Like churches, religion pollsters and commentators seem to have their own seasons and feasts. There is the annual _______ Christian holiday is really from the ________. And the annual doomsday polls about Church attendance, attitudes, etc. Usually both are conducted by people, like most journalists, who have little familiarity with basic definitions, let alone religious history, vocabulary, or culture.
Recently the newsfeed has repeated a recent poll by www.asarb.org concluding that Americans are becoming less religious: only 17% claim religion is the most important thing in their life. At first this number seems shockingly low. I meet people of all walks of life who aren’t on paper Christian or belong to a religion but they do wonder about God and life’s meaning. But regardless of that parochial observation, I am very confident that all Americans are very religious!
Maybe they don’t have a traditional religion like Christian, Muslim, or Jew. But they are religious. They have a worldview with some sort faith in a god and they run their life by it with devotion and dedication. They have priests, sacraments, commandments, and sermons. They have sacrifices, offerings, diets, and routines. Everyone has a god, and everyone has a heaven and hell.
Maybe the temple is the ballfields, workplace, or theater. Maybe your god is success, good health, sex, or retirement. Look at the religious dedication to chasing these things. Look at the sacrifice and habits. Look at the adoration of these wooden idols. Maybe your god is just you and your happiness. You will stop at nothing and go on any quest to get it.
We catechize our kids into our religion. We force them into the priesthood. And heaven is a momentary sense of peace that slips away just as quickly as it came. Hell is the nights we spend worrying or remembering what was and what might never be.
Martin Luther follows Jesus when he writes,
“Take a look at your own heart, and you will soon find out what has stuck to it and where your treasure is. It is easy to determine whether hearing the Word of God, living according to it, and achieving such a life gives you as much enjoyment and calls forth as much diligence from you as does accumulating and saving money and property.”
Even for pastors like me who point people to God, how easily we really religiously serve other gods: offerings, numbers, applause, success, financial security, health, and glory.
Americans are very religious, living under their own demanding gods.
So these are great times to be Christ’s church. We’ve got good news. Let us introduce them and ourselves to a God who doesn’t demand but serves. Let us tell them about Jesus who says to us zealots, “come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Let us point our filthy worn fingers to God on a cross for overly religious people, who did religion for us, who vanquished hell for us, who brought down heaven for us. Let us forgive those suffocating in guilt, who haven’t done enough, won enough, slimmed down enough, parented enough, saved enough.
Let us go out into highways and byways, and little corners of the town full of tired and worn people. Let us preach Jesus.