…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone…for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
Coronavirus has changed everything. The worldwide death toll (which is devastating) and risk of exposure have prompted many protective measures. Schools, churches and restaurants are closed (except online and take-out). Because large crowds and travel are prohibited – no sports, theaters or vacations. Even funerals are limited to 10 mourners. Landmark celebrations like weddings, proms and graduations? Cancelled. Many are sad, alone and scared.
With video calls and Zoom meetings “the new normal”, it certainly feels like nothing is the same. Thank the good Lord we have plenty of food, but now those confined to home are eating too much. And a quick trip to the grocery store is no longer quick – face masks are required, lines to get in wrap around the parking lot, supplies are limited. Yet, it was on a simple food run that this scripture came alive, reminding me not everything has changed: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
It began as I made my way across the parking lot. An older man, big, Italian-mafia looking fella (no offense, I’m Italian), came alongside me complaining. My eyes smiled above the face mask as I asked what was wrong. He wasn’t wearing a face mask but proceeded to criticize inconsiderate people (ironic) who walk down the middle of the parking lot when a car is trying to come through. “Yeah, that’s just wrong”, I had to agree.
As we approached the store entrance, we were told the building was at capacity. We needed to wait for someone to exit before entering – one out, one in. The old man immediately began complaining to the young employee and then moved on to a discussion of daily alcohol consumption. I tuned out, mind wandering, and soon enough it was my turn to enter.
As I scanned my list, I saw the old man exactly where I needed to be. Attempting to avoid another encounter, I waited but he turned and saw me. (Here we go) The complaint this time was about “no tapioca pudding – it’s impossible to find”. And “people are so mean!” Though not a fan of tapioca myself, still, I felt his pain. With compassion in my eyes, I replied, “This is new to all of us. People are scared and we all handle stress differently.” He smiled back and as I walked away, he said “But you’re good”. “Yeah”, I replied, “I’m good. I’m good!”
A minute later it hit me. No! I’m not good at all! I’m a poor, wretched sinner but I do have peace and joy because of Jesus. I wanted to explain this to him, but the moment had passed, the opportunity was gone. Maybe my smiling eyes in the midst of an angry world were just what he needed. Yet, I prayed for that man and told God if I saw him again, I’d clarify. But I didn’t see him.
On my way back to the car, I noticed the words of Matthew 5:16 displayed across the front of my shirt. Specifically, “SHINE” and “GOD” stood out, in capital letters, all white and sparkly. I prayed a seed was planted. Maybe he saw that verse on my shirt. Maybe it’s rolling around in his mind. Maybe someone else will come along and pick up where I left off… I’ll probably never know but my point is this – where my words may fail, God’s Word won’t. He isn’t willingly that any should perish. And just as the Lord pursued me, He pursues others. One way or another, God makes Himself known. He even invites us to be part of it.
Down time can lead to sad time but, as children of God, we have reason for joy. Plus, our call hasn’t changed – be ready to explain the hope that is in you with gentleness and respect. We can’t do that on our own. It requires a foundation on and relationship with Christ. It’s God who makes us rich in love, Jesus who makes us worthy of heaven and the Holy Spirit who guides and provides the fruit of our lives. This is the glory drawing others to the Father. If “eyes are the windows to the soul”, the light coming from mine that day was all God.
“Essential” workers have served diligently throughout this quarantine and, for that, hold my deepest admiration and gratitude. Let us remember, though, in God’s Kingdom we are all essential. And time is of the essence for a world of people who are physically healthy but spiritually dead. That’s a much greater threat to their future. I understand “stranger danger” (especially if they’re masked!), but don’t tune out of “random” encounters and don’t beat yourself up if you have already. Just pray for opportunities to share your hope wherever you are and trust the Holy Spirit to direct the conversation. It could be as simple as pudding. (easy as pie, piece of cake – now I’m hungry again!)