Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Talk to Strangers

   Why do we need each other in church? Often, someone calls me as pastor, needing someone to talk to. What a great gift the church offers: people to talk to, and honestly, frankly, searchingly, your words always welcomed, never judged. At least that’s the ideal.

Maybe we need someone to listen to. I press often for diversity in church life. This isn’t political or some social ideal of diversity. It’s the realization God made various people, and we are blessed when stretched to connect with others. We get out of our echo chamber, and dare to notice our biases and mistaken notions.

More importantly, the more different types of people we listen to, the more we hear the full voice of God. Recently I read these moving words from Hans Urs von Balthasar: “We cannot find all the dimensions of Christ’s love other than in the community of the church,” for the Spirit distributes gifts all over the place. “Each person must tell the others what special knowledge of the Lord has been shown to him. For no one can tread simultaneously all the paths of the love given to the saints: while one explores the heights, another experiences the depths and a third the breadth. No one is alone under the banner of the Spirit, the Son and the Father; only the whole Church is the Bride of Christ, and that only as a vessel shaped by him to receive his fullness.”

A Pentecostal friend has something to teach me. So does my Catholic neighbor. So does the Jew around the corner, the child in Sunday School, the lady in the nursing home. Even the people who don’t believe in God can help us know God. How astounding, how lavish, God’s gifts, the knowledge of God lying around in so many interesting places and in such quirky, fascinating people!

Our culture schools us to be wary of others, and always to play it safe. We should be careful and safe, of course. But remember: we tell children “Don’t cross the street” – but when you’re grown, you can do so, having figured out how. We tell children “Don’t talk to strangers” – but when you’re grown, you can figure out how, and you will be blessed. I enjoy people in my own church who are my age and like the same things I like. If I only talk to people who think as I do, I may feel very clever. But I will be more richly blessed by the others in my own church, or others in other places. The fewer people we know and converse with, the less we will comprehend the heart and mind of God.

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