It's your parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Your father's holding a big dinner as a surprise for Mum. He wants the whole family there. Everyone. Including your wretched brother - a heroin addict who's been nothing but trouble. Your father has been through hell trying to keep him alive and out of prison. He's even had to pay off mobsters with extortionate sums to stop them killing him.
At every stage your brother has shamed the family. And at every stage your parents have pursued the boy and bailed him out. They've paid any price to bring him back.
You, on the other hand, have never been any trouble. You've kept out of your parents' way, put your head down and worked hard. You spent your teenage years hitting the books and keeping yourself to yourself. The first chance you got, you left home and made your way in the world. You didn't need any help and you never asked Dad for a penny.
Now your father wants the whole family to sit around the same table. And, wouldn't you know it, your brother is actually keen on the whole idea! It's unthinkable. You can't go. You won't go.
First you avoid your brother's calls. Then your father rings: "Please son I want you all there."
Unbelievable. You're being cast as the bad guy? You're the sticking point? How ridiculous! Can't everyone see, it's your brother.
But Dad continues to press you. "Son, I haven't seen you in so long, can we meet face to face?" No we cannot, you think. There was something deeply disturbing about your father's gaze. He seemed to search your face for something that just wasn't there. And you both knew it. You'd been avoiding that gaze for as long as you could remember.
"Well then," he asks "would you do it for your mother?" Oh, now he's playing that card is he? Fury grips you. This is precisely the problem. Some households have a little thing called family manners. With yours it's all family and no manners. It's all caring and no consequences. Well no longer.
If it's a choice between brotherhood and behaviour, you pick behaviour. And you hope they choke on their mercy meal.
Hell is not an equal opposite to heaven.
Hell is outer darkness, shut out from the Light.
Hell is the judgement flowing from God's mercy.
Hell is for good people.
Hell is getting what you want.
A sermon on the theme