanding man.
The upstanding man recognized her. She was a scary, scary woman. She was always talking to the air, sometimes screaming and thrashing about and pointing. She would wander onto his campus and frighten his students with her circus-freak antics. He had to have her thrown out by his security guards once or twice every week.
He heard God speak with great gentleness and joy. “My daughter!” God exclaimed. “Welcome to the Kingdom!” And to the upstanding man’s shock, God ran out through the gates to embrace the woman. God hugged her so hard that he picked her up off the ground, spinning and laughing as the people who had stood behind God joined them. They all laughed and shouted, and the man heard cries for a great feast.
Then God laughed and said, “Enough, my children. Of course we will feast and celebrate! This my daughter has come home to me! She was lost in the darkness, and now she is found! Go ahead to the celebration, and I will join you there.”
God turned back to the upstanding man, who was frozen in place, his mouth dropped open in disbelief. The man was shaking his head from side to side, trying to reject what he had just seen. “My dear son,” God began quietly. “You have always been with me. As has always been, everything that is mine is yours also.”
“I don’t understand.”
God nodded. “I know. It can be hard for some to understand my Kingdom. But the Kingdom is simple: everybody is welcome here, and everybody is forgiven here, and everybody is loved here. My sons and daughters here may have done terrible things in their lives on the earth. They may have abused their children or committed war crimes or called the police to take the poor and homeless out of their sight. But this is not the earth, and anyone who comes here is welcome to join us.”
Then God said something that astonished the man. “Please, my son. Please join us in the celebration.” And God held out God’s hand to him.
The man hung his head, no longer feeling quite so fine and upstanding. When he looked up at God again, tears glistened in his eyes. Hesitantly, the man placed his hand in God’s, and was shocked to feel God pull him close, into a great fatherly hug.
He wept, pressed there against God’s chest, and then he heard God’s great shout.
“My children! Let us feast and celebrate! Another is welcomed to the Kingdom! He was dead, and he has come to life!”
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!