Someone posted my favorite flash mob video the other day. And that got me to thinking. What does it feel like to be welcomed? Do you have someone who welcomes you? Someone who is so thrilled to see you they don’t care what you’ve done or where you’ve been? I hope so. Sometimes our family members welcome us and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they welcome us until we disagree and then they can’t wait to show us the door, but that’s not unconditional love.
When Petra was a little kid, her dad always came home from work and gave her a big bear hug. To get a hug from him was pure love and affection, but as she grew older and didn’t always agree with him, he hugged her less and less. She told me how it still hurts her heart to this day because there is nothing she would like more than to give her father a big bear hug, but he barely speaks to her.
Religious abuse happens because people misrepresent God’s character. Many of us grew up going to church with fear messages and shame trips. Some of us couldn’t handle the fear and shame so we left these caricatures of God and religious symbols behind and decided to go it alone.
I can’t blame anyone for rejecting a god who threatens to burn you in hell if you don’t do what he wants. Would you marry someone who says, “Love me or I will kill you?” I sure hope not and I hope you don’t worship a god like that either—although that’s what the church has erroneously taught for centuries.
Many ACONS have been ostracized or scapegoated from our families, so it’s hard to imagine a God who runs out to give us a hug, but that’s how Jesus describes the Father.
The prodigal son has destroyed his own life. He’s used up his father’s money. He’s ruined the family reputation. He’s been so wanton and careless that he has nothing left and now eats with the pigs.
Even though many ACONs have been treated like the black sheep of the family, this prodigal was a true black sheep in every sense of the word. He has no worth in the eyes of the world, but he is as valuable as ever to the heart of his Father.
This is how we can know for sure God is not a narcissistic parent. The Father, who has been used and forgotten by his son, has never forgotten his child. He waits by the window everyday watching for a caravan or a shadow in the distance that might give him hope of his child. And finally, when he recognizes the gait and sees a familiar slouch, he runs out to meet him.
He doesn’t quiz him to check his theology or asked if he’s gotten saved. He doesn’t smell his breath for alcohol or examine him to see if he has any new tattoos. He doesn’t ask him to pay back the money he’s taken. He doesn’t ask if he’s been sleeping with men or women or pigs. He doesn’t do anything but welcome his child with open arms.
Then the Father calls for a party. He gives his son the finest clothes in the house. He restores his status in the family by giving him a ring of authority to represent the family business. The musicians arrive, the dancers dance and the barbecue is set up. No one can be sad when the master is so happy.
I’ve tried to dream of such a homecoming when we all get to heaven. The closest thing I can imagine is a huge family reunion at an airport. What brought it home for me was this flash mob ad at Heathrow Airport in 2010. I love all the songs, but I especially love the last song.
Welcome home, welcome
Come on in, and close the door
You’ve been gone, too long
Welcome, your home once more.
Can you imagine how heaven’s welcome might look like a huge flash mob of angels? As people swarm through the gates, we can finally set all of our baggage down for good and dance with the angels.
Then, at the end of the line, dancing and singing are Jesus and the Father waiting to give you a big ol’ bear hug! And as the Father hugs you, he whispers in your ear–
You are not what you have.
You are not what you do.
You are not what other people say about you.
You are the Beloved!