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Message of the Presidents of the WCC at Pentecost 2005

04 May 2005

Grace and peace to you on this Feast of Pentecost 2005, in which we celebrate the many gifts of God's Spirit!

As the apostle Paul has exhorted, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). The gift of spirituality has been lavished upon humanity not only for our own inner contentment and individual fulfillment, but to enable us to proclaim our faith together through action in the world. Our spiritual worship requires us to present our bodies, that we may be of service to God and our neighbours.

"Who then is my neighbour?" In one parable of Jesus, the neighbour is a Samaritan, a member of an alien religious culture who had been regarded as an enemy (Luke 10:29-37). Our neighbours may be those we least expect, and the barriers we perceive between us and them may swiftly fall away before the fresh wind of the Spirit.

On the morning of Pentecost, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, the city of Jerusalem had become a gathering place for pilgrims representing many and varied peoples from across the face of the earth. When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, they began to proclaim the gospel despite the great diversity of those who heard them. "Amazed and astonished, they asked, 'Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?'" (Acts 2:1-8). The miracle of Pentecost was an unprecedented revelation that all the tightly-drawn boundaries of culture, religion, race, gender and language are as nothing compared to the healing, reconciling will of Jesus Christ who "has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us" (Ephesians 2:14).

Now, as then, it seems only human to define oneself over against "the other" - those people who are not like me, not like us. If we find any of them in our vicinity, we designate them outsiders. Yet the arrangement seems less fair when we find ourselves in the minority, when we experience what it means to be "the other". At some time, each of us has felt the de-humanizing sting of a look or a word or a joke or a law. At a given moment, each of us has known the outsider's sense of embarrassment, disappointment, outrage and self-alienation.

The good news of Pentecost is that Jesus Christ calls us to a new realization of our common humanity. And the Holy Spirit makes possible our full participation in true community. Such a community of the people of God may become an instrument of the gospel, as did the apostles.

The World Council of Churches and ecumenical partners from a wide variety of traditions and movements are gathering at a Conference on World Mission and Evangelism this spring in Athens, Greece. In the light of Pentecost, the theme of the conference suggests the role that Christian communities may play in overcoming barriers between people, "'Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile!' Called in Christ to be healing and reconciling communities."

Pentecost comes as a reminder that God intervenes in our world to overcome divisions, to heal, to reconcile us with God and one another. Where once language divided us, we are enabled to understand one another clearly, and to praise God in harmony. Where once the boundaries of our community marked the limits to our friendships and family ties, now a worldwide sense of community opens our hearts to all God's creatures.

The Creator brought into being all that is. Christ has been revealed to us as "all in all". The Holy Spirit blows, like the wind, where it will. God knows no limits.

Pentecost forces us to an expanding understanding of God, and we begin to see that there are no limits on the ways in which God interacts with the world. God's mercy is more profound than we can imagine. God is more open than we have ever envisioned. God is more loving than we can conceive. We begin to understand, too, that the limits we experience in this world are limits that we have placed on one another, and on ourselves.

We do not have intelligence enough nor imagination enough nor sufficiently well-honed senses to appreciate all that God is, let alone all of God's ways. And yet God calls us to present our bodies and dedicate our lives - to the quest for justice, to seek an end to violence, to confront hatred and oppression and discrimination and disease, to loving service in partnership with all people of good will. And God promises the presence of the Holy Spirit in this ministry of healing and reconciliation.

"God, in Your Grace, Transform the World" is the theme for the up-coming 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches which will be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February 2006. As the Holy Spirit transformed the apostles on the day of Pentecost for the sake of the whole inhabited world, so we envision the Spirit transforming us as individuals, as communities, as members of churches and citizens of the world. Indeed, we look forward to the transformation of all Creation - for the sake of our common redemption, for justice and peace, for love and service - so that together we may see the fulfillment of the prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth. During this season of Pentecost, we wish to invite delegates and visitors from around the world to join us in Porto Alegre as we explore the theme, "God, in Your Grace, Transform the World." The theme of the 9th Assembly is also our prayer. Amen.

WCC Presidents:

Dr Agnes Abuom, Nairobi, Kenya

Rt Rev. Jabez L. Bryce, Suva, Fiji

H.E. Chrysostomos, Metropolitan of the Senior See of Ephesus, Istanbul, Turkey

H.H. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Damascus, Syria

Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, Cleveland, USA

Dr Kang Moon Kyu, Seoul, Korea

Bishop Federico J. Pagura, Rosario, Argentina

Bishop Eberhardt Renz, Tübingen, Germany