This past Good Friday I visited the gas station to fill up my tank. On the way there, I was thinking about the meaning of Holy Week and how privileged I was to be able to proclaim the Cross of Christ and the Empty Tomb of Easter at this special time of the year. At the same time, I lamented that, as a pastor, most of my friends and acquaintances are already Christians. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t love you. I like Christians! But the thing is, pastors spend most of their time at church and with church people. It’s not often that we get to preach the Gospel to those who don’t know Christ as their Savior.
After filling up my tank, I have a habit of always wanting a candy bar from the snack shack at the station. So I went inside to pick out a candy bar and took it to the counter to pay for the chocolate that would soon be in my stomach and the gas that was now in my car. The friendly fellow from behind the counter asked me, “So what are you up to today?”
I said, “Well, actually I’m getting ready for church tonight and the next two days. I’m a pastor at a Lutheran Church here in town, and this week’s a big week for us.”
“Ah, I see,” he said, with a curious tone in his voice. Then came the wide open door: “And what is this Easter thing all about anyway?”
There were other people waiting in line. I didn’t want to tick them off by preaching a 15 minute sermon right then and there. On the other hand, how could I miss this opportunity? I proceeded to tell him all about Good Friday and Easter, how we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins at the cross, who rose to life again three days later, and who forgives and gives eternal life to all who trust in him.
“Oh, I see,” was his reply, nodding in such a way as to say, “Well, that’s interesting.” Or was it, “Well, that’s weird”? I’m still not sure.
It was a quick 30-second sermon ... not enough time to for the listener to fall asleep, I’m afraid. I hope to continue the conversation with him in the future. I also pray that the Holy Spirit will use the words I spoke to accomplish his purposes (see Isaiah 55:10-11), not only in the man behind the counter, but for all who were there waiting to buy whatever they were buying.
And I was grateful to God for giving me that opportunity at just the right time ... for me, too. Who knows how God will use those words I spoke, those seeds I planted? Who knows who will do the watering of those seeds somewhere down the road? (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-9) Who knows if I will ever run across any of those folks ever again? God does, of course, and I will leave things in his hands.
You in the pew, you are the ones who have many more contacts with people who are not Christians or who may have had some contact with the Church in the past but have gotten disconnected. You can pray that God will present opportunities to you to proclaim the Good News about Jesus at just the right time. Bring them to church, where they will hear the Gospel all over the place in the liturgy and the hymns and the sermon and the prayers. Invite them to Bible Class. Invite them to attend my next Adult Instruction Class and attend with them so they have a level of comfort by sitting with someone whom they already know.
And trust God’s Word to work. The Gospel, after all, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) It is powerful. We have God’s promise that it will work as he wills (Isaiah 55:11). The Church’s job is to proclaim it. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to use that Word to create and sustain faith in those who hear it.
That’s why you and I need to hear it, too. We need our “spiritual gas tanks” filled up daily. And with the Risen Christ coming to us in those powerful means of Word and Sacrament, if I may paraphrase, “our tanks runneth over.”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!