The 26th European Lutheran Conference was delayed in 2020 because of C-19 and dis-tanced but digital in 2021. Members of the European Lutheran Churches with which the EL-CE are in church fellowship – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Portugal – and guests from Lutheran Churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland – met online for 3 days this past week under the theme of ‘Sharing Hope in Times of Fear’.
There were three keynote presentations. I am more than happy to email them if you’d like to read them! From Finland we heard about perspec-tives on hope when life appears to have no meaning. From Germany we heard about the tensions between the hopes for today (which can be many) and the hope for the future (especially about eternity), be-tween living now and living with a future perspective. From Denmark we heard about Martin Luther’s writ-ings of 1520 (with some from 1519) and how he ad-dressed hope and rejected the then view that hope was anchored in human effort and a fruit of a well-spent life because it was easy to demonstrate how adversities challenge this hope and instead he insist-ed that everyone could have hope and a reassurance of the heart when that hope was God himself – but only when that God is Jesus Christ.
As always the presentations stimulated lots of discussion and it is always fascinating to hear different perspectives because of our contexts of congregations and countries. We discussed numerous things including people’s personalities, the Last Judgement, whether we look to the future with fear or love, and whether society is becoming more intolerant and congrega-tions and pastors are simply becoming groups of the ‘like minded’ because it is now simply easy to find online the congregation or pastor with which you agree. What intrigued me by Day 2 was how little COVID-19 was mentioned – until it was specifically mentioned on Day 3 (that we hadn’t talked about it much!). It occurred to me that our conference theme is applica-ble all the time and not just in a pandemic because our world is full or mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word – and Jesus has a message for all time because his love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).
Part of the conclusion from Denmark [Prof. em Dr Asger Chr. Højlund] said,
If you can grasp that God is not distant, but already knows your ways and is entirely in control of what is going on, there is a greater chance for you to deal with the pressure and the chaos that you face. When you are even able to wait and see, “resigned in all things”, as Luther puts it, there is a good chance that you don’t lose your spirits when things do not develop like you had imagined. And when you, as a last daring step, are even able to look upon your enemies as instruments in the hands of God, you are incon-vincible, for even when you fall, you prevail. Not that Luther always was able to do so. Even if this faith is a gift of God, it also puts a strain on you. It is not always easy to enter the darkness of faith and stay there. Therefore, the most precious gift of faith is that it, no matter how weak and wavering it might be, unites you with Christ.