"I'm Not Very Religious, But ..."
So began a brief conversation. He had been talking with my wife, and called out "Hey Reverend!" It is interesting how people all over seem to want to start a conversation and head straight to religion and matters of the soul.
I remember a well known writer years ago saying it is a myth that people don't want to talk about religion. They deeply want to talk about spiritual things. Is there a God? What is the soul? Is there a heaven; life after death; judgment? That writer years ago said that when someone involved him in such a discussion, it seemed like every ear nearby was trying to listen in. Other conversations were muted. People managed to move closer. And often they joined in, fascinated and discussing for a long time. He was a Christian, highly educated and able to say what we believe in a clear and interesting way.
And so we stood and talked. Not long and not in depth yet, but we talked. During his time working from and staying at home, he has been reading Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, Roman philosophers and Stoics. We did not get into what they believed. That may be next time. I may have to brush up on that. And I remember a High School teacher leading an "experimental" class on philosophy saying about Christianity, "The belief system of one third of humanity should not be rejected out of hand."
It seems almost like we have wandered with Paul Into the Areopagus in Athens where the Greek philosophers met to discuss all the "new things." (Acts 17:17-21) What happened back then? Paul noticed all the altars to idols, and began to talk with others about spiritual things. He "reasoned with" them, and then the ears around him started to perk up and want to hear more. And they brought him into their discussion and asked him to tell more.
This is how it happens. So often the conversation starts when we least expect it. This business of being stuck inside because of a virus is one of those times we would not expect to turn into such a time. But -- Christ Is Risen! Jesus is alive and He is doing His work of gathering people into faith and into being His people. Because Jesus is evangelizing and calling souls to faith, expect the unexpected. (I got to say that to someone this last month!) Expect the unexpected. We do not see the openings, but He does. We do not know who is suddenly open to hearing the Gospel but He does. We have an informal motto in our congregation: "We are not that good but we have a friend who is."
What did Paul do back then? He began by telling them about God, who made all things, and calls us to come and seek Him. And then he told them about Jesus. He said that God will judge the world by "a man whom He has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:31) They listened until Paul talked about the resurrection and then -- some mocked and some said Paul should come back some other time. But some believed: Dionysius and a woman name Damaris and others. Paul left with new believers in Jesus. (Acts 17:34)
This is a very strange time, when there is an unexpected interest in spiritual things. It is important for us to see the doors opened in unexpected places and unexpected ways, even when it comes in words like, "I'm not very religious, but ..." We carry within us a word from God that gives life. And the world seems to be noticing right now how it is missing, and how much of a gap there is in the rest of life.
Lord Jesus, make me ready. Prepare me for that unexpected time. Help me to see when my neighbor opens up to talk about spiritual things. And give me words and wisdom to tell about You in a way that will call and draw them to want to know more about the mercy, life and joy that is in You. Amen.
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.