12 décembre 2013

Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water.” Let's look at Nelson Mandela's life through the biblical image of the tree, going from the roots up to the colorful fruits!

Nelson Mandela
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the lord, whose confidence is in Him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”  Jeremiah 17,7-8

Sermon pronounced at the French church of Bern
December 12. 2013
Memorial service for Nelson Mandela
at the initiative of the South African Embassy

Dear brothers and sisters,

These words from prophet Jeremiah are particularly meaningful for us today, as we give tribute to Nelson Mandela and as we thank God for his life, and the incredible power of inspiration that he has left in our hands.

Let's look at the image of the tree,
Starting from the roots: who am I?

Climbing through the trunk: what is my vision for the world, my hope?
What is it, that makes me grow?

Spreading into the branches: what are my commitments, where do I put my energy and my courage?

And finally, relishing the colorful fruit of one's existence.

With no doubt, Nelson Mandela knew who he was. His roots dug deeply into Africa's soil. Looking at his life, we all can see how convinced he was about the value of his own life, not because he thought he was better than others, but because he understood his own life as God's gift. He was thankful for his life and for other’s lives.

One expression of this fundamental belief comes from the apostle Paul, when he says: “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3,28)

That doesn't mean that every life equals another.
That does mean that each life has a unique value,
but that this value doesn't come
  • from the religious identity,
  • from the social position,
  • from the gender,
and to extend Paul’s list:
  • that it doesn't come from the color of my skin,
  • that it doesn't come from how successful I am (or not),
  • that it doesn't come from how useful I am (or not).

No, the value of my life comes from the one who gives it to me: God,
and from the one who gave his life for me: Jesus Christ!

In other words, from God's perspective, Nelson Mandela's life had the same absolutely unique value while he was in prison and when he became South Africa's president!

And this belief was what helped him to get through the difficult phases of his life, including being a prisoner or being a president. I’m not sure which of them is most difficult!

But there was more than that, and it brings me to the trunk of the tree, to the vision.

A trunk, a log, may look very static. But it is where the sap flows! Where life takes place! Without a vision, not much will happen!

Mandela had this vision of a rainbow nation: Not only a peaceful living together, but a beauty that comes from diversity and mutual recognition.

And he developed his vision while he was under oppression, which makes it quite different from a paternalist concept that would come from the power in place!

The power of this vision, is that it could be shared with so many people in South Africa and all around the world.

This vision is not new: it has a long history, a history of hope. As a Christian, I see Jesus-Christ as the main inspirer of this vision. The apostle Paul was able to interpret this vision for us.

But the branches belong to Mandela’s singular experience. I see three main branches, and they all have the same name: courage! And they can inspire our own courage!

1. The courage to keep the vision
That means resisting the temptation of cynicism, of looking at ones own career while forgetting other people, of transforming life into a competition for money, rather than a fight against poverty.

Mandela will remain an example of this fidelity.

2. The courage to stay away from violence
And we know that the temptation to respond to violence with more violence will always be there, with its utterly destructive potential.
Mandela also experienced this temptation, as we all know.
But Mandela demonstrated to the whole world the incredible power of non violent action, and this is what is going to be remembered.

3. The courage to say the truth
Fighting against both the temptation of silence and the temptation of revenge, Mandela found a unique way to help people heal their wounds.

Brothers and sisters,

We know how fruitful the “Mandela tree” has been! The very fact that we came together today, in solidarity with so many others around the world, and that we build such a colorful community, is one of these fruits.

We are full of sadness but also of gratefulness. In this spirit, I would like to read Mary’s hymn, as she met her cousin Elizabeth. A hymn that carries a vision of hope, maybe ours today:

46And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." (Luke 1)

May each of us dig his or her roots into the deep soil of respect for humanity.

May the sap of hope and vision flow in the trunks of our lives.

And may the branches of our own commitments grow and bear fruit.


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