I heard a sad thing on the radio yesterday.
NPR is running a series this week on “Losing our Religion” in America. Yesterday, David Greene talked with six people in their 20s and 30s about the place religion has in their lives.
(Before I go any further, I have to declare David Greene’s voice as my favorite NPR voice. He sounds so compassionate, but funny. Inquisitive and prying, yet sensitive. Genuine, but in charge. I think I first fell for his voice when he reported some stories about just how truly awful it is to be a regular citizen of Russia (although there was also this). I felt for the Russians. Then, when he co-hosted Morning Edition for a stretch, I was in heaven. If anybody should be recording audiobooks, it’s David Greene.)
Moving ahead: Each person in the story had a different faith background and different reason for gradually (or suddenly) losing his or her faith. They said things like, “After all this bad stuff happens to you, you wonder how there could be a God.” Or, “Tragedy made me realize my actions are what give life meaning, not God.” Or, “Religion was my coping mechanism to handle those things.”
That was the sad thing.
As I sat in my car listening, I thought of a passage I read last week.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
What struck me is that Jesus saw. He saw masses of pitiful people who appeared thrown down, distressed, and dispirited. Out of compassion, He urges His disciples to do something about it by sharing the news of the kingdom of heaven and praying for more to do the same.
So in 2013, in my beige Taurus riding down I-235 in Des Moines listening to NPR, I had a thought. The people talking to David Greene are those people. They are “harassed and helpless” and “distressed and dispirited.” I’m sometimes that person. You are probably sometimes that person. There’s no difference in humanity in Jesus’ time and humanity now. We’re still a planet full of broken people. We still get discouraged. Bad things still happen to us. But Jesus doesn’t ignore that. He sees it. Suffering means something to Him.
And if our suffering is the same, our antidote is the same. The good news the disciples shared is still good today. I easily get trapped into thinking everyone in America knows the basic story of the gospel. They get that religion is an option for them. They’ve thought it through and made up their mind. But I’m beginning to feel challenged to not assume just because people are aware of the American church, they’re aware of Jesus Christ. And also not to undersell Him. What He offers is incredible.
Who in that group of six–or who among us–wouldn’t love to hear these words genuinely and compassionately whispered in his or her ear?
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus is the gospel and the salve to the broken-hearted, yesterday, today, tomorrow.