MILLENNIUM SERMON: ONE FAMILY
[Washington Post] Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Anglican
Southern Africa and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, delivered a millennial
sermon at Washington National Cathedral on New Year's Eve 1999. He received
a standing ovation for his address to the congregation of 1,800 people.
In his sermon, Archbishop Tutu contrasted the "unending vista of pristine
days" that stretches out ahead of us into the future, with the failures,
atrocities, exploitation and abuses of the past. He recalled the suffering
and injustices of slavery, apartheid, Nazism, fascism, communism, conflict
"Human beings created in the image of God," said the Archbishop,
their God-given dignity trodden carelessly under foot and their noses rubbed
in the dust, heartlessly, by those who claimed to be superior beings by
virtue of their skin colour, their ethnicity."
He acknowledged that religion had often "fuelled and exacerbated
strife" and adopted extreme and exclusive positions that had given religion
a bad name. He also referred to the preventable disease and hunger that
stalked the world, and the environmental devastation that has been a feature
of the last century.
PEACE A REAL POSSIBILITY
"The catalogue of woes is devastating and would be overwhelming had it been
the whole story. Mercifully, wonderfully, exhilaratingly, it isn't,"
Archbishop Tutu told his listeners, as he outlined some of the successes of
civilisation. Slavery had been abolished, freedom and democracy established
in many countries, totalitarian regimes had been overcome, and apartheid in
South Africa ended. "The world has marvelled that someone could be in prison
for 27 years and emerge unscathed by bitterness, to become an icon of
magnanimity, forgiveness and reconciliation, as Nelson Mandela has."
Moves towards peace had also been made in Northern Ireland
and the Middle
East, and other areas of human achievement in music, politics and sport were
also to be celebrated.
The Archbishop recognised the enormous positive contribution
of science in
fighting disease, improving communication, and helping us to understand
"what it means to be responsible stewards of the good Earth."
GOD BELIEVES IN US
"God has brought us to this place and this time," Archbishop Desmond Tutu
reminded those gathered in the National Cathedral, "because God believes in
us. It's fantastic! God gives up on none of us."
"We have - all of us - an extraordinary capacity for evil.
And each one of
us ought to keep saying: 'There but for the grace of God go I.'" The
Archbishop continued, "But that's not the whole truth about us. The most
important truth, the one that God holds onto, is that we have an
extraordinary capacity for good."
GOD HAS A DREAM
Suggesting that the turn of the century, the start of a new millennium was
the opportunity for a new start in life, the Archbishop saw a fundamental
part of that new beginning should be the realisation of God's dream for us
to be one family.
"But that's the one lesson God wants us to learn: You
are fam-i-ly. Not as a
figure of speech, but as the most real thing about us. That we're members
one with another. In this family there are no outsiders," said Archbishop
Tutu. "All, all, all belong: black, white, yellow, grey, rich, poor,
educated, not educated, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, lesbian, gay,
The Archbishop challenged the church that if we really
believe that we are
one family, we would not tolerate the expenditure on "budgets of death and
destruction, when we know just a small, small fraction of that would enable
God's children everywhere to have clean water, enough to eat, adequate
education, accessible health care, safe home environment."
Encouraging his listeners to discover that we are one
Desmond Tutu called on Christians to realise their potential. "God has no
one except you and you and you and you and me to have God realise God's
Archbishop Tutu concluded his sermon with the words of
St Paul: "And if God
be for us, who can be against us?"