The Estonian Evengelical Lutheran Church
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Sermon on Independence Day – Republic of Estonia 100 on 24 February 2018 in Church of the Holy Cross in Paide

„And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.“ (Deuteronomy 8:10,17-18)

 „I come from a country whose name is Estonia,“ began president Lennart Meri his speech that he held almost a quarter of a century ago in Munich. Only a few years before had Estonia with the other Baltic States returned to the map of Europe and of the world as a free nation. For many as the head of a still unknown state, Lennart Meri described to the audience exactly where Estonia was geographically situated and what kind of relationship had Estonians with nature. As was a custom to Lennart Meri to exaggerate in his speech, he said among other things, that the nation from which he comes is so small, that the head of state standing in the song festival grounds has seen with a single glance half of his people.

 Since then a lot of water has flowed from the river Emajõgi to lake Peipsi. Estonia is no longer a forgotten corner in northeast Europe, but has once more taken a dignified place as a small nation in Europe. Estonia’s geographic smallness and a scarce population are often presented as a problem. Those who study demography and those entrepreneurs who complain about not having enough qualified workforce are doubtlessly correct in saying that our smallness makes the upkeep of our nation expensive. In a couple of decades, owning the Estonian nation will become an outright luxury, which in turn is a burden for those paying taxes. Yet, a nation with a scarce population, like that of Estonia, belongs amongst the most unique of nations. Estonia is a rare state and Estonians are a rare people.

Estonia’s national story of success is undoubtedly our educational capacity and our innovative spirit, which has enabled us to ripen as an apple at the top of the 500-year-old European Reformation apple tree. We are astonished at ourselves and we want to show our bright red innovation apples to the others as well. Already last summer at the 12th Youth Song and Dance Festival we could all together sing with joy and satisfaction along with the boys’ choirs the words of the song written by Rein Rannap and Ott Arder:

It is good to grow here as the apple at the top
when one’s head is not spinning
and there is no danger of falling down.

We are ultimately satisfied, that we, Estonians, have established ourselves in the northeast corner of Europe and as a small population, yet as a large family made our home on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The words from the Holy Scripture remind us today: “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you!” (Deuteronomy 8:10). During thousands of years of ethnogenesis, this good land that we know also as the Land of Mary, has become our own sweet home for our tiny nation. In the words of the academic and archaeologist Valter Lang, our coming here has meant repeated arrivals, departures and intermingling of peoples and tribes, during which from all those who arrived by the 21st century has formed just this people, who today are celebrating the jubilee.    

I want to hope that we have finally truly arrived to stay. Yet we should not create illusions that this corner of land bounded by water on three sides remains as a reserve for native Estonians. Yet the overly expensive fencing of the eastern border seems to suggest just that. If we want to defend ourselves as a people and as a nation, it is no longer wise to voluntarily use ghettoization as a method. The border naturally needs to be fortified, the level of will of defence raised in the population as well as a greater awareness among the people about all kinds of internal and external threats; however we do not need a nationalistic isolationism under the guise of defending an Estonian identity.

President Lennart Meri in the speech from which I quoted at the beginning of my sermon, among other things has said: “We have defended our identity with weapons, yet much more with traditions that are among the oldest in Europe. [—] However we have defended our identity first of all, so that we stay in Europe, remain Europeans and help Europe preserve the European phenomenon – her multifaced culture.”

In preserving multifarious culture, we can always be of assistance. For this Estonia should not become closed, but be a wisely open society. This wise openness comes from a confidence in one’s self and a belief in one’s nation that has a centuries-old story and inheritance, a contemporary experience of success and a promising vision for the future. At the same time, one needs to understand the dangers of the alternative unbounded openness, so that we would not suddenly find Estonia dissolved in Europe, “free Estonia” turned into an “Estonian-free” country! This means preserving identity, traditions and holding onto our values, undergirding them and introducing them to others.

We do not need to be a new Nordic state! Who should we emulate? We speak often of European values and Western values. Why not Estonian values? One does not exclude the other. In my opinion, we do not need to be like someone else. I am convinced that the Estonian people are happy, when they can be their own kind, that is, be Estonians. When they love Estonia as Estonia and the Estonian people as Estonian people, not as something or someone else. Continually trying to be like someone else, means in the end hiding behind a strange mask and being ashamed of one’s own face.

Tammsaare in the second volume of his work “Truth and Justice” has put into the mouth of the school teacher Maurus meaningful words to the boys in his school: “And now say for yourselves, has our nation something to fear, if we love it with our whole heart, if the people love themselves with all their heart? No, this kind of people has nothing to fear, they shall live because love is life. Boys, then love your own people, love yourselves, just like the English or Germans love themselves.”

To me it seems that our own unique visage is taking shape. One look present in the Estonian face is surely something I have already mentioned before, namely, innovativeness, especially in the information technology field. As an e-country Estonia is already a pioneer-nation; then we could call this unique innovativeness also “estovativeness”.Estovativeness” means responsible innovativeness. In innovative development this comes along with taking intentionally responsibility for the national heritage, identity, environment and culture, in other words, for everything that helps to preserve one’s own visage in the process of innovation. In the words of President Meri, we thus preserve the diversity of cultures as a European phenomenon.

The role of the spokesperson for responsible innovation would allow Estonia, in addition to the present propagation of the e-state model, to be not only the “salt of the earth”, just as Jesus challenges his disciples to be, but to be “the salt of Europe”. Perhaps even “the salt of the world”! Estonia has a great capacity to be the mustard seed, the fruitful seed of the ripe apple at the top of the tree, from which grows a great and powerful tree of responsible scientific and innovative development.

To act so, with a very precise thoughtful responsibility and ethic, we need wisdom, which is not only made up of education obtained through knowledge- and science-based learning processes, but has for its components, in addition to scientific knowledge, also what we can obtain through our senses and the experiences of our ancestors, which include the legacy brought from the past, the rich intellectual and spiritual baggage. As we share with coming generations the very best from this treasury of Christian spirituality, we can hope to harvest the best fruits of responsible development. This is a treasure which cannot be measured only by instruments, but is discernible and felt by the heart. Tammsaare let Maurus name that to be love.

 Thus today, on the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Republic, we must not relate indifferently to the words preserved from thousands of years ago, for they are still relevant today:

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’  You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.“ (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

The Estonian nation has risen from the ashes. This is for sure one of those miracles of God and a mark of God’s continuing blessing. However, in addition to political and national independence as well as national self-determination, of importance is how free does the people of this nation feel and how happy is every single member. Happiness, like love, is not measurable. Yet as a nation and people, we feel on this festive day happiness as well as love. Let us seek from our hearts and without embarrassment show forth thankfulness to the Creator, who has gathered us together for centuries in this corner of the world and today has assembled us here, in Paide, in the heart of Estonia, for this service of thanksgiving.

God bless our land and the Estonian people today on this national jubilee and may He guard and protect us at the beginning of a new century!