WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
Sunday, 4 September 2016
I greet you all, sisters and brothers, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is indeed a special moment to worship with you here in Riverside Church. With it’s very special history in the ecumenical movement in this city and in this country, but also worldwide, I am honoured and indeed inspired by being here, representing the global fellowship of churches in the World Council of Churches in 350 churches all over the world. I was here in this church some years ago – not at Sunday worship, but as a visitor, saying a word of thanks to God for your ministry. I heard about the legacy of those who have been leading the teachings, the advocacy, and the spirituality of this church, with a vision to serve the people of the institutions of the universities in your neighbourhood, the whole nation, and the whole ecumenical family.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday in my own Lutheran Church is Matthews 11: 16-19. “But Wisdom is vindicated by its deeds.” The text reflects on how there can be mismatch of tunes and tones. What should be said and done in times such as these?
In this church you have a legacy of addressing the challenges of the time, offering words of wisdom to those in power and to those in need of support, to those who need new thoughts and new impulses for their lives. What is the wisdom we as churches and as a fellowship of churches can bring and should bring in our time?
A long time ago, in the time of the founding pastor Rev. Dr Fosdick, it was necessary to address what it means to believe in God the Creator, taking into account what we know about this world and about humanity, against impossible creationism positions. Wisdom is vindicated by its deeds.
Today we need more than ever further reflections about what it means that God is creating and sustaining this world every day. Our human activity is not only serving as co-creators and stewards of this creation, as we also are in many dimensions of our lives. Climate changes are making it less predictable and very difficult for farmers, particularly in poor areas of the world, to live from the earth. Again our understanding of what it means to believe in God the Creator must be revised. God has given us a role in taking care of this creation that we cannot ignore. We cannot just hope that God will fix it some day. God is calling us to accountability, to care for our common home, where my granddaughters also shall live in peace. We need to think, and not less to act, differently, we have to give our countries leaders that have mandates to really make the great changes that are needed in how we produce, transport, consume, etc. A unique example of church unity is expressed in the call to celebrate the time from 1 September to 4 October as a period to honour and pray for Creation, issued together by the Ecumenical Patriarch, HAH Bartholomew, HH Pope Francis, myself on behalf of the WCC, and others. What we pray for, we also care for.
This church has also contributed to the wisdom of what it means and what it takes to believe that we all are created in the image of God, and have the same dignity and should have the same rights. This country continues to struggle against the many dimensions of racism. This is your original sin, in the sense that it is everywhere and in an unconscious way shaping thoughts and ideas. It is not enough to make a visit one day to black communities to change the deep patterns and attitudes of racism. Again, these are matters of what we deeply believe or do not believe. Do we believe that there is One humanity, God’s creation, God’s humanity? God has made us different, but there is no partiality in God.
You share with the ecumenical movement the conviction that church unity and the unity of humankind must be two dimensions of the same calling. We cannot have unity in the church and not work for unity of humankind. We cannot believe in God and abandon God’s creation or the sanctity of life in all of God’s humanity.
As we are called to be one so that the world may believe, you have made the unity of the church a matter of your attitudes of inclusiveness and outreach. We are not called to be one so that the world may believe that Christians can never disagree. But we are called to be one in our witness and love to Jesus Christ, so that the world may believe that in Christ there is hope for humanity and for all creation. Whatever we do and say, we are called to witness to Christ’s resurrection and to the hope we are given in Christ. The great call of the Church is to give hope.
It is wonderful to read in your Sunday bulletin that you are connected to the ecumenical bodies of this country and to the World Council of Churches. Let us continue to work and pray together, to see how our spirituality and our advocacy for justice and peace can be even stronger, in this country and worldwide.
May God continue to bless your ministry in Riverside Church. May God bless you all.