A Sermon by the Most Revd & Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York At the Service of Commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Janani Luwum, Archbishiop of Uganda (16 February 1977)
11 February 2007 at :00 am
Theme: We Journey Towards Oneness with God
Isaiah 55:6-13, John 14:1-14
"Jesus said, Do not let your hearts be troubled... You know the way to the place where I am going... I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
In my article on Janani Luwum, in the book The Terrible Alternative: Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century (Cassell, 1998, Ed. Andrew Chandler), it begins with the first verse of the hymn of the first Uganda martyrs:
Daily, daily sing the praises Of the city God hath made; In the beauteous Field of Eden Its foundation-stones are laid.
If I had wings I would fly and go To that beauteous city of God. Whose foundations by Christ were laid.
"You know the way to that place... I am the way, the truth and the life." For Janani Luwumu this rung true. Listen to what he said when he surrendered his life to Christ:
'Today I have become a leader in Christ's army. I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus. As Jesus shed his blood for the people, if it is God's will, I do the same'. Such were the words of a primary-school teacher in his own village where he was well known and where his family and village had wanted him to be a chief. He told me:
'When I was converted, after realising that my sins were forgiveness and the implications of Jesus' death and resurrection, I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy and peace. I suddenly found myself climbing a tree to tell those in the school compound to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. From time to time I spoke in tongues. I stayed up that tree for a long time.
Later on I discovered that some boys were converted due to my sermon I preached up that tree. The reality of Jesus overwhelmed me - and it still does. But I would be wrong to demand that those who are converted should climb a tree and speak in tongues.'
Eleven months after his conversion, on one Sunday afternoon, Janani Luwum was moved to address an open-air meeting at All Saints Church, in Kitgum, and he said:
'The Holy Spirit has been showing me how many educated men are deserting the Church. When the Church dies out of existence they won't be there to take the blame. I feel deeply convicted that if the church faces extinction in this my native land, I will be around to die first before the Church falls, collapses or dies. It will have to fall on me. I totally surrender myself to the Church.'
Then he fell on the ground and wept bitterly amid loud shouts of praise, thanksgiving and tears of joy of repentance. Yusto Otunno responded by saying that Luwum, as one of the educated brethren, should join the full-time ministry of the Church. God was calling him to sacrifice his teaching career, and the real possibility of being a local chief, and to offer himself for ordination.
I ended my article on Janani Luwum by saying that,
"Janani Luwumu gave the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire a new spirit and vitality. His wise leadership had encouraged Christians not to disregard, but to confront issues of the church and state in Uganda. That he challenged the authorities of his day publicly, like the prophet Nathan, set him apart from other bishops of the church,
whose relations with the state had often been confined to the private sphere. His contribution was also characterized by the confidence of his faith; that the gospel of Jesus Christ could offer eternal values to a violent, unjust and deceitful political power. He sought to shape his province into a distinctive Christian body that cherished its past and its diversity, but one that reached out to what was universal in the gospel.
For me, his martyrdom was a defining moment. The day he died I resolved to be ordained." (Ibid., p.156)
"You know the way" - not the destination. We do not know what lies in store for us for which our loving Saviour has prepared for us. What we need is not SATNAV. For "we come to God not by navigation but by love," as St. Augustine of Hippo said.
Jesus is not a map for us to study and then follow. He is the road. So we should walk him. He is the truth. So we should know him. He is the truth because in him God's love, faithfulness and justice are revealed and carried out fully. All God wants to Be to us and Give us is made manifest and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That is why we should walk and know him.
He is the life. So we should live him. God's own life was poured out on the Cross for the whole world, and as we walk and know him his life is made manifest in our mortal bodies. Yes, we are called to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For we are invited to "carry in our bodies the death of Jesus" (2Corinthians 4:10).
Lesslie Newbigin writes: "To follow this way is, in fact, the only way to the Father. This is not to say that God has left no witness to himself in the rest of the life of the world. We have in fact been told that Jesus is the light that lightens every man.
What is being said here, as in the whole of the Gospel, is that Jesus is in fact the presence of God's truth and God's life in the world, and that to know the Father means to follow the way which Jesus is, and which he has opened through the curtain by his living, his dying, and his rising from the dead.
We come to the true knowledge of God by knowing Jesus, and following him along the way which he goes and which he is" (The Light Has Come, Eerdmans, 1982, pp.181-182):
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You know the way to the place where I am going. I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
Jesus goes to the Father to prepare a place for his friends and will return to take them to the Father. However, they have already seen the Father in Jesus Christ. For Jesus and the Father are one (God is at work in him): Those who see, hear and touch Jesus of Nazareth, see, hear and touch the Father. The father will equally be at work through those who are disciples of Jesus. Marvel of marvels: they will do even greater works than Jesus because he will be the Father and the Father will send them One like Jesus Christ; and this will bring glory to the Father.
Our journey is towards oneness with God. As we journey our calling is to make manifest to everyone the compassionate face of God made visible in Jesus Christ.
Calling them to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which would result in their sins being forgiven, offered new life in the present, and hope for the future; and set free from fear and anxiety with their feet on the rock of peace. This is where true joy is: Journeying towards oneness with God.
As our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 55 reminded us, human economic status is of no significance as a condition for responding to God's invitation to share in life abundant: life with God. Nor is ethnic origin, tribe, nation and language since nations unknown to the people of the covenant will come seeking the Lord and God of the eternal covenant.
God's invitation to participate in the life of this new community of love is open to all, including the wicked, who find pardon. God's purposes and plans transcend human schemes and systems. And for sure the outcome is certain because God always accomplishes his purpose. The clear vision of God's purposes and seeing clearly that his journey was towards oneness with God made Janani Luwum the Christian he was.
An Archbishop who confronted tribalism, religion and despotism in Uganda. Today he would be busy confronting the demons of our time: Idolatry (the worship of God falsely conceived), militarism, materialism and race-ism.
His heart would be rendered open by the suffering of the Acholi and the Langi in Northern Uganda. Suffering that has gone on unabated from the time of Idi Amin to the present.
To the Lord's Resistence Army that has abducated children and turned them into child-soldiers and modern day slaves, raped, maimed and killed many, Janani would have thundered, "Enough is enough". His spilled blood is crying out not for vengeance but for justice and reconciliation.
To President Yoweri Museveni, Archbishop Henry Orombi in partnership with the world community, he would urge a redoubling of effort to put an end to the suffering and misery of the Acholi and Langi people. And all of us Ugandans must see the problem of Northern Uganda as problem as a sore-wound on our conscience. We are all implicated.
As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, "We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible". (Abraham Heschel, Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience, New York, 1967: also in Pacifism and the Jews, by Evelyn Wilcock, Hawthorn Press, 1994, p.169.
Janani Luwum's martyrdom, witness, came because he daily walked Jesus, lived Jesus and knew Jesus. And like Michael Ramsey, participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ freed him from many -isms and forever pointed to this truth which set him free.
As we commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Archbishop Janani Luwum's martyrdom, may we all come to see our journey as towards oneness with God. And may the Holy Spirit help us to walk Jesus, live Jesus and know Jesus.