The One Essential Thing
Philippians 1:21-27

As preached by Rev. Dr. John Lombard on Sunday 10/08/06

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

lombard, Rev. Dr. John.Three weeks ago I had the great privilege of attending a forum at Boston University entitled "Civilian Casualties/Civilian Solutions." The panel of speakers consisted of three extraordinary people whose families were affected by the events of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Rwanda genocide. And though they would seem to have every right to seek to avenge the wrongs perpetrated upon them and their families by those who were filled with such anger and hatred as to destroy and kill others, these remarkable individuals have chosen a different path than revenge and retribution. They have made the intentional choice in the midst of their own pain and suffering to work to break the cycles of violence by promoting justice, reconciliation, and genuine peace. And in the current global climate where terrorism, violence, and war seem to be the order of the day and the primary means to resolve differences, and where the dictum "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" rules many a heart, I find the work of these individuals, their vision, and their testimony incredibly inspiring and tremendously compelling.

Let me say a word about these three individuals. Terry Rockefeller lost a sister in the World Trade Center on 9/11. She works tirelessly as a founding member of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows helping to create an international network of families working beyond retribution. Terry has traveled to Iraq making people-to-people contacts at schools, hospitals, and universities meeting families and challenging world leaders to use some imagination to find alternatives to military action in Iraq. Her mission is driven in part by the message of Martin Luther King, Jr. when over forty years ago at the height of his ministry and activism, King eloquently challenged a nation in the grip of violence and conflict.

"The past," said King, "is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. How much longer must we play deadly war games before we heed the plaintive please of the outnumbered dead and maimed of past wars? Why can't we at long last grow up, and take off our blindfolds, chart new courses, put our hands to the rudder and set sail for the distant destination, the port city of peace?"

I truly believe that Terry Rockefeller has discovered the one essential thing in life for people of faith: to live your life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Father Romain Rurangirwa was also on the panel. He was one of nine children who were raised in a remote village in southern Rwanda. That village no longer exists. In the mid-nineties his entire family, including his parents, were among 35,000 Tutiis who were killed during the Rwandan genocide. Inspired by precious memories of his family and empowered by the wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher, who once wrote, "He who has a why to live for can survive anything." Father Romain has spent his life finding the why's to live for, of finding meaning in his life by finding the good he can do. To forget his feelings against his enemies, to overcome his anger, and to find the good he can do in what unites, heals, and reconciles the world's peoples. Father Romain knows that those who hate lose their way and ultimately lose the fight. And what is gained? For violence simply comes again and again, feeding on the bitterness of a hateful or hurting heart. I truly believe that Father Romain has discovered the one essential thing in life for people of faith: to live your life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally, there was Bud Welch, a Texaco service station owner and father to an only and much beloved daughter, Julie. Julie was among 168 people killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Until 9/11, this bombing was the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history, born of anti-government hatred of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and allegedly as an act to avenge the earlier government siege at Waco. Bud was angry beyond imagination and revenge was in his heart. But something strange happened to Bud on the long journey to Timothy McVeigh's execution. Bud Welch realized that it was revenge and hate in the first place which drove the bombers to do their dastardly deed. He knew, instinctively, that he needed to redirect his feelings of revenge. Bud Welch reached out to Timothy McVeigh's father, to comfort him in the elder McVeigh's own loss and not to blame him for his son's actions. And when Timothy McVeigh was executed for his horrific crime which took the life of Bud's only daughter, Bud Welch realized that McVeigh's execution gave him no relief and that, despite his own painful loss, he could not feel good for another human life being taken. So what did Bud Welch do? Bud Welch became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Today he travels the world imparting his message. Bud Welch is the President of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and has received a host of awards for his work, including the "Champion of Justice Award" by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. And he has addressed the European Parliament as part of the Amnesty International Journey of Hope in Paris, London, and Brussels. I truly believe that Bud Welch has discovered the one essential thing in life for people of faith: to live your life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, we heard from the Apostle Paul, writing a somewhat intimate epistle to the church in Philippi, at that point a Roman colony. Paul himself is in prison waiting; he has suffered greatly for his faith. He yearns for complete union in Christ that will come at the point of death, but right now he is mindful of the needs of the Philippians, especially the most recent converts who have been called to suffer for their faith in Christ. The morale of the community is under siege. So, while Paul would eagerly embrace a closer life with Christ through death, he believes for the current time that his survival is more important, by example, encouragement, and exhortation, for the spiritual well being of the Philippians. So, Paul is confident in the opportunity to be useful to the people who need him most, to respond to the deep needs of others, and to enable us the progress of the good news of God's great love to expand, grow, and thrive. At the end of the day, Paul firmly believes that whatever happens to him is occasion enough for his faithful response to God's love and growing relationship with Christ and others. Paul respects the message of the gospel to be worked out through his life and death and expects the same for those he counsels, converts, convicts, and comforts in the faith. Paul wants the Philippians, and, by extension, you and me centuries later, to have the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ stamped on our lives, and, like Terry Rockefeller, Father Romain Rurangirwa, and Bud Welch to live a life worthy of the gospel in all its fullness and faithfulness.

