Each Sunday, at the close of his sermons, Pastor Blake would open the doors of the church. To the uninitiated, that did not mean that it was finally time to leave and go home to Sunday dinner. Rather, that was the phrase we used to describe the weekly invitation to Christian discipleship extended to everyone who had not yet made a commitment to follow Jesus. So at seven years of age, I walked down the aisle to sit in the chair at the front of the church.
Each person who came forward was expected to give some kind of testimony of faith or give some sort of reason for their coming forward. So Pastor Blake bravely put the microphone in front of my seven-year-old self and asked why I had come forward. For me the answer was easy. I said, “because I want to go the Heaven.” And with that a vote was called for. It was properly moved and seconded. And without objection, I was approved as a candidate for baptism.
I now understand that some people join the church because they are afraid of going to hell. That never had anything to do with it for me. I never gave much thought to Hell then, and I do even less so now. No, I was drawn by by Reverend Blake’s beautiful depictions of Heaven as a place of joy and well-being and beauty. It was a land of milk and honey, with streets paved of gold. It was a place where we forever celebrated in the presence of our loving God. That’s where I wanted to be.
As I’ve gotten older, my understanding of Heaven has changed. It’s not primarily a destination for after we die. Instead, it something immediately available and ever present, ready to break into our reality. The kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is in our midst. Some of us shall not taste death until we see the kingdom come with power.
The kingdom of God is a place for the poor and the poor in spirit. It is a place for those who hunger and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is a place where the divisions of race and class are destroyed. And male and female make a complete humanity. It is a place where hope overcomes fear, love overcomes hate, and the least of these are treated as the greatest of these. It’s a place of shalom.
Heaven is a place of beauty, joy and well-being. But we can live in it now. The vision is so beautiful, that it sustains me even when it at times seems so far away and unattainable. It’s a vision that calls us into a better future. It’s a vision that beckons us to a better now.
Why do I still follow Jesus? Because yes, I still want to see Heaven.
Horace McMillon is the “tent-making” pastor of Open Door Mennonite Church, in Jackson, Miss. He and his wife, Monique, have two children. He is a graduate of both Chicago Theological Seminary and Oberlin College and the author of No Mo’ Broke: Seven Keys to Financial Success from a Christian Perspective. He blogs at churchoftheweb.wordpress.com, where this first appeared.