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Sermon on Independence Day

One of the most quoted authors in the Old Testament is that of Ecclesiastes. His meaningful parable of a great king besieging a city and a wise poor man whose advice no one pays attention to, we have heard already read in this church today. I wish once more to emphasize one phrase from this passage of scripture. Namely the wise author of Ecclesiastes writes: “Wisdom is better than might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:16).

Honoured and honourable worshippers gathered here in this church, dear friends!

Today it is the twenty-fifth time after the restoration of the statehood of Estonia that we celebrate Independence Day. Also with a festive worship service. We have long gotten over the nostalgia, we felt twenty-five years ago, for a pre-occupation era Estonia. More and more as a people and nation we now rather look hopefully forward to the future than back yearning for the past. At the same time, the distance towards the pre-war period of independence and the maintenance of the statehood achieved after the restoration of independence give us encouraging confidence to say that we have been truly successful with our nation. With God’s help!

Hardly can we be satisfied with the outcome of everything. If it were so, then we would lose the potential for development and would bring to an end the endeavours toward a better society for tomorrow. On a festive day it is not proper to look for failures in the life and doings of the birthday child, even less so to be reminded of them. For the most part, today we are all joyful and happy for our nation and freedom we have, each giving according to one’s abilities and talents as much as we can. However, in order for our nation’s independence to endure we need to be more of one mind and need to give a collective contribution. The involvement of the people in the governing of the nation needs to be broader and the taking into account the opinions of the people should be the rule rather than the exception.

Let the wise words of Ecclesiastes be for us the guide: “There was a little city with few men in it; and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom he could have delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man.“(Ecclesiastes 9:14-15). We all agree with the thought, that knowledge and wisdom are not only attributes of specific political parties or leaders. God does not give bright thoughts only to coalition politicians. Likewise not only to the opposition. Sometimes it can happen so, as it is written in Ecclesiastes, that there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom he could have delivered the city. I believe that amongst our people, in various communities and independent associations, we find many such wise women and men, who have something meaningful to say and share. How to more successfully encourage involvement? How to take into account the various differences so that it does not bring to an end secure naturalness?

In the last year the explosion of the migratory crisis has forced us to look more in a direction that we have never before looked at. The bloodshed taking place in the Middle-East, the persecution of Christians and people of other faiths and minorities and the accompanying migratory crisis is one of the largest challenges in the last one-hundred years not only for Europe but for the entire world. Attention was drawn to this during the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Other church leaders have spoken of this as well, beginning with Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and ending with our own Estonian church leaders.

Just as we cannot solve our internal questions only for the price of tolerating one another, so we cannot welcome those who one day will arrive here from other cultural and faith backgrounds with just a cool politeness. We need to know more about them, we need to learn to better understand their customs, beliefs and cultural backgrounds just as we expect them to learn about Estonia and understand Estonians.

As a state with restored independence we are in our period of youth, characterized by self-confidence. Estonian Republic with all its 98-year old dignified form hides a young daredevil who is 24-years old, active, interested in innovation, with open as well as positive thinking and has a protestant work-ethic. My worry is that this wisdom learnt from books, this bravery of youth, perhaps combined with fitness-club-toned muscles, is all of a sudden too much and so one does not take notice of the poor wise man who could be a good advisor as referred to by Ecclesiastes.

Advice, what Holy Scripture gives us, could help solve many worries and problems. But we do not always want to take such advice. This poor wise man is not very popular. However, this advice may solve such “hot” topics in society that are bound up mostly with mutual recognition, living side-by-side and breathing the same air. In order to understand another person in their situation, one has to look at them through their eyes, stand in their shoes and put oneself in that person’s place. God did just so, by coming amongst people as Jesus Christ. In human terms this means empathy. Surely we can come to understand one another better, even tolerate one another; however, in the last while I have been astonished, why be limited to tolerance and yet not aspire for something more. I do not want to believe that this is the maximum limit of our humanity!

This past autumn, at the Tallinn Domestic Peace Forum, listening to the worried and gloomy thoughts expressed by Estonians whose mother-tongue is Russian, a question came in to my mind: Has our quarter-century-long integration policy with its mediocre results, borne the fruit that it has, because of such limited tolerance? We have grown ourselves to be used to each other. That is, Estonian-speakers with Russian-speakers and I am sure just the reverse as well. However, we have not been ready for more than to just tolerate each other. So we can live as neighbours, each on their own side of the border; yet for the people here, Estonia is our common home!

We as Christians do not need to speak in category of tolerance. We need to live and be active, and also speak in the category of love. Into this fits all, that is, tolerance, understanding, sympathy, when we speak of refugees, the persecuted and those who are different from us. Love is a much higher ideal than all the other beautiful and good goals combined. I hope that I can express myself clearly enough. I speak of love, which proceeding forth from us, must be unconditional. Yes, God has set His conditions in the teachings of the Holy Scripture, what Christians regard to be the truth. It is the task of Christians to teach and proclaim that truth themselves in their everyday lives by truly loving unconditionally. That is the example that Christ gave us!

Let us reflect upon this, when we speak of whatever kind of people in need, also of our neighbours, those nearest to us. There are many such people here already in our society in addition to arriving war refugees. The Estonia of a dignified age, with a youthful spirit, needs to turn more actively and face those who need help and support. From this face, in addition to wisdom and a gallant gaze, should also be reflected love. This is how the face of each and every one of us should look like. And we need to go and share this embracing and welcoming love in every Estonian village and city, commune and county, starting let’s say, from Ida-Viru County.

“Wisdom is better than might,” writes the author of Ecclesiastes. Strength and good form are needed to defend one’s own home, one’s own land and people. Our friends and allies are part of this defence and strength, without which we would feel ourselves powerless and abandoned. But the use of strength and might presupposes wisdom. On today’s birthday we need to be thankful to God for all the help that we have received in the period following the re-establishment of independence. We have built our nation and home in faith and hope that this will be home to our children and grandchildren and all the successive generations.

Estonia has a future if we are wise enough to take with us from our history, including the last eight centuries of the land of Mary and the last five centuries of Lutheranism, and from our rich cultural heritage all that has formed us as a people. All this has helped us arrive here to this day and will carry us forward from today.

I wish to all a treasured past, joyful and productive today as well as a blessed future!



Urmas Viilma

24.02.2016 Tallinn Cathedral

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