But what does it mean to live a life worthy of the gospel in 2006? How do we in a world that at times seems overwhelming and terribly confusing find our way to a sense of integrity and authenticity in living? Where are the resources to sustain, strengthen and encourage us to live fully and earnestly the faith we affirm?

Paul would say and I would agree that each life, precious in its own creation, is a charge given by God to be used to prove and express the Creator's will more and more with each new season of life. That whatever happens to us in the course of our days, be the occasion ones of success or failure, joy or sadness, hope or despair, or even life or death, each and every circumstance, happening, or incident can be the occasion for faithful response to God's love and a growing relationship to God through grace. There is a point at which people maturing in the Christian faith realize that our lives are truly not our own, inasmuch as we take our inspiration and example from Jesus Christ who was truly a child of God and One for others. For us as followers, proclaiming Christ is not just declaring the message of Jesus' way and witness; it is a matter of living out the gospel of love and life, of peace and reconciliation, of justice and compassion, of hope and redemption. To live a life worthy of the gospel is to yield to a higher power, recognizing that God's will, like the ongoing shaping and reshaping of God's people and creation is never finished; at that our job, our vocation as Christians, is to work with a common unified spirit and with uncommon devotion and a readiness of heart to allow God to use us to God's ends and God's purposes. In short, to live a life worthy of the gospel, is to magnify Christ through the lens of our own lives that Christ's message of love and life continues to be echoed through what we say, what we do, and who we are. And there are witnesses to this very reality in our midst today, perhaps in you, and certainly, in those who have discovered the one essential thing: to live a life worthy of the gospel.

Some of you will recognize the name Dag Hammerskjold, the late Secretary General of the U.N. from 1953-1961. For some reason, as a youngster I became very interested in him and his work for the U.N. In 1953 when he became Secretary General of the U.N. he wrote a radio piece in which he talked about the influence of his parents along with the profound effect of the nature of the Gospels.

"From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father's side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country-or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother's side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our master in God."

In 1961, faced with a deep crisis in Africa and shortly before he would perish in a plane flight to hopefully negotiate a ceasefire and bring peace to the region of the Congo, Dag Hammerskjold wrote these words, words which today give testimony to living a life worthy of the Gospel.

"Give us a pure heart," wrote Hammerskjold,
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee Thou
Whom I do not know But whose I am."


Peaceful Tomorrows

Civilian Casualties, Civilian Solutions
New York City


New York University - Center for Global Affairs
15 Barclay St. @ Broadway, Woolworth Building
8:30 am -12 pm
Grassroots Solutions to Intractable Problems
Join Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams as she and our international guests guide a morning of interactive dialogues about some of the world's most challenging problems. The discussions will be followed by expert commentary from human rights leaders in
New York.
Speakers: Afifa Azim, Afghanistan; Father Michael Lapsley, South Africa; Naba Hamid, Iraq; Robi Damelin, Israel; Nadwa Sarandah, Palestine; Julia Duany, Sudan; Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana, Rwanda
Moderator: Vera Jelinek (Center for Global Affairs)
Keynote Address: Jody Williams
*Breakfast will be served

September Space
520 8th Ave.
Building Resiliency in the Aftermath of Tragedy
11 am-1:30 pm
Speakers: Beatriz Abril, Spain; Olga Takaeva, Russia; William Frazer, Ireland will join Gerry Bogacz, World Trade Center Survivors Network; Flora Hogman, Holocaust Survivor; Samuel Smith, Katrina Evacuee
*Lunch will be served

