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The Voice that Tells Us the Way to Justice and Peace

Sermon from Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, at the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Ecumenical Advent Prayer for Peace Kyoto Catholic Cathedral, Kyoto, Japan.

10 December 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, Ecumenical Advent Prayer for Peace

Kyoto Catholic Cathedral, Kyoto, Japan

The Voice that Tells Us the Way to Justice and Peace

The Gospel of Mark 1:1-9

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

  1. The people on the way

It is a great joy to be here today to worship Jesus Christ together with you in your beautiful country of Japan, in this beautiful cathedral in Kyoto. With people in the whole world, in churches of different traditions belonging to the fellowship of the World Council of Churches, we are together today to follow Jesus Christ.

The first followers of Jesus Christ were called those who “belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2). Together we are on this way, and it is particularly moving to be with you. You show that this is the way to go, even when neither a great flock nor a vast majority is going on this way.

The WCC has defined our life and work together for this period after the 10th Assembly held in Busan, Korea a year ago, to be a “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.” Christians in the Anglican and Catholic churches in Japan have defined your mission and ministry together to be “kyo-ho-sei”, “walking together”. You have shown that this is a way of faith, working together in love, serving those who are not living with justice and peace, but in fear and as victims of natural disasters and human-made disasters. “Righteousness and peace shall kiss one another”, as we read today from Psalm 85.

The ecumenical movement is a movement in faith. Ecumenism is about finding the way together, and walking it together. This is also the meaning of “synod”, to be “together on the way”.

How do we find this way? What does it mean to be on this way together?

The gospel reading for today is really about the beginning of this way. The Gospel of Mark is the oldest Gospel, and the first verses of this text literary say: “This is the beginning” of the gospel, “of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The following quotes from the Prophet Isaiah announce that there will come one “to prepare the way of the Lord”. In this gospel, we hear significant words that can guide us on our way together.

  1. The way forward needs to start in the right direction

The Good News starts as a story about the “other way”. We hear immediately the strange story of a peculiar man, a man living in extreme poverty, down and out in the wilderness, outside the centres of religious and political power. The Jordan River at that place flows literary at the bottom of the world, at the lowest point on the earth, 300 metres below sea level. It is a hot and very dry place.

In this beginning of the Gospel of Mark we are immediately presented with an “anti-story”. This is presented as a story of a man who lives in another way, who points in another direction, towards a person who comes after him, but who is someone totally different. He points to a way that goes in another direction than expected. The story about Jesus as the Son of God could be seen as starting in the wrong place and with the wrong end, going in the wrong direction.

But exactly this is the way of the Lord.

The way of the Lord is the way in which we are called to change direction, away from everything that is breaking down the life God has created. The God of life calls for honest people, who are not hiding the past, or covering their sins in piety or polite words and habits, but people who are repenting from the mistakes of the past. The God of life calls for people open to change, open to new directions. The God of life calls us to the source of life, which is given in the living water of baptism.

Life starts in the right place and goes in the right directions when it means repentance from sins. As Christian leaders we sometimes can be too busy telling everybody else that they are wrong, giving the impression that we are right. Self-righteousness is never the way of life.

The Good News is that there is another way, and that there is somebody who can show us the right direction. The Good News is that following Jesus Christ is the way of life. This is not to be excluding or arrogant, pointing fingers at others, but humbly being open to the truth about ourselves and others. And sharing the truth with those who are given power to rule over others.

As you know here in Japan, the train might go very fast, and be very comfortable, but it does not help if it is going in the wrong direction.

The way of life must start in the right direction, following the right signs. And these signs are given in the good news of Jesus Christ.

  1. One messenger is enough to tell the truth

The story of John the Baptist is rather short, but very basic. It is a story about a man who tells the truth, but who has to pay with his life for doing that. The powerful Herod could not stand being criticized by a voice from the wilderness. Herod’s actions proved that John was right. Tragic, but true. Still, before that the end of the story, John is able to help people find the true way of life, the source of life, the God of life.

It does not take more than one to tell the truth. The truth does not need a majority. The way to justice and peace is not always the way the majority is going. The way to life is still what everybody needs, and guidance towards that way constitutes good news for anybody and everybody.

It is the calling of the church to share the righteousness and peace of God that is given undeserved through God’s grace in Jesus Christ. It is the calling of the church to show that justice and peace belong together. It is the calling of the church to find new expressions of God’s justice and peace in this world. For this we do not need to be many. But we need to follow the call, to repent and to follow Jesus Christ.

The good news for the church, and for all followers of Jesus Christ, is that there is always the possibility of a new beginning, of getting back to going by the right way in the right direction. The power and the meaning of baptism can give us a new start every day. The call to repentance is a call to follow the truth every day and to ask God to show us the right direction.

  1. We shall find and walk the way of peace together

Even if John the Baptist is an outsider, he is one who calls us into fellowship with God and with one another. He calls for us to turn away from what destroys life and peace between people.

Japan has a story of war, and of oppression of other peoples, but also of democracy and of peace. The church in Japan has a story of being a minority, but also of belonging to the wide ecumenical fellowship of Jesus Christ, travelling with others on the pilgrimage of justice and peace. We need you churches and Christians here in Japan there. The people of Japan need you on that way.

The people of Japan need your voice to continue to use the famous article 9 in your constitution as a commitment to solve conflicts and disputes without arms. This region of Asia and the world need you as witnesses of why we cannot trust in nuclear arms or in nuclear energy as a way to the future peace of humanity. The world needs you, as witnesses of a future caring for our environment and our climate. The first international binding protocol to limit greenhouse gas carries the name of your city, Kyoto. Now the world needs Japan to agree about something more, taking responsibility for our common future.

Together with you, we pray that the will of God will be done on earth as in heaven, today and tomorrow.

To find this way forward, we need one another.

Let us walk together!

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary