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"Making peace is holy work"

A sermon by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in the Protestant Cathedral, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

19 August 2018

A sermon by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in the Protestant Cathedral, Kinshasa, DRC, 19 August 2018.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Matthews 5:9.

“The peacemakers.” A beautiful term. It concerns the best part of our humanity; it concerns what allows us to live the good life together. It concerns the peaceful ones. Those who create trust and foster good relations. Those who try to bring out the best in us. Those who attempt to prevent and solve conflicts. Those who identify what unifies us. They are needed, like before—perhaps like never before.

It is easy to tear asunder everything that is encompassed by the word “peace” (shalom, saalam, eirene, pax, paix, Frieden): Community, unity, solidarity, willingness to share, everything that makes one belong to the herd that cares for one another. Peace requires mutual accountability to one another, to be accountable for what we do to God and to our neighbors. Peace is wellbeing, health, happiness, and life. It requires security and safety for all. We need peace to live in community. We need peace to live.

Thus, the WCC has an agenda for just peace. We need just peace at least in four dimensions: We need just peace within the communities, where we live our daily lives, without violence, without threats, without rape, without fear. We need just peace in the market places, where so much greed and so many grab the resources and the wealth of this world for the benefit of themselves. We need just peace among the nations and peoples, as we have to live together as good neighbors if we shall live at all. When the WCC was founded 70 years ago, it was a sign of a new time where the churches took responsibilities for the peace among the nations. “Never again!” was the modus of the time. The disasters caused by what started as European wars in the 20th century should not happen again, and the churches should build the bridges between the nations. Finally, we need a just peace with creation. We see how human-caused climate change and other pollutions are destroying the balances in creation, making the life for God’s creation including human beings in danger.

We see that there are strong connections between peace and justice. There is no real peace without justice. There are so many examples of that, many of them can be named in your country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where so many millions have lost their lives and so many have been attacked by violence and so many women raped over the last years and decades.

We have to be together as churches in our efforts for peace. This was a conclusion of the visit of Pope Francis to the WCC in June. Walking, praying and working together was the motto. This is what we are doing just now.

There is a strong connection between the beatitudes spoken of Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who make peace. “Blessed are those hunger thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matt 5:6) Peace pertains to what we ask for when we pray for the “daily bread”.

We in the WCC pray for peace for all people. Churches around the world pray for the just peace for the peoples of Congo; particularly we now pray for the just peace in fair and peaceful elections in December and a fair and peaceful implementation of the results.

This is a great and compelling life task: to provide or to protect peace, to act in a way that enables us to be one—even though we are different and belong to different tribes, parties, ethnicities, countries, cultures, continents or religions. The disciples of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ in all confessional families are called to work together to protect and to provide just peace, to make peace.

We need examples of our potential to change the world for the better. We need leaders who are willing to take new initiatives for peace.

Yesterday we were saddened by the news of the death of Kofi Annan, the great son of Africa who became a peacemaker and secretary general of the United Nations. A wise man, a man committed to work for peace, to struggle for peace. Even if he did not succeed always, he continued to make efforts for peace, in many conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. He lived in my neighborhood outside Geneva, and he encouraged the work of the WCC. May he rest in God’s eternal peace.

However, we, the people at large, every one of us, can contribute to peacemaking, making the world, every nation, every village, every home - a more peaceful place. We need encouragements, like the peace process in Ethiopia and Eritrea we have heard of recently, to see that it is possible. In May, I headed a delegation to South Korea and North Korea, immediately after the remarkable and surprising summit in Panmunjom between the two leaders of those countries. It is possible for them to take new steps towards peace —it is possible for all of us.

The WCC's accompaniments in South Africa are another example of the WCCs involvement for justice and peace. The World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism was launched in 1969. It followed other involvements of the WCC in the churches´efforts to overcome colonialism and all its consequences and to strengthen the collaboration between the churches in each country and region, like in the All Africa Conference of Churches. The programme played a highly visible and controversial role in international debate about white-minority rule in Southern Africa. It supported reflection and action among and within churches in Southern Africa, criticizing some white churches and challenging others, and provided direct humanitarian support to liberation movements, and was a leader in international campaigns for economic disengagement from apartheid.

Everyone needs peace. We need it in our closest relations, on a local level, nationwide, worldwide, between different groups and peoples, between different ethnic groups and races, and between different religions and convictions.

This world is screaming for those who can keep us united in peace and justice, so that we can be one in our efforts to share the resources, to preserve the climate, the sea, the earth. So that we can create a future for our children and grandchildren that they can look forward to.

We need words that can unite us. We need words that can establish norms and agreements about how things should be, even though things are not actually so. The human rights declarations are also celebrating 70 years this year. We need the words that define our dignity and our rights to be protected. These declarations are particularly there to protect those who are most vulnerable, often women and children. Respect for human rights and international law is needed in every country. Otherwise, there will be no peace. We need words that compel us to believe in peace; we need words that compel us to make peace.

Many things are harmed by malicious words and by crude and irreconcilable speech. It harms our close relations and pits us against each other, within our families, within our nations, and within our world. It is harmful, whether in tweets from presidents and others seeking to exert power in such a way, or in warmongering propaganda. It is dangerous to lead people and nations by dividing and creating bad blood between different groups. It is particularly dangerous to use religion as a means of spawning conflict.

However, in today’s world, the wounds of humans extend beyond words: Millions carry wounds and marks inflicted by various weapons in the world today. Many people are fleeing from their own homes. Many are faced with closed borders when asking for asylum. Many people are dead in their efforts to get protection.

Survivors of war carry around the wounds from the terrible things that have happened, whether on their bodies, or in their souls—or both—for the rest of their lives. Many of them live in your beloved country.

Peace is very tangible to those who have experienced its opposite. Peace is a condition of life.

God is the God of peace.

We, as humans, have been given the same task that falls to God himself: Making peace. Nothing less than that.

The word of Jesus qualifies our work for peace through the strongest words: Beatified are the peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers. Making peace is to do what is best, to realize our dreams, but also to fulfil the will of God. Making peace is holy work.

Peace is not just a topic for the negotiating table. Peace is a matter of life for the people at large. Peace is something we all can experience. Peace is something we must dare to believe in and act accordingly.

One of the stories I have carried with me through life, is one my mother told me about the day when “peace came”. She spoke of peace like a friend, who came and changed everything. She was a student nurse working on patients, carrying them to bomb shelters in hospitals whenever the air-raid sirens sounded here in Oslo during the last part of World War II. She talked about how she felt one day in May 1945, when they had heard rumours of peace, not knowing whether they were true or not. They made their way downtown to ascertain the truth. She was convinced once she saw the bonfires illuminating the streets that night. They were burning the blackout curtains. The people were convinced that there would be no more air-raid sirens. That was the people’s faith in the word of peace; that was the action that demonstrated peace as a reality.

We can all be surprised by peace. We can all help carry the vision and the hope for peace forwards and turn it into something tangible. We can all be pilgrims of justice and peace, humans who are willing to change and who are seeking new paths towards our common future.

Jesus assigns the highest honour to the work of peacemaking: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. They receive the highest status the God of peace can bestow upon them.

We have to make peace together, to be united as churches following the call of Jesus. That is our highest honour. Today. Tomorrow. Every day. Making peace is holy work. It makes the world safer for all of us—for all children and grandchildren. To God be the glory! Amen.