Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:16, 1517; 1 Corinthians 14:12b20; Luke 4:21-32
‘Aspire above all to excel in the gifts that build up the church.’ (1 Cor 14:12b)
It is a joy to be here with you this morning, at the National Cathedral. My own ties with the Diocese of Washington go back many years, and it is a great pleasure to be with you again, celebrating the partnership between your Diocese and the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. I bring you warm greetings and good wishes.
It is good to be with you today. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!
Paul in today’s epistle reading gives us a good starting place for considering partnership. He exhorts us to seek the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit that will build up the life of the Church.
This reminds us that the companion relationship that we are building I is rooted in God. It is God who equips us, with the gifts of his Spirit. He gives them to strengthen the Church, the body of Christ.
Strengthening the body of Christ has nothing to do with the sort of body-building that first brought the new Governor of California (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to fame! The Church is called to be the servant of God in his mission to his world. This servant is, as Paul wrote earlier in the first letter to the Corinthians, a body of many different parts. Each part needs the others, and all the parts must work together in pursuit of God’s purposes.
This is the nature of our partnership. None of us can live independently. Rather, partnership is about each having something to give, and each recognizing their need to receive. Each is gifted not for themselves, but for the rest of the body. This is part of the generous provision of God for the good of his Church.
It is God’s provision for the good of his world also. We all belong to one common humanity. This is what the Bible teaches. This is what globalization increasingly demonstrates.
We live in a world without walls, where the rich, the powerful and the privileged are just as vulnerable as the weak, the poor and the marginalized. The tragic events of September 11th demonstrated in a most vivid way how vulnerable and how interdependent we are as the human community in this globalizing world. It taught us one lesson and one lesson only: that if we are to survive—and survive we must—we have to work together for the common good. We have to eliminate conditions that enable such deadly fanaticism to triumph by ensuring that everyone in the world has access to all that is essential for human living. That is food, clean running water, shelter, healthcare, clothing, education, employment, love and respect.
Our partnership, whatever else we do together, must demonstrate our commitment to the common good.
This is not an empty phrase. Our greatest challenge is to help create a global morality. I do not mean a uniform ethical culture imposed across the diversity of the world. We need a global morality that celebrates diversity, and sees it as creatively contributing to a richly textured world. We need a global morality which delights in each individual, unique child of God—one in which we, who are created in the image of the God of love, know ourselves intimately bound to one another by the ties of love—one which recognizes (as Paul would put it) that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.
I am optimistic. We can make a difference. As Nobel prize winner Jonas Salk has pointed out, ‘We are the first generation in human history where large numbers of ordinary people are taking responsibility for the future of an entire species.’
We can have a significant impact on the whole human destiny—for good or ill. The last century brought us the Nazi holocaust and NASA’s space program. What extremes! Humanity has such huge potential, but does not always know how to use it. The partnership the global Church must build with the world is one that helps develop this shared morality.
I think we can already see growing manifestations of a global moral consciousness that reflects the image of God’s concern for his world. Dear to me, of course, was the world-wide recognition that apartheid was a crime against humanity. Here are three current examples:
First, the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Huge numbers of people joined the global coalition, making concerted efforts to lobby for the poor and indebted. We made a difference—even if we must still keep pushing.
Second are the Millennium Development Goals: addressing extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality; child mortality and maternal health; HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability; and a global partnership for development. All agreed by the United Nations—even if we are sometimes lethargic in pursuing them.
The recognition that HIV/AIDS is a global pandemic is vitally important. The establishment of the Global Fund shows that we recognize the inter-dependence of the whole human race.
Third is the response to the use of violence in the world. Religious leaders have become increasingly vocal and united in expressing reservations, and increasing opposition, to the use of outright force to combat force. No-one supports terrorism. No one supports abusive dictatorships. But in Iraq the casualties of so-called ‘peace’ now outweigh those of ‘war.’ Many predicted this. Surely, surely, we must find a better way of dealing with conflict. War is always an admission of failure. As Mahatma Gandhi reminded us: ‘Non-violence is the weapon of the strong.’ The opposite is also true: violence is the weapon of the weak.
