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Sermon at Swiss ecumenical celebration

Sermon titled "God of Life, lead us to justice and peace", preached by the WCC general secretary at the ecumenical celebration hosted by the Swiss churches at the Cathedral of Lausanne ahead of the WCC assembly.

01 September 2013

God of Life, lead us to justice and peace
Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 1:78-79
Sermon for the Ecumenical Celebration at the Cathedral of Lausanne

By the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit

To the leaders of the Communauté des Eglises chrétiennes in the canton of Vaud,

To the leaders of the Communauté de travail des Eglises chrétiennes en Suisse,

To the gracious host of the Cathedral of Lausanne,

Dear brothers and sisters who move, live, and have your being in the God of Life,

We are gathered in this beautiful church where the ecumenical movement has met at significant moments of our journey together.

Our God of Life is continuously making things new. As pilgrims who faithfully respond to God’s beckoning, we experience the blessings of experiencing this newness of life and as a result are ourselves renewed along the journey. This evening we hear anew the beautiful words of the Gospel, from the canticle of Zechariah as he praises God for his new-born child, with words which many Christians pray every morning, "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” I love these words! I always find that they inspire and propel me into each new day, filling me with hope and strength for the journey. God’s grace is like the morning new every day. This regeneration should not be surprising because the God of Life is also the God of Grace. There is a strong connection between creation and grace. At the Porto Alegre assembly we prayed, “God in your grace, transform the world.” Now we pray, “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace.” God chooses to transform the world by leading those who will answer the call and heed God’s beaconing to justice and peace.

The ecumenical movement is in a special way shaped by faith in God, the creator--God of life. God is creating life by creating light, and by bringing order - separating light from darkness, day from night. God wills life and order, by creating life, new life, every day. We are drawn into the good news, into the gospel of creation: Life is a gift of light, a gift from God. This is the most mysterious and still the most real dimension of everything: Life is given to us. And life can only be received as a gift—a gift to be given-to others, for others.

The ecumenical movement is a movement of life. We are participating in a movement that is called to bring the churches to a fellowship where they see their common role in participating in the wholeness of God’s work. It is a movement with great ambitions: Not only to be Church together, but to improve the churches’ witness in the world, indeed to transform the world to reflect more fully God’s intentions for creation.

We are also part of the ecumenical movement of the cross. On this Sunday evening as light now gives way to darkness, as we reflect on the words found in Luke which speak to the promise of dawn, light, and guidance for the way of peace, we also hear these words found in Matthew that call and challenge us as fellow pilgrims for justice and peace, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Like the passage from Luke, this also offers a vision. It speaks of judgment of faithful action and unfaithful non action.

It even speaks of self-assessment of the pilgrims, “When did we see you and respond with compassion?” We are reminded that the Jesus, who shares his body and blood with us in Eucharist as nourishment for our journey, gives us the will and even the obligation to be one in him. This same Jesus is the one we encounter in the “least among us.” Christ identified with us in the deepest way through his cross and his resurrection. It is made clear to us that reconciliation, healing, and becoming one human family are the practices that are required of us as disciples of Christ, carrying the cross of Christ. The vision of God’s reign is one where life in all its fullness is brought forth to all with justice and peace as its hallmarks.

Following the assembly, we will be called to walk together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace to be an ecumenical movement of justice and peace. Our calling is such an urgent one and the world is in such desperate need of our witness until I think I will not wait to extend the invitation to you to join us on this pilgrimage but will invite you, as faithful members of this global fellowship, to start on the journey now. Many of you have been on this journey for many years and will be able to point to past signposts that have brought us to this point. Others of you, only recently beginning, will see the horizon with fresh eyes and point us in directions we have not yet been.

The Gospel warns us that this pilgrimage is not always predictable. We will encounter persons and situations and be taken in directions and caused to pause at way stations that we could not have imagined. On this pilgrimage, we encounter the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned; simply put the least of these. This pilgrimage has profound consequences for how we live our faith as congregations and churches individually and together and in relationship with people of other cultures and religions. Keeping the least of these in our field of vision will influence the paths of peace that we ultimately will take on the pilgrimage.

As general secretary, I have the privilege to travel to many places and to encounter many people and share their stories throughout the fellowship. One travel experience which I share a lot because it has profound implications for our understanding of the pilgrimage of justice and peace and for how we live out our faith happened to me at passport control. Once I entered a country; and, the passport controller checked my passport very carefully, hesitating to stamp it. After a while he asked, "Sir, why do you travel only to the wrong places?" I tried to explain the nature of my ministry and the mission of the WCC and ecumenical movement; but, he was unmoved by my words. He eventually let me in. But the question is very good and has remained in my heart. A pilgrimage for justice and peace with the churches in the world is and should be to the “wrong places,” where people struggle against violence and injustice.

We know where the "wrong places" are for there we often encounter the least of these. There we shall seek - and find - the kingdom of God and its righteousness. The path of peace leads us at time to these wrong places or to do what we can for those who are in the wrong places—to the families of the children and the parents in the mass graves in Syria to cry out for justice for the innocent ones snuffed out by chemical warfare or to the public squares of Egypt to cry out for peace and an end to violence or to Greece to stand for economic justice or many other places around the world where the least of these are victimized and voiceless. When we take these paths of peace to the dark places filled with the shadow of death, the God of Life mercifully shines light on us and the least of these. Why do we only go to the wrong places? Because God calls us there. Why? Because there we find the least of these. Why do we go? Because God is there. May the God of life guide your feet into the way of peace! God of Life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.