8th assembly/50th anniversary

Worship at the Eighth Assembly
Closing Worship
Monday, 14 December 1998

Rev. Emilio Castro
2 Corinthians, Chapter 4

In the course of this Assembly I read the letters to the Corinthians, the letters we have in the New Testament. It looks just as if the apostle had written them with our Assembly in mind. We see there discussions of the role of women, the different traditions to which the people belong  (1 Cor 1,12), problems of family behaviour, the different spiritualities, the collection for the saints, a discussion about what orderly worship means, the recognition of the different gifts, the affirmation that we are one body, many members, the discussion of syncretism. The apostle addresses a real body of saints and sinners, with admonitions, teachings, even threats in order to redress that community and re-affirm the unity of the body of Christ. I don't know if something in the agenda of our Council has escaped the apostle's attention. In the middle of the discourse, the apostle stops to do what we call anamnesis, remembrance, going back to the essential. It is the Creator God who says, ‘let light shine out of darkness', who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (verse 6).

We are not in a meeting to agree on incidentals. The problem is not to substitute one word for another, even if we may need to do so —it is much more vital than that. We live under the spell, the wonder, the awareness, of the miraculous action of God-self. All our deliberations have sought for means and ways to share that wonderful knowledge, that wonderful power, with the whole world. We need to pass resolutions on human rights. But through these papers the hopeful people of Africa are searching for new ways in the future, new ways for the dying multitudes in a world of strife and turmoil.

I remember our visit to South Africa, in response to a call to take part in a funeral service for 30 young people murdered at a public demonstration in Transkei. Families and friends called on the Council to be with them, symbolically representing the reality of the people of faith all over the world in solidarity with them.  In such situations—a painful, hopeful, solidarity—that is what our resolutions on human rights are all about.  We have passed resolutions on indigenous people but beyond these resolutions we have seen people from the four corners of the earth, year after year, come to Geneva to present their case to the United Nations and find in the WCC headquarters their spiritual home.  We do not preach ourselves, we proclaim the compassionate God and ourselves, your servants for Jesus' sake.

Before going home we should all remember the essentials of our faith and of our coming together in the family of the WCC. The passionate God has taken our lives and has recruited us into His creative power and service. The apostle immediately recognizes the pretension of that tremendous claim and continues to say we have this treasure, this knowledge, this experience, this power in clay jars -- a frail, broken reality. So the second moment of our Assembly, beyond anamnesis, was rightly a call to repentance, a turning to God. The awareness of the glory in Christ brings us to our knees.

It must be very clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God. The apostle puts two contradictory emphases in a single phrase: it is a great power, the power of creation, the power to transform our life, which seeks to transform the life of every human being in the whole creation. The world needs that experience, it needs to know the compassionate God. At the same time the confession of our sins comes as a thankful acknowledgement of God's power and mercy. The testimony to be made is about the power of God for salvation. All our frailties, all our sins, all our quarrels cannot prevent us from proclaiming to the world, not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as the compassionate, suffering Lord. We know our frailties. If we are in this ecumenical vocation, it is to announce reconciliation in Christ. If we call people to liberation, if we want to express solidarity, if we look for the unity of the Church of God's given promises, all that is from God and not from ourselves. We are jars made of clay -- easily broken. We are part of the misunderstanding of the vision of the world. We proclaim the power of God for redemption, consolation and hope. That is why we as individuals, as the WCC, could be, as the apostle says, in verses 8 to 10, "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies."

Because of that reality, of being children of God, born of the Spirit, we will continue to struggle for the unity of the Church and to announce liberation in a globalized world, to confront prejudice, shortcomings and sin. Let us go back to the essential - God's creative power. This is what we believe, what we are thankful for, what we want to proclaim to the world.

You know from your personal experience, in the life of your church, the reality of the tensions between God's power and our human unworthiness. You see thousands of people, asking for a blessing from local priests all over the world, before going out to confront the daily struggles of their existence. You can see those dying with AIDS who receive the consolation of a brotherly/ sisterly pastoral visit. Or those who are struggling to overcome evil and who look to the Church as an ally, as a power,  a reality that goes far beyond our own human possibility. It is true that we are called to repentance, repentance in the awareness of the power of God that is manifested in our needs. The world needs to know of it, and to be served with that power.

It is inspired in this amazing awareness of the Creator God that we shall go home and forward
towards the kingdom so that "the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh".

To rejoice is not an insult to the suffering people of the earth when it is the amazing announcement of a grace that is given us little ones whom Jesus Christ comes to encounter.

We are finishing an Assembly. Juridically speaking, we are beginning to walk toward the Ninth Assembly. But we have seen and lived once more the mystery of God's presence and as a shaky ship we go on sailing, "setting our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith". It is God's power, it is God's cause. Because "we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence."

Emilio Castro was the fourth general secretary of the World Council of Churches, serving from 1985 to 1992. A Methodist from Uruguay, Castro studied with Karl Barth in Basel, Switzerland, and earned his PhD degree from the University of Lausanne. He has been a parish pastor and held offices in several Latin American and international ecumenical agencies before joining the stafff of the WCC as director of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism in 1973.

Photo: The-then WCC General Secretary Emilio Castro,  leading the first WCC  delegation to South Africa in 30 years, met with then-ANC leader  Nelson Mandela soon  after the latter's release from prison. (Photo Oikoumene theme: Canberra toHarare; ref. no.: 5309-31) 

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