If you’re looking for a “real” Christian, i.e., a person who really lived the way Jesus lived, practiced what Jesus taught, and loved the way Jesus loved, you need look no further than Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died today at 90.
Although I never met him personally, I’m among a crowd of Methodists who heard him speak for the first time at the World Methodist Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1986. I’ve been both inspired and challenged by him ever since. (I shared more about that experience here.)
For Desmond Tutu, being a follower of Christ meant there was no gap between personal piety and social justice; no separating deep disciplines of worship and prayer from assertive actions of leadership and witness; no empty space between the Christ-like transformation of individual lives and the transformation of political institutions and powers around the biblical vision of the Kingdom of God. He began where the Bible begins, with the affirmation that every person is a precious child of God, and he pointed toward the place where the Bible ends, when the kingdoms of the earth do in fact become the Kingdom of God.
It’s appropriate that one of Tutu’s first books was “God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time” and one of his last was “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,” written with the Dalai Lama. In the most challenging situations, he worked for the fulfillment of that dream with irrepressibly joyful hope.
And so we pray:
Almighty God, the giver of every good gift, we give you thanks for the life, work and witness of your servant, Desmond Tutu.
You knew how badly South Africa needed his courageous voice. And Lord, you know how badly we need that kind of voice in our nation and our world today. Raise up among us, O Lord, leaders with the same deep faith, courageous vision, and joyful hope that you gave to the world in him.
So, Lord, we give your child, Desmond, back to you in sure and certain hope of the resurrection. May he rest in peace and rise in glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.