It is in part in recognition of the courageous opposition of American Churches to the war in Iraq that led the World Council of Churches to focus on the United States this year, within the Decade to Overcome Violence. May the Lord bless you as you strive to pursue the call, given by your Bishops after 9/11, to ‘Wage Reconciliation’—both in the Church and in the World.
I hope that Southern Africa too can make a significant contribution to the development of a global morality.
First there is the experience of the Church in South Africa. Despite living under one of the most divisive political regimes the world has known, we forged a common life that not only encompassed our differences, but enriched and strengthened us.
Within broader society, apartheid never fully eradicated the rich experiences of our varied life: African, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish and other faiths, alongside secular cultures; European and African historical influences—a microcosm of the international macrocosm. Perhaps it is only South Africa that could have produced a Mahatma Gandhi. We are about to celebrate 10 years of democracy, and there are many challenges ahead. I am pressing for the faith communities to take a lead in our own moral regeneration which must go hand in hand with the strengthening and developing of our democratic life.
It is not just our experiences we can contribute to our partnership. We can also enrich one another by sharing different ways of looking at the same thing, sharing the insights of one another’s cultures.
Fundamental to our ability in South Africa to build a rich and diverse common life has been the vital African concept of ubuntu. Its main philosophy is captured in the phrase ‘I am, because we belong together.’ Ubuntu means to live and care for others; to act kindly to one another; to be kind, just, fair, compassionate, trustworthy, honest; to assist those in need; and to uphold good morals.
These are the hallmarks of the Human Rights culture that must be an intrinsic part of our global moral consciousness.
Perhaps the phrase ‘Human Rights’ has sometimes become devalued. It is not a zero sum game of me struggling to exercise ‘my rights’ in competition with you and ‘your rights’. Nor is it about burdens of obligation and restrictive duties towards strangers to whom I feel I owe nothing.
Human Rights means the Right expression of the fullness of our humanity, celebrated together with a freedom that liberates individuals and communities, within our common human family.
Human Rights are Holy Rights. They flow from the nature of our God-given humanity. Each person is accorded dignity, recognized as bearing the image of God. Our unique individuality is respected, acknowledged as reflecting the created and creative diversity of God’s hand in the world. And individuals honor the whole, and celebrate the rich variety of culture, language, outlook, character which God gives—a source of productive potential and complementarity.
Mutual edification enhances, not diminishes, the individual. We can set aside narrow self-interest, recognizing with Paul, that ‘everything is permissible, but not everything in beneficial… nobody should seek their own good, but the good of others’ (1 Cor 10:23, 24). Drawn to our brothers and sisters in the generous love of God, we can ‘be careful that the exercise of [our] freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak’ (1 Cor 8:9).
Of course the Church does not have the monopoly on 0145;acting justly and mercy,’ of which the prophet Micah spoke (Mic 6:8). But we who follow the call to walk humbly with our God must be ready to discern and declare the places where we find our God walking humbly with us, as he did in Christ Jesus.
We see God’s finger-prints in ubuntu values, and in the examples I gave earlier of emerging global moral conscience. We find them in many and various political processes and instruments. Last week I was in Davos, the economic forum which in recent years has begun extending invitations not just to government and business but to faith communities and non-governmental, non-profit sectors.
We should recognize the importance of binding ourselves to uphold the common good—a good that will benefit us too—through international structures, such as the United Nations and its Agencies. It may not be a popular view in Washington. But we dare not loose sight of the founding vision: never again should the whole world be at war, but rather we must together strive for a lasting peace with justice—whether juridical, political or economic. We still desire world peace.
These things can only be achieved together, through the development of a global moral consciousness and human rights culture. No one can impose human dignity on another. Rather, the rich and powerful must stand alongside the poor and oppressed, the sick and suffering, the abused and powerless. In our common humanity, all must walk humbly with one another, as our God has done with us.
‘Aspire above all to excel in the gifts that build up the Church.’ This is God’s call to the whole Church, the body of Christ. To participate in the life of Christ is to be part of his reaching out with his message of reconciliation to the world around.
Let us earnestly pray for the gifts that will strengthen our common life for the service of the world.