These past months have been difficult for all of us but I know from my conversations with them, that it has been especially hard on our youth and young people. The pandemic was hard enough as they were suddenly isolated from friends and lost the independence that is so important at their age, but now watching our communities torn with strife and the violence of injustice has been heart-wrenching. This morning, then I want to address my thoughts to the young people of our church. I’m going to follow Paul’s example and put my thoughts in the form of a letter, and if you are older, you can listen, but this letter is not for you.
This letter is to all of our young people, all of you — those who have ever been in youth group, played Four Square with me, gone on field trips, cleaned creeks, eaten pizza, debated Scruples questions, and discussed theology and the meaning of life with me.
I’m writing this letter to you because I know that you are as heartbroken as I am by the events in our country and I feel such sorrow on your behalf. You shouldn’t have to be carrying the burden of so much brokenness at a time when your lives are supposed to be full of only joy and potential and excitement about the future. Instead, we are together watching our world fall apart and none of is sure how it will be put back together. I don’t have any more answers than anyone for you, but as a minister who has walked with a lot of people through the brokenness of their lives and helped them to find a way toward healing, I have learned a few things that might help you to persevere in these unfathomably hard times.
First, let yourself be angry and sad and confused. The power of our feelings can be overwhelming and we can be tempted to try to escape them because they can hurt so much, but if instead, we give ourselves permission to go ahead and weep and keen our anger to the heavens, those feelings will eventually strengthen us instead of depleting us. This is the time to let our emotions be raw and express the depth of our human heartache. The only people who are not weeping these days are those who gave up on humanity a long time ago, whose dry eyes say in effect, “What else did you expect?” Your tears are an expression of your hope; they are a sign that you still believe that the world doesn’t have to be unjust and cruel. Accept the weight of your anguish as the sign of the depth of your caring heart and when that burden becomes too much to bear, throw all of your anger and grief onto God. Don’t hold back; you can even use profanity if that’s the only way to express to God the depth of your feelings. Prayer isn’t supposed to be pretty, and our words to God aren’t supposed to be safe and polite. God can take it, and God wants to take it. It isn’t just nice theology when the Bible says, “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows:” those words are the lifeline of our faith because God promises to give us the help we need to bear the unbearable.
Secondly, trust that the crisis and turmoil we are going through right now is a sign of hope. You know, we human beings don’t like to change; God knows we don’t like to change. The Bible is one story after another of God trying to convince people to change, people ignoring God’s plea, and crisis ensuing. The Pharaoh of Egypt didn’t just wake up one day and say, “You know, this whole system of slavery is unjust. I’m going to let the Israelites go;” Pharaoh’s world had to be turned upside down before he let the people have their freedom and even after he let the Israelites go, he changed his mind and tried to drag them back to the way things were. God had to part the waters of the Red Sea before the Israelites could finish their walk to freedom. It would be great if human beings could easily accept new ways of thinking and living together but most of us would rather be comfortable than just, and the older people get, the more entrenched we become in the way things are. The broiling cruelties, anger, hatreds, and threats that consume our communities right now aren’t new — they’ve been there for a long time — but too many people cherished their comfort and order so much that they were willing to ignore the injustices. The pain of these days is a sign that maybe finally the waters are parting and that no one will be able to drag us back to the calm of an unjust order. I pray that this crisis will not pass quickly because crisis has always been God’s way of lighting a fire under the comfortable and complacent.
And finally, when all of the emotions of the moment have burned out and most people have gone back to the ordinary concerns of their lives, I hope that you will never again accept ordinary as good enough. I hope that you will allow these times to shape who you are and who you will be, and commit yourself for the long haul. When the apostle Paul talks about the life of faith in his letters, he often describes it as running a race, and he wasn’t talking about sprints or relay races: he was talking about marathons. Some older people think that at a certain time in their lives they can pass the baton to the younger generation as if this is a relay race but Paul made it clear that we don’t finish the course until we take your last breath, so you can trust that I am still in this race with you. You can trust that when you are feeling alone and unsure of whether you can stay the course, you can look around you and see a whole church full of creaky battle scarred old folk who are still in this race with you. We may be a little worse for the wear but we have learned things over the years that will help you in this marathon. We have learned how to hold one another up during times when our legs tire and our hearts despair so that we can keep going. We have learned how to seek moments of joy in the midst of sadness and cherish glimpses of beauty in the midst of the ugliness so that we will remember just what it is that we are fighting for. We have learned how to lean on God in prayer when we need more than human strength to keep going. But most of all, we have learned how much we need you, and the hope that your tears, your anger, your passion, and your insight give us.
In the end, I guess, what I most want to say to you in this letter is thank you. Thank you for your tears. Thank you for your anger. Thank you for your insistence that we can all be better than what we have been. Thank you for joining the race.
May the God of love and peace be with you and with us all.