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Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit: Love Makes All Things New

Love Makes All Things New: Introductory Remarks by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches at the Swedish Ecumenical Weekend, 3-4 November 2018

03 November 2018

Love Makes All Things New: Introductory Remarks
Swedish Ecumenical Weekend, 3-4 November 2018
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary, World Council of Churches

1. Behold!

It is a privilege to join you this weekend for a time of both celebrating and calibrating the ecumenical movement on the occasion of the 70th anniversary year of the World Council of Churches.  We best honour the ecumenical movement’s past be by taking its measure against the exciting opportunities and profound imperatives of our own time.

Of course, it is especially poignant and hopeful to be doing so under the banner, “Behold, I Make All Things New!” It evokes the ambitious theme of the WCC’s 4th Assembly, 50 years ago here in Uppsala, and also boldly reasserts our Christian hope, indeed confidence, in the renewal of Christianity, the world, and indeed all creation in Christ.  It is a heady, even intimidating theme, but it could not be more pertinent in today’s context.

This weekend’s programme is similarly ambitious, where presentations and seminars will probe the most important issues facing us Christians, facing the global fellowship of churches and its ecumenical partners, and facing all humanity. We welcome your insights, and I sincerely hope that this ecumenical weekend will shed light on and strengthen resolve for the work that lies ahead to make all things new!

2. Northern Lights

Tomorrow you will hear much more about the Uppsala assembly 50 years ago from your keynote speaker, our moderator, Dr. Agnes Abuom, especially about its context and achievements. But may I just say that among its abiding achievements was furthering the specific legacy of the Nordic countries to the ecumenical movement and the special character it brought to a movement that might otherwise have become too inward-looking.

One needs only to recall that one of the greatest lights of the 20th century, Swedish Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, decisively  shaped the nascent ecumenical movement after World War I through his dogged pursuit of justice and peace in the  international realm and through his building of the Life and Work movement among the churches. It was precisely this work of training the focus and energies of world Christianity on social justice and world peace that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. Connecting growth in personal discipleship with the unfolding world situation was hardly accidental or incidental to his work. As he said, “No road to peace exists  other than that of the narrow path whose name is conversion.” The work of Christian unity animates the search for justice and peace.

The 4th Assembly drew on this legacy, further embodied in another Nobel laureate, the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., when it met here shortly after King’s assassination in 1968.

Today your presence here, reflecting earnestly on contemporary ecumenical challenges of interreligious encounter,  asylum for refugees, freedom of religion, rethinking Christian anthropology in light of disability, and the church’s role in politics continues that legacy. Such ecumenical commitments in the Church of Sweden and other Scandinavian churches are an inspiring countersign to racist, nativist, and xenophobic movements that darken Nordic  and other skies these days.  Your presence here testifies to the abiding need for Christian hospitality and advocacy for migrants and refugees. And your presence here also sends the message that authentic Christian commitment is not about hiding inside supposed traditionalist values but about going out bravely and boldly beyond boundaries of nation or class or race or religion to heal a broken world, following Jesus the Healer by ensuring the life, health, and well-being of people everywhere.

3. Love Knows No Bounds

Such solidarity is a by-product, as it were, of ecumenism. In its founding 70 years ago, the WCC was a child of a genuine worldwide movement to narrow our differences, to heal our divisions, and to link arms in Christian solidarity for the sake of the world.

In the last 70 years, since its founding in 1948, the WCC has created a common platform for critical theological reflection in the interests of unity, commitment to framing a more just international order, and working together to ensure peace and justice. Whether in renewing theology, reframing mission, or bringing together churches and their ecumenical partners to serve, that platform has enabled the churches, in countless and consequential ways and places, and in ever-changing contexts, to serve each other and the world.

Over the decades, through the WCC and the ecumenical movement, Christians have reached out together to build consensus on fundamental aspects of faith and order, build institutions of peace and peacebuilding, support human rights and human dignity, face down injustice and racism, address gender inequities, nurture reverence for the integrity of creation, and renew the churches themselves. These are enormous accomplishments.

Indeed, from our vantage point, we can see that, in its deepest meaning, this ecumenical movement has been, then and now, a movement of love. Over these decades, it has been the love of God in Christ, of our fellow humans, and of the earth that has animated and energized Christians to journey in faith together, to overcome their historic divisions and reach out in love.

4. Love Animates the Universe and Our Pilgrimage

Ecumenical ly committed Christians continue to “make all things new” through generous applications of Christian love.  We still walk, work and pray in that movement of love. In fact, the dangers we face make us more conscious of our shared humanity, and our solidarity as Christians frees us to serve the one world created by the one God.

Indeed, I sense a new ecumenical momentum, evident in celebrations of the 70th anniversary around the world, in recent progress on the peace front in Korea and Columbia, in the joyful visit of Pope Francis last summer to the WCC, and on occasions like this ecumenical weekend.  I also see it in the advent of a new generation whose creativity, openness, and joy can offer fresh energy and ideas to make our earthly home more closely akin to the realm of God and God’s justice. We see power and determination in the newly revived campaign Thursdays in Black to raise awareness and foment action against gender violence. We see creative rethinking of the churches’ work in moral discernment, even on such tender topics as human sexuality and rethinking masculinity. We see it in the serious interest by international organizations to join with us in initiatives for children’s well-being, peacebuilding, implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and rethinking diakonia for our new situation.

Your workshops will explore many such areas and activities that, in our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, we all encounter today. We welcome your creative thinking and further engagement in each and all of these arenas of solidarity, justice, and peacemaking.

How will God make all things new? How will it happen? How it always happens: love will find a way.

My fellow pilgrims, our long pilgrimage is not over. In word and sacrament, in conscience and calling, God still urges each of us to transcend our stubborn boundaries of self and reach out in love for God and each other, to follow Jesus more truly, to articulate a message of healing and salvation, and to open ourselves up in radical hospitality to the needs of our neighbour.

Let us employ our time together here this weekend prayerfully yet boldly to explore the newest terrains of that pilgrimage and the vistas that Christian hope reveals.