Jerusalem, 5 June, 2017
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians all over the world. Here the prayers and the praise to God, the one creator of all, have been offered for centuries and even for millennia. So it is also today. Followers of the three Abrahamic religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims see this as a holy city and pray here to the One Holy God.
The Holy Spirit creates our lives every day, renewing the face of the Earth, as Psalm 104 reads. The Spirit of God, “the Lord and Giver of life”, breathes into our world so that there is life in each one of us. This life is given to us through our mothers who gave us birth, and it is renewed every day as long as we live. We are created for life in fellowship and unity in our families, in our communities, in our cities, in our peoples. We are created for fellowship between the many peoples, to be together One humanity.
We cannot pray to the One God without consequences for how we relate to one another. Praying to God makes us accountable to one another as God’s creation, created in the image of God. The One God calls us to unity and to justice and peace with one another.
The Holy Spirit creates life for unity. Like at the first Pentecost, our faces, our voices, and our actions can express praise to God in a way that can create fellowship and unity. God can be worshiped in spirit and truth everywhere. That is why we pray together here – and in any place in the world.
The Spirit helps us to pray for the wounded life of our common home, the planet Earth.
The Spirit helps us to pray together to overcome fragmentation, polarization, conflict, violence and injustices.
The Spirit helps us to pray for life in unity, in just peace.
The fellowship and the unity that the disciples of Jesus Christ once experienced, getting together to pray here in Jerusalem at Pentecost, spelled a new beginning for the disciples and for the mission of the Church in the whole world. It happened to a community in fear. They lived under occupation and oppression.
The signs of the Holy Spirit described in the Pentecost story points indeed towards unity and just peace:
Languages are our means of communicating our thoughts from mouth to ears, and from heart to heart. But languages and our words can also divide us; we might not understand one another, or we might use our words to hit and hurt others. The miracle of the languages at Pentecost showed how the Spirit can make a difference in those who speak and in those who listen.
Tongues of fire is a biblical symbol of the Spirit. It shows how God can purify and clean our lives from sin, from what is wrong, what is destructive, and what creates injustice and conflict. The Holy Spirit tells the truth and helps human beings to see the truth about themselves and about God, so that repentance and real transformation can happen. The destructive and dividing, the discriminating and demonizing, can be replaced by creativity, love, care, and respect for our diversity. Unity does not mean to be or become the same as the other, and definitely not to be united by force. Unity is an expression of our life together in our diversity with respect for the dignity and the rights of the other.
The different places in Jerusalem echo the many stories of the life, the preaching, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us how these events happened here. He saw the crowds and had compassion for them. Indeed, the churches in Jerusalem still bear witness to what happened here to the whole world, through your enduring presence in the city today. This happens in your buildings, and in the house of living stones, the fellowship of Christians. We know that this fellowship is under threat from so many limitations and obstacles, and we are very worried by the shrinking numbers of Christians in this city and in this region.
Here, next to the upper room, we are reminded of the first Christian sermon of Pentecost of Peter. The story of what happened with the crucified and the resurrected Jesus Christ then became the Gospel, the good news to be shared with all those living in Jerusalem and all coming to Jerusalem, and much more: to be shared with the whole world. Jesus declares his mission when we read from the book of the prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). Now the Spirit came upon those who should continue this mission of God in the whole world, sharing the same good news of liberation, of the possibilities of a new beginning, the new potential for fellowship, for a unity of sharing and prayer in the kingdom of God, that has come so near with its values of Justice and Peace.
Jerusalem carries the name of peace. Yet we know that the people of Jerusalem and in this area are not living in peace today. Pentecost this year comes at the same time as we here mark 50 years since the war that led to the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The occupation has not ended. It is manifest in military rule, in discrimination and violations of human rights. It is also manifest in the building of settlements and infrastructure that are against international law – making it more of colonization than mere occupation. This must end for the sake of just peace for all the peoples living here, for Palestine and for Israel.
Today, we pray for just peace so desperately needed in so many places in this region of the Middle East, and for all the peoples in other places in the world that are troubled by conflicts, violence, and war. Last week I was in the divided peninsula of Korea. Our moderator, Dr Agnes Abuom, visits South Sudan these days. From different cities of the world today we hear about war, violence, and terror attacks.
Therefore, the Church all over the world prays from our hearts for justice and peace. We are in solidarity with one another and with all who are occupied, who are suffering from their fears, from violence, from war. We pray that the Holy Spirit will fill the Church with all the gifts needed for us to seek justice and be peacemakers. So that the Church can say the truth in love. So that the Church, a fellowship reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, can share the reconciliation given to us by the Holy Spirit.
That is why we as the World Council of Churches have said so many times and say it also today: Stop it! End the occupation! End all violence! Make just peace! It is possible!
Celebrating Pentecost on the same day for all Christians this year, in collaboration with the heads of churches here in Jerusalem, we invited Christians for a common prayer today, here, or wherever you might be. Church leaders around the world have helped us to formulate the prayers we share this day. Their prayers are available at our website for all who want to read and pray with us. Together with young women and men from churches of the WCC from all continents we are here today – where the Holy Spirit came upon all flesh, young and old.
Here we pray: Come, Creator Spirit! Come, Spirit of Justice! Come, Spirit of Peace! Come, unite us, Holy Spirit! Amen.