Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse
Article IV of the Augsburg Confession: We are justified by God’s Grace through our faith. To our newly confirmed, I say, “Well done!” This article they have been studying, is, for us as Lutherans, not merely any test we have to pass, but the most important summation of our belief that God loves us first and foremost for ourselves, And as they are confirmed on this Pentecost Sunday, as they become adults in your church community, we are, all of us, reminded about our own understanding of faith. We often think of faith as a way of being, something that exists like a flame inside us. Have faith, we say: believe that things will work out. Go in faith, we say: take God with you in your life. Faith is like hope and love - a feeling, a knowing, a way of being, that keeps us going through hard times. But faith is something else as well. Faith is an intellectual exercise. Faith enables us not only to feel, but also to think. The Lutheran church, after all, was founded by a scholar -- Martin Luther - who wrote thousands of pages on all kinds of issues, including the role of leaders in the pandemic that happened in his time. Martin Luther was far from perfect – indeed some of the mistakes he made require God’s forgiveness and ours as well. But he saw faith as something you both felt in your heart and thought through in your mind. In fact, the gospel you heard this morning went unheard for many centuries in the Christian church. It was read only in Latin, which most people didn’t understand, until Luther translated it into German, because he wanted people to hear it for themselves, to debate and reflect on the words with their own minds. And since then it has been translated into every language in the world. But, of course, long before Luther, we have Jesus, the teaching carpenter who sets our first, and foremost, example. Jesus posed the gospel as a series of questions and thought exercises. Faith wasn’t something that he just threw out like candy, for us to enjoy. It was an intellectual challenge, to force people to think. The questions Jesus asked, in his day, were not only good debate material; they were dangerous. Because Jesus asked: Is the way we have always done things the right way? What do you – as an individual – think of what this person is saying? Jesus was not afraid to be challenged by those who followed him; he encouraged it. Because to believe in something, enough that you will fight for it, you must know why you believe it. Now, we live in a world where we get all sorts of ideas thrown at us. We are told “This is truth, believe me,” by so many voices, especially ones that are online. The Internet is a wonderful source of information – and misinformation - and it is hard to tell fact and fiction apart. You may know people, as I do, who believe the COVID-19 vaccine was a way for the government to inject nanobots in people to track them. This conspiracy spread on social media, and it convinced a lot of people not to get a vaccine that would keep them, and others, safe from the worst of the virus. Of course, once you think about it, the whole idea falls apart. Is it reasonable that this technology even exists? Is every scientist and doctor and journalist in on it? Why would someone want to spread this fiction? But there are many more conspiracy theories drifting around on Tik Tok, and they are hard to tell apart from fact. Watch one too long, and you are flooded with more of them. It takes a lot of energy to critique each one, to pause and think: Does this match the truth I see? Is this the world I want? Is it what I believe? And yet, that is the journey of questions we are called to live. Confirmed into our faith, we face the intellectual challenge of deciding what that means for us, as individuals. That may not always be clear. That’s okay. These gift of faith takes on new meaning as we move through life, and it is up to us to find that meaning for ourselves. One of the first things we might have learned in Sunday School is the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who protects the sheep. The sheep in the metaphor are us, the flock of the faithful. But sheep get a bad rep as mindless followers; and sometime people who believe in God get called sheep as an insult. I hope you will never accept that version of events. In fact, your faith – and the history of your church – is one of questioning, challenging, and debating. We follow Jesus to be those questioners and challengers. There are many ways we become sheep in this world: when we chase money at all costs, when we get caught up in having the best things, when we blindly accept the word of political leaders, our peers, and our bosses. But our faith lives are meant to make the sheep of Jesus into Shepherds for the World. We are meant to lead in faith, and to ask tough questions of others, and of ourselves. Today is Pentecost - this story in the Bible, when people of many different languages were able to understand one another, as they spoke of their faith. This story is not meant to say that people all thought the same. But it reminds us that in the gospel is a common language that all people hear, that all humans desire - teenagers and adults. It is a common language of love, and tolerance, and kindness. A language that says: I hear you. I see you. I will help you if I am able. This is also how we make faith an intellectual journey – how we use our brains to shape and sustain our faith. We remain open to listening to people who speak a different language – whether they actually speak a different language, or just believe different things. We reflect on the words and the wisdom of others. We talk rather than shout. We seek common ground. In the end, though, what God want for us is that we always come back to ourselves and to the gospel. Think about the stories we have all learned about Jesus – debating the leaders of his time, listening to people who were often ignored, challenging us over and over again to think about what kind of world we want. We are called to do the same, guided by our faith, confident that God loves us, knowing that we are free - that, in fact, we are called - to ask these tough questions. Does this match the truth we see? Is this the kind of world we want? What do we believe? Amen.