If you go to the movie’s official website, “The Adjustment Bureau” is described as a struggle between free will and fate. The plot involves David Norris, played by Matt Damon, and some angels who are self-described as “caseworkers.”
Three angel-caseworkers and their colleagues are assigned to carry out the “chairman’s” plan for David’s life. Harry, a young angel, fell asleep and missed the task he was initially assigned.
Harry’s lapse triggers a series of events which pull David off course, enabling him to fall in love at the wrong time. Harry’s supervisor angel is called in to fix the problem but fails. The chairman finally sends in Archangel Thompson, who, in “Godfather”-like terms, gives David an offer he can’t refuse.
And so the chase — and the question of fate and free will — begins.
Throughout our lives, we who are Christians, together with those who do not belong to a church or who are of other faiths, are on a spiritual journey. Believers, agnostics and atheists have at one time or another wondered: What is the purpose of life? Why does God allow suffering? Why is there starvation? If there is a God, why is there war?
The door to evangelism
It is this common spiritual quest that can serve as an evangelism portal.
What makes evangelism such an intimidating task for faithful Lutherans?
My guess is that some churchgoers don’t feel comfortable verbalizing the life of Jesus to family members, friends and acquaintances.
What is the root of this discomfort? Perhaps the thought that others will perceive them to be fanatics, overly religious or hypocrites.
How can I talk about how Jesus changed my life when it doesn’t always show?
Evangelism means relaying good news. The word “angel” has the same Greek root. We can say that angels (messengers) do evangelism. Angels bear good news.
And you are one of those angels.
Before we can offer others our belief summed up in the Apostles’ Creed, we listen, and yes, even empathize with our neighbors. Going up to a stranger and saying, “Jesus loves you,” may not always work. It’s like handing someone a Bible, or a religious pamphlet, and walking away, hoping that will be enough for the conversion process.
From what we learn in the Gospels, Jesus spent the last years of his life walking and interacting with people, rich and poor, the powerful and the uneducated, Gentile and Jew, children, women and men. He engaged in conversation and debate. He shared meals with others. And he listened and responded to the needs of many.
The need to listen
Jesus is our role model for evangelism. We begin as he did — living life to the fullest, and in the process, we listen. Listening to someone express despair, grief, joy, hurt, hope, anger or fear — really listening, without offering pat answers, is a start of a relationship. And then we’re guided by the Holy Spirit.
If we wait until we are perfect, we will never be satisfied with ourselves. But if we know that we are forgiven daily and then given the capacity to try again, we can be the angel, the evangelist, helping others to find God.
This may not be the strategy for increasing church membership, but maybe that’s not everything that evangelism is about.
Although we are not the angel-caseworkers portrayed in “The Adjustment Bureau,” there are many around us who are like David Norris, asking questions, and hoping that an angel, like you, is there to listen.
Fern Lee Hagedorn is the Friday morning voice of WJFF, public radio in northeastern Pennsylvania and the Catskills in New York. She is a member of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Narrowsburg, N.Y.