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Biblical reflection at the memorial service for the late general secretary of the WCC, Philip Potter

A pilgrimage of justice and peace. Our theme for the World Council of Churches in this period could very well have been formulated by Philip Potter. He was a pilgrim of justice and peace. He is a pilgrim - now at home with God in another way than before.

18 May 2015

By the General Secretary of the WCC, Olav Fykse Tveit

Dear Bärbel, dear friends and colleagues of Philip Potter,

dear sisters and brothers,

 

We read in Psalm 85:10-13:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet,
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and make a path for his steps.


A pilgrimage of justice and peace. Our theme for the World Council of Churches in this period could very well have been formulated by Philip Potter. He was a pilgrim of justice and peace. He is a pilgrim - now at home with God in another way than before. «At Home with God» was the English title of the anthology of many of his speeches. They show us how he lived in the presence of God every day, knowing that one day it would also have another meaning. That day has come. Today we give thanks for how he showed us what it means to give leadership to a pilgrimage of justice and peace, and even more, what it means to live in God´s presence on a pilgrimage of justice and peace.

We often come back to the expressions of Psalm 85 in our reflections on what a pilgrimage of justice and peace is and should be.

The Psalm refers to situations when experiences of liberation happened in the past, but then the question still remains: why is the reality of shalom not the experience of the present?

The prophetic voice, called to hear and to convey what God the Lord will say, carries a clear message: God will speak peace to his people. The iniquities, the sins of his people, will not remain as an obstacle to God´s peace. «Salvation is at hand.» Even in the situation we live, coming after the significant acts of Christ for our salvation bit not yet in the full realization of it, we know that «salvation at hand». Even in times when we remember the acts the past, acts of liberation of peoples and churches in which the ecumenical movement has been so involved, we experience new times of crises… crises for the planet earth and the climate change brought on by human activity, poverty, injustice for so many, even the deliberate persecution of Christians.

Our pilgrimage is a way to show that we believe that «salvation is at hand». Salvation did not belong only to the past, nor does it belong only to the future. Salvation is at hand.

The words from the Hebrew Bible are at the centre of our reflections. These words are filled with history and theology, but also with faith and life: zædæk weshalom, justice and peace, or righteousness and peace. They shall meet, they shall show how they are inseparable, neither of them can be without the other. No peace without justice, no justice without peace. They intimately belong together. They shall kiss each another.

When we see these words in the context and in the family of words with which they are associated in this Psalm, we recognize again the richness of this wonderful expression – they’ll kiss each other. Justice and peace are the qualities of life brought to us by the liberation of God, the salvation of God. Justice and peace are the gifts of God´s salvation.

Justice and peace are expressed in God´s actions of steadfast love. The righteousness of God is at hand, the high standards of God, expressed in generous and steadfast love, is our salvation. And it is at hand. Because God is here.

Everything we believe, say and do for justice and peace, we do as a response to this love, this expression of how «the Lord will give what is good». The Church, knowing God´s salvation, cannot but be comprised of messengers and makers of justice and peace. The response from the earth to the righteousness from above is faithfulness. «Faithfulness will spring up from the ground». This is one of the most moving prophetic words in this Psalm. The Church, the people created by God, although we often fail as human beings, shall be able to respond in a proper way to God´s love. We shall show the qualities of our faithfulness to this high calling from God. This is what Philip Potter expressed in his commentary on 1 Peter’s vision of living stones, together building the house of God.

Today we remember and give thanks to God for how Philip became a sign of the fulfilment of this prophesy. God can lead us to be expressions of this faithfulness, showing that justice and peace do meet. We see how God brought the voice of comfort forward to us through him. God will speak peace to his people. God has great plans, to be realized through the Church and all human beings. Shalom. Peace. But God also brought forward the voice of justice. Philip believed in the salvation of God as liberation from injustice and sin.

It is significant for us in the ecumenical movement today not only to look at the past or to the future, but to ask: What do we see at hand? Today we are reminded: The salvation of God is at hand. As a gift of grace. As a gift of fellowship, with many more gathered in fellowship than ever before. As a sign of justice and peace kissing each other. The great acts of the salvation of God are not only historical events of the past, they are at work now as we move forward and turn our hearts to God, as pilgrims of justice and peace. May this also be expressed in our faithfulness, following the example of Philip. Whatever we may experience over time, we know that God‘s salvation is ours today, salvation is at hand.

For that very reason, Philip lived his life, and died, in the peace of God.