Being Ministers of Reconciliation

When I was five years old I thought that the people who made candy had the best job ever. As I got older that answer changed to reflect was important to me. At 10 the best job to me was a fire fighter, saving people’s lives, at 15 I thought the best job was a musician, and at 20 the best job was whatever would pay me the most. Now I know better, as followers of Christ, we have the best, most fulfilling and rewarding job that has ever existed. We are all ministers of God’s reconciliation, ambassadors for Christ. So let’s take a look at the job description that Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians.

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 

This is one of those meaty passages that it is good to come back to since there is quite a bit of depth to what is being said here. While our main focus is going to be on the ministry of reconciliation, I want to start with a brief look at verse 16 and its impact on our job as ambassadors. The question that comes into my mind when reading this is about what Paul means by saying we regard no one from a human point of view. Since I am a big fan of using other scriptures to interpret the bible or to draw out a deeper meaning, I read some of Paul’s other writings and have come to the conclusion that Paul is talking about human categories. Paul is saying that when we regard someone our first point of view needs to be that they are a beloved child of God. He had written to the Corinthian church previously that “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12.13 and later said to the Galatians and Colossians that these categories of national identity, religious identity, or gender identity were no longer relevant categories for the believer, that the only important category is the presence of Christ. In those passages Paul also follows up or precedes the statement with a reference to laying aside the old self and becoming a new creation. Being a new creation means that we see with new eyes, we need frequent renewal, but when we are operating out of God’s agenda we see the new creation bursting forth into our world.

The mechanism God has set up for this new creation is that of reconciliation. He first reconciles us to him, and then sends us out to bear His reconciliation into our lives. We have the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry of showing people that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus God no longer holds our sin against us. This is not an easy message to convey, but when it is lived out it has a profound impact on lives. One striking example of this kind of testimony is the Amish response to the Nickel Mines School shooting. Their forgiveness was so striking that it has its own entry on Wikipedia. Not a notably faith based site last time I checked, and this is how the response is described:

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.”[15] Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”[16] Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”[15]

A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.[17] Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him.[18] The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.[19] About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral,[18] and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.[20]

Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”[20] [1]

 

God made an incredible appeal through the Amish and is ready to make His appeal through us as well. Are we ready to bear that incredible good news, to show forgiveness, comfort, compassion, and generosity to those who are caught up in destructive patterns? Can that forgiveness even extend to radical generosity? Are we ready to be God’s ambassadors? That is what Paul tells us we are, ambassadors of God’s kingdom to our world. When we go about our daily lives, we do so as representatives of God’s kingdom. We are resident aliens in a foreign land given the task of reconciling others to God and welcoming them into our people. This foreign land is dying to hear our ordinary stories. Even the stories of a church as ordinary as Clackamas Park Friends Church are bound to sound adventurous, and even heroic, because the world’s cynicism and unbelief make the courage, continuity, and conviction of anybody, even ordinary people, appear to be extraordinary.[2] I hope you will have the freedom and courage to share your story of faith before it gets shared at a memorial service. Yesterday we got to hear some of the story of Dorothy Allen, and one of the things that was shared were snippets of her faith journey. Dorothy had written down and prepared herself to share how God had been at work in her life. She was ready for people to hear how living in relationship with God affected her life. Beyond that testimony we heard many people share about the infectious spirit of joy that Dorothy carried around with her. Dorothy’s life was a greater example of God’s goodness than her words were. That is what it means to be an ambassador.

That leads me to my final point, this building is not “the church”, it is not even “a church”, it is an embassy of the kingdom of God. We, the church, are the ambassadors that are sent out from this embassy into the society around us. When we come to our embassy, it is to participate in the life of our true home together, to remind ourselves of the stories of how God is active, and to work together on spreading the good news of God’s reconciling work. Even though we struggle with our role as ambassadors, our society needs us. It needs us to be living examples of God’s reconciliation even when it seems foolish. Some people actually were angered by the reaction of the Amish community, saying that they couldn’t extend forgiveness if there was no remorse. I am so glad that Jesus didn’t wait for others to feel remorse, but said on the cross “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” I so desperately want to see the peace of God’s way flourish in our world that is so filled with violence. When we embrace our role as ambassadors and submit to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we can begin to act in our ordinary lives as extraordinary agents of God’s kingdom and of his way of being and doing what is right. Let us live into becoming a new creation, a community that does not regard people, even those who are profoundly broken, from a human point of view. Let us hold each other accountable to being ambassadors who practice the ministry or reconciliation and practice radical forgiveness and generosity. Do we see this building as an embassy of God’s kingdom? Have you embraced the best job you will ever undertake as an ambassador of God’s kingdom? Let us consider what God has to say to us and through us in our time of communion with God. If in our time of open worship you hear God speaking to you with a message for our community, please rise and speak that message in obedience. If you hear that still small voice and hear a message that is for you alone, treasure that message in silence. Let us enter communion with God and each other and pray that he can give us the courage, wisdom and joy to share His presence.

 

When I was younger, I was much more judgmental and much less merciful. My mother confronted me and said that there was enough hell in the world without me giving it to others. She told me that for some folks, the only heaven they are going to experience is what we show them. So, Friends, I want you to go out there and give them heaven.

 


[2] Hauerwas, Stanley and Willimon, William.  Resident Aliens. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 1989. p58

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