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The Peace of Freedom

24 September 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches

Theme:  Africa – Accept God’s Peace and Rejoice with Dignity

AACC Chapel, Nairobi, Kenya

Worship on the World Day of Prayer for Peace, 21 September, 2010

Text: Gal 3: 26-29

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

I bring you greetings on behalf of the fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches. We are here to celebrate the worship on this day, a day when we pray in this fellowship all over the world for peace. This year as we pray particularly for peace among you here in this lovely continent of Africa, it is a special honour and indeed deeply meaningful for me to represent this world wide fellowship among you here in Nairobi today, in the chapel of the All Africa Conference of Churches. In this fellowship we are called to be one, in our faith, in our prayers, in our worship, and in our witness and ministry for peace. It is a particular joy that coincidently my predecessor Sam Kobia is here, also for the sake of working for peace in Africa.

I come to you as a brother in Christ. I come with humility and with expectations. I come with gratefulness for the strong faith that you bring to this fellowship of faith in Christ to which we belong. I commend your resilience, your strength and your hope which you have shown and continue to show in your struggles for justice and peace in Africa, often in very difficult and challenging times. I come with the commitment of the fellowship of the WCC to work for peace with you for just peace here. I also come as a preacher, called to share the word of God with you.

In the letter to the Galatians St Paul fights for the true gospel, for the word of freedom. Faith in Jesus Christ is a faith in freedom, in true freedom.

This faith in Jesus Christ makes us one. Whatever we are in ourselves and whatever identity we might have, we are something more and something different when we are one in Christ.  To be one in Christ is to be one in our faith and in our fight for freedom given to us in our faith.

You know how precious the word of freedom is. You know even more how strong the longing for freedom is in many places on your continent; people await the freedom from injustice, freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and freedom from war.

The freedom Paul is fighting for is the freedom given by Christ. It is the freedom from the evil circle of sin, from guilt, from retaliation, from broken relations to human beings and to God. Forgiveness, reconciliation and hope are the gifts of the Gospel. This is the costly word that can set us free, the word that must not be spoilt or lost. To make this word of freedom true and effective, St Paul also has to fight for the clarity of this word of the gospel. Therefore, he has to fight for the clear understanding that the forgiveness and hope we receive is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. It is not a fruit of our own merits or related to our status or privileges compared to others.

In Christ Jesus, we are all one due to something else than our status, our heritage, our gender, our colour, our job or civil status. Therefore, the freedom in Christ has a huge potential of inspiring us to bring justice for all.

It might sound strange that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jews nor Greek, neither male nor female. Because they knew and we know that if we are Greek, Norwegian, Kenyan, Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, male or female, we are what we are. We have our identity and our identities, quite often a mixture of many identities. We should be willing to accept others as ourselves, and we should be proud of being what we are, also with our mixed identities.

We can be too preoccupied with what we are or what we are not. We have seen and every day we see the disastrous consequences of what can happen when these differences between people are used to discriminate, to bring us to different status of value and give us different rights. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in one of his many clear messages, ridiculing apartheid’s obsession with ethnicity, what is quoted in the first chapter of his biography: “My father was a Xhosa and my mother a Motswana. What does that make me?” And it is said that Harry Belafonte responded from the audience: “A Zulu!”

In Christ Jesus we are one in faith, receiving the same grace of God. In Christ Jesus we are therefore one in our privileged access to God, according to the promises of God we are children of God. Therefore, in Christ Jesus we are not defined first and foremost by what we are in ourselves, but what is given to us in Christ.

This word of freedom is, my dear brothers and sisters, a very strong message of justice. It is therefore, also a message of peace. St Paul did not bring his reflection to the stage the church did later: The slave shall not remain a slave, but be liberated.

You know that the real freedom is not to be alone or to do what you want. Nobody can do that without losing the freedom, there are always limits we need to respect to be happy. The true meaning of freedom is to belong, to be one in a fellowship where we are accepted as we are, where we are free to be ourselves. This is a condition for just peace in our homes, in our communities, in our nations.

You know better than me the deep meaning of “ubuntu”. But I think I have understood enough to say that exactly this living together in a fellowship of sharing and caring, of justice and equality between us, is the best expression of freedom we can find. “I am because you are.” And maybe we could add in the light of the words from St Paul: “I am because you are who you are and because you let me be who I am.”

We are called to be free. We are called to be free from the consequences of sin and hatred, from the effects of violence and injustice based on discrimination between peoples. We are called to be one in Christ, bound together in grace. This is the real freedom.

This is a fellowship that binds us together; this is a fellowship where we are also one in our responsibilities. We are on in our mutual accountability to one another for the gifts we have been given from God. The fellowship in Christ is a model, a perspective of our lives which we are called to make known in the world, as an inspiration for peace, for true peace.

We are not better than everybody else, but we are called to be a sign of the effect of God’s grace in the world. We are not able to make peace alone or by the power of the church alone. I do not think we should take that role upon us. But we are called to witness that in Christ Jesus we believe that there is a model for freedom that leads to justice and peace; a model of unity that the world should see.

To be in Christ Jesus is to be with Christ in carrying the cross. We share in the reality of the cross, of the suffering of the world, of the pain of evil, of the tragedy of sin. But when we carry the cross we also carry the sign of Christ suffering for us and for the whole world, for the forgiveness of sins, so that there can be a new start for all of us. Quite often those who have to carry the heaviest cross also carry the strongest word of faith and hope of the resurrection.

The cross is also a sign of Christ opening his arms, stretching out to include everybody. We cannot do without the cross in the church. The cross always shows us the costliness of our freedom and of our peace. However, the exclusivity of the cross of Christ is exactly that it is so inclusive. Christ died to bring peace to the whole world. Therefore, we cannot but speak about Christ when we speak about peace.

This is as sign for the whole world, that all human beings are created in the image of God, and are objects of the love of God and included in God’s will for peace in the world.

Being one in Christ Jesus is also to witness together in the power of the resurrection of Christ. The power of life over death is the power of peace over hatred, violence and war.

In Christ we possess the dignity of being the children of God. In Christ we witness together that in God there should not be any discrimination. In Christ we witness together that God cares about our dignity. In Christ we witness that we are called to share the gifts of God in this world with justice. In Christ we are called to believe the promises and actively pray and work for peace. In Christ we are called to be one – so the world can believe that God loves this world and this creation, and want us to live in peace with all our neighbours. Whoever they are or whatever faith they have.

The fellowship of the WCC is called to pray with and for you, for justice and peace in Africa.

For all of us this is a matter of accepting God’s peace and rejoicing with dignity, together.

Let it be so. Amen.