There are times in history, when the world seems to be changing so fast…it’s hard for us to take it all in. Many of us, in our lifetimes, have gone from having one phone in our homes, connected to the wall…with no answering system and maybe even a party line with our neighbors…to a world where just about everyone over 12 carries a phone in their pocket. We are accessible anytime, anywhere.
We have gone from a world where we had one television in our house with three channels…to a world where we can virtually watch anything, anytime, from anywhere…on our tvs, computers and phones. World news isn’t limited to one half hour a day…but rather fills our homes and hands 24 hours a day with the latest updates from around the globe…from the catastrophic to the ridiculous.
We have gone from a world where if we wanted to know something, we rifled through the huge encyclopedia sets our parents bought because the luxury of having that much information in their own homes was irresistable …or else went to the library and searched through card catalogs and skimmed endless books…to having all the information we could ever want at our fingertips in an instant with the magic of google.
We went from a world where we were often blissfully unaware of the impact of our actions on people in other countries…or on the planet…to being acutely aware of the global crises that we have created.
These four 16 year olds we will confirm today are fully immersed in a world that some of us are still scrambling to understand. The climate crisis isn’t up for debate…it’s simply their reality. And the constant barrage of information is just the water they’ve learned to swim in. Interestingly, that awareness has made them statistically the least violent generation and the most accepting of differences (both beautiful things)…but they are also the most anxious and stressed out. This class taught me the fun fact that today’s students have more anxiety than psychiatric patients in the 1950s.
Fear is the currency that drives them…fear of shootings, fear of terrorism, fear of global disaster, fear of not being enough, fear of being exposed in a world where everybody knows everything. The anxiety is palpable.
On this Reformation Sunday…it’s interesting to note that we are in a very similar time to the one in which Luther lived. To give you an idea of how radically the world was shifting in Luther’s time..the printing press was just invented…which meant information and education were available to people in a way they never had been before when every book had to be hand printed. And Copernicus was a contemporary of Luther…so people’s whole sense of the cosmos was shifting as they were learning they were not the center of creation. And Magellan was also of Luther’s generation…who sailed around the world, bringing a sense of globalism that was previously unheard of. People were far more isolated. On top of that… Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were transforming the world of art and science. And under Sulieman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was reaching its height…spreading Islam through Europe and challenging Christendom as a dominant religion. It was a time of huge changes…but also a time thick with fear. Luther lived at the same time as Machiavelli, whose ideas of politics and power were based on his premise that “in general, all men (and women) are ungrateful, disloyal, insincere and deceitful, timid of danger and avid of profit…. Love is a bond of obligation which these miserable creatures break whenever it suits them to do so; but fear holds them fast by a dread of punishment that never passes.” Power through intimidation and brutality ruled the day. Tyrants ruled in politics and in the church. Religious leaders burned heretics and threatened hell fire to anybody who didn’t follow blindly. Yes…the fear…the anxiety…was palpable. And in truth…it was that fear that drove Luther’s reformation. Or rather, his desire to not live in fear anymore. All Luther wanted was to find a gracious God. He was desperate for grace…for a loving God. And he found God’s grace by reading Scripture…in the story of Jesus. And in that grace, he found freedom — that transformed his fear and empowered him to challenge the authorities and follow his conscience.
Luther’s statement at the ‘Diet of Worms” (which, by the way, is not a version of the paleo diet that involves eating nightcrawlers..the Diet of Worms was actually a trial held by church leaders in the town of Worms in Germany seeking to condemn Luther as a heretic) is often quoted ‘’”Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils…to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”
Luther’s anxiety was immense…he was tormented by all accounts…probably what we would call bipolar today. But he found the freedom to follow his conscience. Psalm 46 was one of his favorite Scriptures. In a world that was chaotic…nations in an uproar…God is more powerful still. And so he stood firm. In the tumult of Luther’s own internal struggle, God stilled the voice of his tormentors and provided a refuge. Luther wrote a hymn based on Psalm 46..we’ll sing it at the end of our service today — “A Mighty Fortress is our God”…that reminded him that he had nothing to fear. God could be trusted. God’s grace could be trusted. And that’s our prayer for these confirmands today. That in the midst of their anxiety…in the midst of their uncertain futures…in the midst of their tumult…we pray that they may not be captive to fear. Our prayer is that they may face the chaos of the world with faith in their creator…trusting in the power of love…and with hope for a future…so that they might follow their conscience.
They do not have all the answers at this point… no one expects them to. Our faith is not a test we pass…rather it is a story we tell throughout our lives with multiple twists and turns. These four teens are just like the rest of us — we’re muddling their way through, living our lives, just doing the best we can with limited understanding, even of our own selves. But what we trust this day…every day…is that even though we do not understand things fully… we are fully understood by God. What we trust this day is not that these confirmands know God fully…but that they are fully known. God created them and gave them life and holds them this day and always.
And we trust that whatever roads they travel – faith, hope and love will abide. Faith in something greater than themselves. Hope that beauty is possible in the midst of pain. And Love…the love of the community that surrounds them, the love of the families that shape them, the love of the friends that accompany them, and the love of God who delights in them. And the greatest of these, is Love. May love hold them, sustain them, fill them, and give them life. Amen.