The retired Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom today from President Obama at the White House.
Archbishop Tutu is one of 16 recipients--all deserving of this nation's highest civilian award for service. Others include retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.
My wife Penny and I were blessed to spend a semester with Bishop Tutu at The General Theological Seminary in 1984. We were students in his lecture course on the Modern Church. We enjoyed his inspirational lectures, which drew heavily from his experiences fighting apartheid in his native country and for human rights for "colored" peoples there.
I was moved by his accounts of the struggle for justice and appreciated where his impulse for justice originated: from a deep faith in the God of justice, freedom, reconciliation, and peace.
I used to see Bishop Tutu at General's Chapel of the Good Shepherd early in the morning. He was always on his knees in prayer. When there was a Eucharist in the chapel, he was present, sometimes celebrating and preaching.
For him, daily prayer, along with the Holy Eucharist shaped his spirituality, the image of the Compassionate Christ in him, and fired his passion for justice for all God's people, especially those to whom it had been denied for too long.
For Bishop Tutu, the central motif that powered his struggle for justice in South Africa--and likely still does in other contexts today--was and is God's liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and leading of them to freedom in Canaan; and with that freedom, God's choice or election of them for service to Him, carrying on God's struggle for bringing fullness of life to all people, because all people are precious to Him.
Bishop Tutu taught me less by his words and more by the holiness of his life. His is a life dedicated to Christ, to daily transformation in Him through prayer, worship, and study; and to serving others in Christ's Name, especially the powerless and needy.
So, congratulations to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, saint of the modern church and example of Christ-like living and ministry. And thank you, Bishop Tutu, for showing me the kind of person and servant Christ calls me to be.