Our last Baptismal Covenant promise reads, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" We respond with, "I will with God's help." In this promise we commit ourselves to living out the Kingdom of God on earth. In it we divorce ourselves from the narrow notion that since the fullness of the Kingdom comes only in heaven, and that sin and brokenness will always be part of this earth, then the Kingdom is not intended for this earthly life, and injustices must be tolerated. It reminds us of the contribution of one of the Anglican Great Thinkers of which I spoke during Epiphany Season, F. D. Maurice believed that Christ's death and resurrection redeemed all people, and that therefore a society that did not reflect that redemption was untrue to its true nature and calling, and must be changed.
There is a great Anglican of our day who is an icon of what this is all about. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born to working class parents in a township in South Africa in 1931. His father was a teacher, his mother a cleaning lady in a school for the blind. One day a white Anglican priest, Trevor Huddleston, met him and his mother on the road and the cleric tipped his hat to his mother. It impressed him that a white man would do so,
Huddleston became one of his heroes throughout life. His family could not afford to send him to medical school, so he went into teaching instead. From there he eventually studied theology and was ordained, he sought degrees in divinity from Kings College, London, and served parishes in England for a few years, then he returned to South Africa and began the career which is so well known to us. His activism for the fall of apartheid was predicated on peaceful resistance, winning him eventually the Gandhi Peace Prize, among others. He is most well known for his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and he has even been criticized for forgiving those who had maintained Apartheid. He is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees. He is currently Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, unique in all the Anglican Communion.
Perhaps what is most salient about his activism is his emphasis on peaceful resistance and forgiveness. The model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been replicated in the Solomon Islands and in other places in the world. He is an outspoken critic of corruption in governments around the globe, and yet quick to offer forgiveness as the way forward rather than violence.
Maybe someone here is a future Desmond Tutu, and I would welcome that possibility with gratitude. But in another way all of us are, even if the sphere of our influence is not global. Hints at how this can be done are to be found in John 12. Jesus is once again in the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. True to form, Martha is serving the meal and Lazarus is reclining at table with Jesus. Mary, also true to form, comes in and lavishes on Jesus an incredibly extravagant act of worship and adoration. A denarius was a day’s minimum wage, so a pound of nard cost about a year's wage. It would be the equivalent of a five oz. jar of Clive Christian's No. 1 perfume. Judas Iscariot chides her for her opulence, citing a very charitable motive—to help the poor, but the writer lets us in on a dirty secret. Judas' intentions are far from noble, he is a thief and this puts more within his reach. Jesus' response trumps even Judas' disingenuous subterfuge. “Leave her alone. She is acting in a way that testifies to my death and burial. The poor you will always have, but you will not always have me.” And the lesson is, "Treat the poor in the light of my death and resurrection."
So once again, our fight for justice and peace springs from the nature of God, more specifically, as revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Those who suffer injustice suffer as Christ suffered. Those who are victims of violence suffer as Christ suffered. His suffering led to resurrection and victory. We must work to make their suffering redemptive also, or we have denied the power of the resurrection. The way to do this is the way of self sacrifice. To fight apartheid Desmond Tutu pushed for a policy of disinvestment, asking western companies to refuse to invest in South Africa. He knew it would hit the poor the hardest, but in his words, then the suffering of the poor would have a purpose. It would become a Good Friday, with the hope of Easter Sunday's resurrection. Disinvestment produced a resurrection 1985 when precipitous inflation and street demonstrations triggered the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.
The reality of injustice is often most hidden from the eyes of the powerful. To live into this Baptismal Covenant Promise we must listen to those less powerful than we. Some are more powerful than we. Healthcare insurance abuse and bad lawyers are in a runaway Toyota and nobody seems to be able to un-stick the accelerator. More than one politician in Washington has resigned in the last months citing out-of-control corruption in our government that they can no longer fight. But others are less so. How about the Chelsea Kings and the Amber Dubois's? How about the undocumented workers who are underpaid and overworked? How about the fact that crimes committed by minorities still get higher penalties than whites for the same crimes? How about banks that charge overdraft fees by the day and mail your notices by snail mail that takes 3 days? How about housing policies that keep people on the streets? To do nothing at all, or worse, to continue the injustice, betrays our faith, it declares our conviction that the resurrection of Christ has no power in this world. But if it has no power in this world of shadows, how can it have power in the real world of the eternal realm?
So what can we do? On March 10, Archbishop Tutu and his daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tutu, appeared on Good Morning America to tout their new book: Made for Goodness. In it they show how each of us is made for goodness, that badness makes us ill and depletes us, but doing good strengthens and builds us up. The Archbishop offered this example, and I paraphrase, “Say someone really roughs you up, and you want to give as good as you got, but you don’t. In the quietness afterwards there comes over you a real peace, a serenity that is really indescribable.” His daughter told how a smile can be a blessing, a kind word or a gesture, can encourage goodness in others as well. To die to the impulse to reflect back the pain, to absorb it instead and redirect the energy into goodness and the encouragement of goodness in others, this is to live the power of the resurrection in the land of the living.