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On the occasion of Finn Church Aid marking 70 years

Sermon given by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit on 27 September 2017, as Finn Church Aid celebrate 70 years.

27 September 2017

Helsinki, 27 September 2017

On the occasion of Finn Church Aid marking 70 years

Text: Matthew 5: 1-12

Congratulations with your 70 years as Finn Church Aid! We celebrate your rich history and your deeply meaningful life serving the many in your beloved country, and serving others in so many places in the world where the need for you has been quite obvious. We celebrate your life for others and with others. We celebrate your contribution in the ecumenical movement. We celebrate your place in the fellowship of the disciples seeking to follow Jesus Christ together on a pilgrimage for justice and peace. To do this you need courage, the courage that the promise from Jesus can give you.

Life is a gift from God. Our longing for what we need in life is also a gift from God. To be thirsty and hungry is not good in itself, rather to the contrary. But if we do not feel hunger and thirst we do not search for what we need and it can lead to illness and death if it is not met. Thirst and hunger direct our attention to what we need. Water and food. Rest and sleep when we are tired.

It is not only the thirst and hunger for our bodies and for the need we have ourselves that is a gift from God. It is also the thirst and hunger for the wellbeing of others that directs our attention to what we need ourselves: righteousness and peace. Jesus says that the utmost expression of meaning in life, to be blessed, is a fruit of our thirst and hunger to slake the thirst of others.

The connection between our lives and the lives of others is not just a matter of co-existence, having the same address or passport. If we live only for ourselves and not for others we might miss the meaning of life, we might lose the blessing that can give fullness to our lives.

I am honoured to be with you here in Finland for this anniversary, this commemoration of 70 years of Finn Church Aid. We do more than count years as we gather today. We are gathered here by the word of Jesus who is qualifying your life for others in these many years. This is the life together in care, solidarity and action for others in deep need, for people thirsty and hungry for water and food, but also thirsty and hungry for more justice and for peace.

This is an expression of the meaning of being Church. You are Finn Church Aid, and thereby qualified as a response to the needs of the people of Finland hit by wars, by conflict and division, experiencing hunger and thirst. Your expression of support, of aid, of offering what others need is essential to be Church in Finland – and anywhere in the world. The Church can never exist for its own purpose alone, it is always a call to follow Jesus Christ sharing his thirst and hunger for justice and peace.

Therefore, it is quite logical that after addressing the needs of your own people, you turned your eyes to the suffering of other peoples in the world. You did so to address their thirst and hunger, to meet their thirst and hunger for justice and peace.

That is why you also hear today the promise of being blessed, of fullness in meaning and substance in life and our relations to one another. Blessed are you. It is a word of promise. It is a qualifying word, creating what it says. Blessing. Meaning. Fullness. It is not said to you or anybody because you are in the modus of being wealthy; rather to the contrary. Blessed are the poor. It is not said to you because you are experiencing so much happiness, we hear that Finland is one of the best countries in the world to live in. It is not because you might be filled with satisfaction and with a strong self-esteem as Finn Church Aid today that these words are addressed to you. But it is because you have as people in Finland looked for what brings to life what is needed and where it is needed. It is because you (together with others) are seeking justice and peace for so many other people in the world. That is why the word of promise is resting upon you.

These words of the blessings are touching the essence of the 500 years of Reformation we are also celebrating this year. Together we now recognize that the word of the Gospel can unite us, and that Luther has helped us to hear the word of the Gospel more clearly. This word of the Gospel is the promise of salvation, of the kingdom of God in this world, of the eternal life that starts already here in this life. This promise of the blessing comes to those who are thirsty and hungry, poor and weak. It must not and should not be diffused or destructed by irrelevant focus on ourselves and our glory and honour. The promise is a word of how the coming kingdom of God is breaking into this world through what we are longing for. It comes through what we are doing to express this longing, this expectation, this faith that can receive the precious gift of God. It comes through our prayer that the will of God should happen in the world as it happens in heaven. The reality that goes beyond our lives here, the eternal life, gives as a longing, a thirst and a hunger for it to become tangible, visible, present, near, here too. Not because we deserve it, but because we want to bring it to us and to others as a gift. A Gift of grace, a gift of love.

Therefore, the richness in your Finnish tradition of faith is particularly strong in the expressions of sharing, of longing together with others for righteousness and peace. Your Christian faith, and your belonging to the worldwide ecumenical fellowship is particularly strong and particularly needed in how you are giving account to others of your resources, but also of your faith, your thirst and hunger for a better world.  That is why we also need you so strongly as a mutually accountable partner in the ecumenical movement, we need your faith, your resilience, your commitment, and we need your hope.

The theme for this anniversary is “courage”. You need courage, we all need courage. We live in a world that is getting divided, polarized, focusing on the differences and the dividing forces between us as human beings and between us and nature. We need the courage to live with a vision for unity, for the qualities of humbleness and longing, sharing the words of faith together. We need the courage to be the disciples of Jesus Christ together, sharing his care and his longing for justice and peace in all its fullness. In our service for others, we need the courage he has when he challenges our faith in him and how it is also tested by evil initiatives and acts of others. We need the courage to be weak, to be poor, hungry and thirsty with those who are so – and believe that something else is possible.

We live in a moment in time when we see the polarization of power and of people. We also live in a time when the openness for cooperation, witnessing together in life and ministry, is gaining momentum in many circles. We simply want to be ourselves without fighting with others in an exaggerated self-sufficiency. The saying of “enough is enough” will open space for others.

Also for us who are relatively well, we need to hear the call to find the right focus. To do what we should do. And to do it together with other peoples.

This word of promise of God’s blessing does not come because we are so qualified. It does not come even to give us an answer to the need for meaning for the people of Finland, or elsewhere in the world. This promise of God’s blessing makes us free to serve.

Life can be counted in years. Children count them very carefully, proud of every new year of growth and maturity. When we get older we get into phases when we might not be so happy with the facts of numbers of years, wishing we had more of the power and vitality we had when we were younger. Still: Life is a gift. When we see that life has a basis and a purpose, in every phase of our lifespan we carry with us the potential for being something for the others that can make a difference for the others. In every phase of life we carry with us the dream that something good, even something miraculous will happen, that what we see and what we experience can change for the better. The longing, the thirst, the hunger for something better, something more than what we see is our drive towards the fullness of life.

So also for organisations like Finn Church Aid: The life of an organisation like yours is a gift to those who are served by the work done, but also a gift to those who found meaning in supporting the work from their conviction, experience and vision. In Norwegian we talk about “hjertesak”. Matters of the heart. For many who have been and are responsible for the work and the decisions of an organisation, it becomes part of the carrier, but also a significant part of the meaning of life coming from being involved in relevant tasks, in doing what makes a difference.

You have made it a brand mark to work for peace. You belong in that family of international organized partners whose task it is to find this way towards unity. May God bless you and all the priests and deacons, lay and ordained, serving the presence of Christ here and now. That gives all of us the courage to continue – together.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary
World Council of Churches