Fordham University
441 E. Fordham Rd., Bronx
11:30 am - 1 pm
War or Peace: Drawing Hope from Tragedy
On the eve of the Fifth Anniversary of 9/11, an international panel discussion on drawing hope from tragedy. Family members of victims of terrorism in Chile, Rwanda, Iraq, England, Spain and the U.S. will explain how they transformed their grief into alternative humanitarian responses to violence.
Panelists: Marcia Scantlebury, Chile; Father Romain Rurangirwa, Rwanda; Raed Jarrar, Iraq; Jo Berry, UK; Jesus Abril Escusa, Spain; Orlando Rodriguez, New York
Moderator: Father Patrick Ryan, Vice President for University Mission and Ministry
*Light reception to follow

St. Paul's Chapel
209 Broadway
3-5 pm
International press conference with Jody Williams
Peaceful Tomorrows welcomes national and international press to meet all of the delegates.
Speakers: Loretta Filipov, Boston; Michael Lapsley, South Africa; Naba Hamid, Iraq; Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana, Rwanda; Beatriz Abril, Spain; Robi Damelin, Israel; Nadwa Sarandah, Palestine
MC: David Potorti, Director of Peaceful Tomorrows

Unitarian Church of All Souls
1157 Lexington Ave. @ 80th S
7 pm- 8:30 pm
Transcending Tragedy: Does Healing Require Forgiveness?
This discussion will explore each individual's process of "personal transformation" in response to his or her life-changing tragedy. How did their experience unfold? What challenges did they face? What new perspectives did they gain on peace, hope, restorative justice, and alternatives to war? Are these ideals even possible today? An exploration of how individual responses can affect the larger global community will follow.
Panelists: Naba Hamid, Iraq; Father Romain, Rwanda; Sofia Gaviria, Colombia; Andrea LeBlanc, New Hampshire
Moderator: Maria Volpe, Professor John Jay College of Criminal Justice
*Light refreshments will be served


New York Society for Ethical Culture
2 West 64th St. @ Central Park West
7:30 pm- 9 pm
Civilian Casualties Civilian Solutions
Join talk show host Phil Donahue in discussion with people personally affected by terrorism, violence and war from around the world. These extraordinary individuals have broken the cycles of violence by working to promote justice, reconciliation and peace.
Panelists: Sofia Gaviria, Colombia; Bud Welch, Oklahoma City; Father Romain Rurangirwa, Rwanda; Naba Hamid, Iraq; David Potorti, North Carolina
With a special appearance by Peter Yarrow

Battery Park
Yoga for Peace by CitiWorks (A 3-hour yoga mala)
Peaceful Tomorrows will make a brief appearance at this annual outdoor public event, as a gesture of support for shared goals.
Speaker: Antonio Aversano, New York

SEPTEMBER 10, 2006

Voices of September 11th Information Forum
Marriott Financial Center Hotel, 85 West St.
9:45 am - 10:30 am
Transforming Tragedy: An International Perspective
What can we learn from the tragedies of others around the world? This international panel brought will share with 9-11 families their global experience of transforming personal tragedy into positive action.
Panelists: Olga Takaeva, Russia; Jo Berry, England; Bud Welch, Oklahoma City; Terry Rockefeller, Boston
*Breakfast and lunch will be served

Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church
85 S. Oxford St., Fort Greene
10:45-12 pm
Healing Words: 9.11, Rwanda, Apartheid
Two Pastors from Africa who have been victims of extreme violence, will speak about their healing process. They will be joined by John Leinung of Peaceful Tomorrows.
Speakers: Father Michael Lapsley, South Africa and Father Romain, Rwanda
*Light reception to follow services

SEPTEMBER 11, 2006

Columbia U.- School of International and Public Affairs
420 W. 118th @ Amsterdam
Noon- 2 pm
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: Creative Responses to Violence
In this workshop, participants will form small groups and share their perspectives with the guest speakers. They will discuss and identify the common themes of the presenters' responses to terrorism, violence, and war: What was it that made them react by trying to break the cycle of violence? What were the common challenges they faced in taking their stands? What were the common solutions they identified for ending violence?
Panelists: All international delegates
*Light refreshments will be served

