On the day we say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, a man who as Desmond Tutu said, was Christ like in his actions, it seems appropriate to look at both Mandela but also others who have been found at the crossroads of life. When it would be easy to turn away and seek the easy option these people have turned towards the injustice in order to change it.
I thought it might be good if they came and said a few words themselves.
The first person of course is Nelson Mandela. We hear him at this trial in 1964 before being incarcerated for 27 years in South Africa. A voice from a man calling for the renewal and resurrection of a nation, who became a president.
Above all my lord,
“We want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy…..
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
Oscar Romero is present with us.
Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador, and spiritual leader for all Catholics in El Salvador. During his time the poor suffered the most. Romero spoke out against the soldiers and the government who were attacking the poor. Romero believed that the church needed to work to change the government because the government was going against the teachings of Jesus. He used his sermons to call for peace.
“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”
In the sermon just minutes before his death, killed by those who were threatened with his message Archbishop Romero reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat.
“Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grains of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies. We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us. I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadoreans, even those who are going to kill me”.
We hear from Martin Luther King.
Arrested over 20 times for preaching racial equality King was the youngest man to receive the Nobel peace prize. He was assassinated in 1968.
His speech “I have a dream” speech, was given on the centenary of Abraham Lincolns emancipation proclamation in 1963 at the end of a march on Washington for jobs and freedom. 210,000 people gathered at the Washington memorial and marched to the Lincoln memorial. Let us hear some of the last parts of the speech from him.
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And on that day all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!””
Oh look, Desmond Tutu is also here
For decades Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice and a dedicated peacemaker. He has bridged the gap between black and white in South Africa, firstly as a courageous opposer of the destructive system of apartheid and then a tireless worker in the years following when South Africa tried to become a nation for all.
“Many people think that Christians should be neutral, or that the Church must be neutral. But in a situation of injustice and oppression such as we have in South Africa, not to choose to oppose, is in fact to have chosen to side with the powerful, with the exploiter, with the oppressor…. The Church in South Africa must be the prophetic church, which cries out ‘Thus say the Lord’, speaking up against injustice and violence, against oppression and exploitation, against all that dehumanizes God’s children and makes them less than what God intended them to be… For my part, the day will never come when apartheid will be acceptable. It is an evil system and it is at variance with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why I oppose it and can never compromise with it – not for political reasons but because I am a Christian
The only way we can be human is together! The only way we can be free is together! The only way we can ever be secure is together!. That is the logic of God’s creation.”
We are at the crossroads, at a watershed moment in our story as people in a world full of love but also full of violence and hate.
At this watershed moment who do we belong to, which path do we choose? As this Christmas approaches I continue to choose the way of Jesus, a way shaped by compassion and justice. But I know it is not everyone’s way. Whatever your path today it is good to be reminded that love will always defeat evil, it just sometimes takes a very long time. And it calls for us all to respond.
After hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech that August day in 1963, the crowd of 250,000 sang “We Shall Overcome.” Here is a link to Bruce Springsten’s version.