2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Paul is his second letter to the Corinthians is writing about our new relationship with God as Christians. He establishes that our ultimate desire should be to please God. And he clearly states that God expects us to look to the divine for our ultimate work. Now in the passage we read today, he writes how we, as transformed people, are reconciled to God and ambassadors of God.
So what is he talking about when he writes that “we regard no one from a human point of view”, that we are a new creation and that “everything old has pass away”?
Paul realized that we are in rebellion against God. We humans want to be in charge. We play at being god. We really don’t want God in the way when we want something. We want to control the present and the future. We don’t want God telling us just to get up and go without clarity as to where we’d be going. We don’t think we need God. With our science, our intellect, and our experience we can solve any problem eventually. We don’t need God. And we have spent the ages trying to prove it … and even though we have miserably failed, we insist that eventually we and we alone will get it right.
And this is not a modern American attitude. This is an attitude humans have had since civilization began. Ancient religions provided folks with rituals to appease the gods and make the gods obligated to them. The gods were mere instruments for them. God is not obligated to us ever …
So now Jesus Christ comes along and tells that we are not in charge, that we can never solve our problems, that we must rely on God.
When we finally, deeply, thoroughly accept our dependence on God … no matter how irrational, no matter that God cannot be touched, smelled, seen, or heard with our physical senses … we have become the new creation, we are reconciled to God. We have ceased trying to be God and become a true child of God. We have beaten our rebellious swords into reconciling plowshares.
No longer do we see the world through the eyes of the age-old human effort to control it, to be in charge, to be right, to be the center of the universe. Now we see the world through the eyes of Christ: a world that is broken and struggling, a world that needs acceptance and the reconciling power of love. We no longer regard others through the typically human point of view: We don’t judge whether they are part of our tribe or someone we should be suspicious of. We no longer judge whether we can profit from them or whether they will try to profit from us. We no longer try to shape them to be like us. We no longer impose upon them our definition of right and wrong.
Rather we see them as children of God, each and every one of them with the divine spark. We embrace them in the grace and love that God has offered us through Jesus, whether they believe or not, whether they are Christian or not.
We live our lives reconciled to Christ, intentional in each of our acts, words, and thoughts as to what would Jesus do. This becomes the central ethic of our lives: what would Jesus do. The law of the land and the traditions of society are not central to our ethic … at their best they are supportive of it. But in the end, when there is a conflict, we are expected by God to choose what Jesus would do. This is being a new creation and living in the Kingdom of God first and foremost.
We are in the world, but not of it.
But … isn’t there always a “but”?
God has expectations on us. As we are reconciled to God we are expected to be agents of reconciliation in the world. We are expected to pass on the grace that God has blessed us with. We are expected in our words and deeds to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
This doesn’t mean we are to be bible thumping in-your-face evangelists constantly accosting folks with the “Word” of God. No, being an ambassador is also having respect for the land in which you live.
William Barclay in his commentary on this passage, says that there is no more responsible position than that of ambassador.
He lists three important attributes of an ambassador:
Firstly, like any ambassador we live in a “foreign” land. As Christians our “native” land is the Kingdom of God. We spend our earthly life living in the world, taking part in all the life and work of the world, yet we are strangers. Our perspective is strange inasmuch that we don’t accept the standards and modes of interaction so ingrained in the society going back ages and ages. For example, where the world is quick to get rid of someone who is deemed dangerous and evil, we as Christians take a deep breath and ask why is he or she dangerous and evil and how can we help them.
Secondly, an ambassador speaks for his own country. As Christians there will be times when we must speak for Christ. When decisions are being made, or campaigns are being pursued, or actions taken, we are the voice of Christ and thereby the voice of the voiceless; we are the advocate for the underprivileged and the disabled; we are the advocate for understanding and ultimately for Love.
And lastly … and I think in this cynical age a significant responsibility is that are actions and words reflect on Christ and on God. From what we do, God will be judged by the world.
I have had conversations on and off with people about the public perception of Christianity. It isn’t too nice. People remember Pat Robinson’s remarks and see that as Christian. They here politicians calling themselves Christians and making terrible, self-serving decisions … and people think that’s what Christians do. A lot of people understandably have become cynical about Christians: the media plays up the child abuse and the extremist remarks of so-called Christian leaders.
They read about a manufacturer who imprints scriptures on the barrels of military weapons and that becomes a Christian act.
They hear about clergy misconduct and that becomes a mark against being Christian.
Very few people at large are aware of progressive Christians who never claim that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment for their Revolution 225 years ago and who would never print scriptures on devices aimed at destroying some children of God.
We are quiet in our actions going about God’s work day by day, person by person, act by act. And it is in our simple, determined faithful living that we represent the Kingdom of God and invite more people into it.
Now I’m tempted to suggest to you to go out into the world and shout at the people and the media. Tell we are here. What they’ve heard about the Kingdom of God isn’t so … we represent the Love and Grace that they diminish. But …
Once again that would be trying to be God. We would no longer be who we are as Ambassadors of the Kingdom. We must leave it to God to deal with wayward ambassadors.
But day by day, mission by mission, welcome by welcome we sow the seeds. There are many people and organizations in the world working for the Kingdom. You probably can think of any number.
One I know is the Elizabeth Coalition and the various faith communities that quietly help the homeless. The Coalition serves the people of Union County providing services for the disadvantage and housing assistance to the homeless. They have three transition homes that they offer. St. Helen’s RC in Westfield has “adopted” one of those homes and cares for it. All done quietly, respectfully, gracefully. All because they are citizens of the Kingdom …
So are we …
Think about it.
God’s grace and love be with you …