El Puente
211 S. 4th St., Williamsburg
1:30 pm -3:00 pm
Teaching Peace, Building Hope: Voices from Colombia, Chile and Spain
This program will explore lessons learned around the globe about what it takes to teach peaceful alternatives in the face of horrific violence. An international group of panelists will share their experiences as well as what actions and inroads they made to turn their painful loss into a catalyst for ongoing positive change.
Panelists: Sofia Correa, Colombia; Beatriz Abril, Spain; Irene Villa Gonzalez, Spain; Marcia Scantlebury, Chile; Jennifer Harbury, Washington DC; John Leinung, New York
Moderator: Luis Garden Acosta, founder of El Puente

The Church of the Holy Trinity
316 East 88th between 1st and 2nd Ave.
5:30 pm- 6:45 pm
Sudan to Chile: Women Waging Peace
Around the world, women play a crucial role in peacefully resolving conflicts. This panel brings together bereaved women turned activists from seven conflict areas and a 9/11 family member to discuss how they are working to avert violence and promote peace.
Panelists: Naba Hamid, Iraq; Marcia Scantlebury, Chile; Jo Berry, England; Afifa Azim, Afghanistan; Julia Duany, Sudan; Terry Rockefeller, Boston
*Light refreshments will be served
Moderator: Phoebe Griswold, Founding member Anglican Women's Empowerment and Wife of the Episcopal Presiding Bishop
Sponsored by Holy Trinity's Peace and Restorative Justice Community and the Gender Studies Program at LIU, Brooklyn
Information tables will be set up by Business Council for Peace, Feminist Peace Network

UN Church Center
777 United Nations Plaza @ E. 44th St.
5 pm - 6:30 pm
9/11 's Around the World -- and Civil Society's Role in Preventing Them
What can we do to construct a world in which grief is transformed into compassion and peacemaking, rather than revenge and retribution? What do those who have made this personal transformation have to tell us about the policy priorities and societal supports most needed to encourage this transformation? Please join Cora Weiss, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and guests from 17 countries who have responded to terrorism, violence and war by working for healing, reconciliation and genuine peace. We will commemorate the tragedy of 9-11-01 and other tragedies around the world in the UN Church Center's Tillman Chapel.
Attendees: All international delegates
Opening Remarks: by Cora Weiss
*Light refreshments will be served

Columbia U.- School of International and Public Affairs
420 W. 118th @ Amsterdam
7 pm- 8:30 pm
From Tragedy to Transformation: Alternative Responses to Violence
Panelists will share their experiences, ideas, and ongoing efforts and initiatives in promoting non-violent responses to tragedy. Immediately following the panel, we will create a "Living Memorial" honoring the victims of 9-11, as well as other violent tragedies, and to celebrate the creative non-violent alternative visions that give us hope for a more peaceful tomorrow.
Panelists: Raed Jarrar, Iraq; Father Michael Lapsley, South Africa; Julia Duany, Sudan; David Potorti, North Carolina
Moderator: Tony Jenkins from the Peace Education Center at Teacher's College
*Light refreshments will be served

Jewish Community Center
334 Amsterdam @ W. 76th
7:30 pm-10 pm
Encounter Point
Encounter Point focuses on the commonality of loss and the efforts of bereaved families to make a difference. Like the 9.11 family members of Peaceful Tomorrows, the Palestinian and Israeli families in this film have rejected violent retaliation and are seeking to build a secure, peaceful future. After the screening, Peaceful Tomorrows will join one of the film's subjects, Israeli Robi Damelin and Palestinian Nadwa Sarandah for a special panel discussion.
Panelists: Robi Damelin,israel; Nadwa Sarandah, Palestine; Filmmakers; Colleen Kelly, Bronx
Co-hosted by Parents Circle- Families Forum

SEPTEMBER 14, 2006

McGinn Cazale Theatre
2162 Broadway @ W. 76th
8 pm-10:30 pm
Genocide and Reconciliation: A response to "Lemkin's House"
After the performance of this award-winning play about Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term "genocide," panelists will explore Lemkin's legacy, the value of reconciliation and the role of the survivor in society.
Panelists: Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana, Rwanda; Sofia Correa, Colombia; Father Michael Lapsley, South Africa; Ambassador Dr. Chem Widhya, Cambodia; Adele Welty, Queens

Text mounted 26th September 2012; Images mounted 10th October 2012. RCWH.