Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
It probably won’t surprise Natalie and Mimi to hear I’ve been reflecting back on your confirmation day – three years ago this week – as I’ve thought about marking the occasion of your high school graduation. My charge to you and Caleb and Brayden focused on courage. Not only the courage it takes for a teenager to stand up in front of a whole church and make promises about who you want to be as a child of God and a follower of Jesus. That was already a huge deal, and we were so proud of you that day. But we had talked in confirmation class, and you had referenced in your prayers on that occasion, the fearlessness required by so many other situations in life too.
We talked together about being: Fearless in doing what’s right. Fearless in speaking the truth. Fearless in asking hard questions. Fearless in being kind, to everyone. Fearless in including everyone. Fearless in standing up to bullies, and in being brave allies for those who are bullied, whether that bullying happens in the hallways of our high schools or in the halls of power in our country. Fearless even in standing up to our friends, when necessary, if we find them leading us in directions we know we shouldn’t go.
I titled my charge to you that day “Fearless,” and we focused on some of the same Scripture passages we read again just this morning. First, from Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Be not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” And then from Romans. “I am convinced that nothing… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Don’t be afraid, God says, for I’m with you no matter what. And I love you no matter what. Or as I once heard someone put it, “God loves you and there isn’t a thing you can do about it!” You’re stuck with God’s love your whole lives long and even beyond – a pretty great thing to be stuck with, right? As we said in our call to worship this morning, we are God’s children which means that in life and in death we belong to God.
As I look back over my confirmation charge from three years ago, I’m struck by just how often you’ve had to flex your courage muscles since. I wish you hadn’t been given quite so much practice already in your young lives at needing to be brave. But we’ve all had to get a bit braver over the last couple years, haven’t we? As we’ve watched our nation weather a surreal and disturbing election season … as we’ve all learned just how prevalent white supremacy remains in our country… and just how serious are the repercussions of climate change… And then to have to make your way through your final 15 months of high school during a global pandemic? Surely one of the strangest ways a person could experience junior and senior years! How badly we wish it could have been otherwise for you. But you have weathered it all remarkably well – with a few battle scars along the way I’m sure; you’re in good company there – but here you are, emerging from a difficult season having shown tremendous resilience. If your younger selves at confirmation time were learning what it means to be “Fearless,” the last couple years have given you occasion to show us “Fearless 2.0.”
In this morning’s reading from Psalm 46 we heard these words: “therefore we will not fear though the earth should change.” Oh, it’s changed all right. It can be a strange and scary world sometimes. But here’s the thing - it’s still God’s world.
And as I see it, being fearless doesn’t mean we won’t be scared. It’s more about how we function when we face scary situations. We remember God’s promises – never to leave us, always to love us – and we keep going. In spite of all that’s wrong in the world, we forge ahead anyway. We do the kind thing, the loving thing, the just thing anyway. We find ourselves in tough situations, and we choose to take our place on the right side of history anyway.
When I said earlier it’s been a privilege to watch the two of you grow up in this church, it’s not just because you were crazy cute little kids who have turned into poised, talented young women (though that happens to be true). It’s not just because I’ve been able to catch glimpses, as you’ve grown, of your friendship with one another and the kindness you’ve shown and the example you’ve set for the younger kids coming up after you in the church. And not just because I’ve been fortunate enough, as your pastor, to enjoy both longer conversations and quick text check-ins with each of you over the last few years (though all of that’s been a treat). It’s also because I have seen you digging deep and using the gifts God has given you – your considerable brainpower, your deep compassion, your hearts for service, your impressive strength and resilience - to make this world a better place. Bravely choosing honesty and justice and inclusion, and embracing the beauty of life in God’s world rather than letting the nastiness of others pull you under.
Part of what gives me courage and hope in this crazy time is watching your generation step up fearlessly to tackle the challenges before you. What a gift from God you are to us all! Your schools and your places of work, your communities, your world will be better places with you in them.
As you go, I hope you’ll take these words with you. From Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…” (Psalm 46:1-2) From the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) And from Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
May God be with you, here, there, and everywhere, and may you always remember your church family is here for you too.