An Easter Greeting from Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball

By Sandra Steiner Ball

Christ is Risen!

As I contemplate this Easter season and my recent trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe, I find my thoughts turning to the practice of ubuntu.  Ubuntu means seeking out the value and humanity in others; seeking even your enemy as a brother or sister.  Ubuntu is how Nelson Mandela, whose Soweto home I visited while in Africa, emerged from prison after so many years, and yet was free of hatred.  In a spirit of forgiveness, he consistently worked to bind up the nation’s wounds and unite its once divided people.  Ubuntu.  Seeking out the humanity, the value, in other people, seeing others as people and not as objects.
Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us or are out to get us.  Ubuntu.  Seeking out the humanity in the other.

As we rejoice in the glory and life of the resurrection on this Easter Sunday and in this Easter season, I would like us to bring this spirit of ubuntu in our celebration and into our remembering.  Jesus Christ fully embodied ubuntu, seeking out the humanity of every person, saint for sinner, healthy or sick, Jew or Samaritan or stranger or refugee or immigrant or foreigner.

We can truly celebrate on this resurrection day for God sent his son into this world because God saw each of the persons God created not as objects or things but as persons, as human beings – beloved, valued, and valuable.  Because of this great love, God moved out into this world through Jesus making a way to raise human beings out of death into life.

Easter is the story of what can happen to us.  It is about our experiences of death and of being lifted up and made new, when we ourselves do not have the power to do so.  Easter celebrates the life- giving power of the presence of God. Through the resurrection, God says to the world, “Listen, I am not kept in a certain place, I am not contained or limited by human thought, action, or opinion, and  I do not do my work at a distance, nor does the extent of my love expect all to come to me without me first moving out to them.”

What does God do?  God moves out into the neighborhood.  Clearly, through the gift of Christ and even more so through the resurrected Christ, God first moves to us and loves us.  For you seminary types this would be called prevenient Grace.  God is not contained in the Holy of Holies.  God is not contained within or by our church buildings.  God is not limited by human thought, ideas, or concerns.  God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, moved out into this sinful world so that the world would have the opportunity to experience God’s creative and abundant love first hand.  I have seen this movement of God most recently and clearly during my trip to Zimbabwe and in visiting Africa University during this 25th anniversary year.  God moved out through faithful United Methodists to create a Pan Africa University that educates and trains leaders for today and for the future who learn about respect and honor of God, and respect and honor of persons.  What courageous students I met.  These are students who left families and known cultures.  Many of these students came with only the clothes they had on their bodies and have great trust that the God in whom they believe will provide for them.  These are students who desire and feel called in a variety of ways to be a part of God’s loving, grace filled transformation of this world and its peoples.

If we United Methodists in the United States had never been willing to entertain God’s dream, if we had not opened our eyes and hearts to see the humanity and value of persons who are different from us and live in a different area of the world and had attempted to keep God’s movement and resources for ourselves, Africa University would not be the miracle and the answer to prayer that it is today.  We are not to keep, in fact we cannot keep, God locked in the church.  God through Christ invites us the movement and practice of ubuntu, to get beyond ourselves and to consider others. God’s thoughts and direction are not always the thoughts and direction that we would discern for ourselves, but we can trust that whatever the movement of God’s Spirit takes us, Christ will walk with us and God will empower us.

The Easter story is clear!  God is about the redemption of the world, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of life.  As followers of Christ, we are to take God’s Good News out into a world needing redemption through Jesus Christ, and to persons who need not be treated as objects or things but greeted and welcomed as valued and valuable human beings, people.  God’s expectation and Christ’s call is not to just come into the church and worship God, but to share God’s presence and the gift of Christ through our actions of feeding the hungry, caring for the oppressed, clothing the naked and going into all the world making Disciples of Jesus so that all in this world might experience individually and communally God’s transforming power.
As we are called to move closer and closer into the likeness of Christ, that likeness moves us ever more outward into a world that desperately needs the love, life and hope that only God can give.  Truly we need to take the Good News out, to shine forth God’s light, and “seek in word and in deed to do everything in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

May it be so!  And may we all strive to live in the spirit and practice of ubuntu as we seek to grow and better be the Body of Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball