Summit Presbyterian Church
June 14, 2009
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Ambassadors of Christ
We all keep them. Those lists of grievances: things people have done to us, ways we have been hurt, beginning in childhood and ending this morning. Some of the items on those lists may be grave hurts: abuse in childhood, a partner's unfaithfulness, being kicked out of a home or being fired unjustly from a job. We may struggle all our lives with damage from those traumas. Our anger may be a constant companion and we may not find it possible to forgive, no matter how much we pray or read the Bible. Other things on that list may be minor irritations, but still worth noting. Those lists can come in handy. For example, when we're arguing with a spouse or a parent and it looks like they may be right, that we may need to do something differently or even apologize, that's a good time to pull out the list. To find something on it they did to us that's totally unrelated, but for which they still feel guilty, and to quietly mention it. It's a pretty reliable way to paralyze your opponent and to avoid change, problem solving or reconciliation. (At least until they catch on).
Most of us keep another kind of list as well. That's a list of things we've done to others, little things and big things, things done in anger or ignorance, with malicious intent or without meaning to. Things we've done in the privacy of our home, as well as things we've collectively allowed to happen, like wars of aggression or a dangerous change in the climate. The guilt and shame we feel in looking at that list can paralyze us. It can keep us from reaching out to others or making things right or living our life with joy and gratitude. That list can haunt us even more than that other list we keep.
In this dense and even confusing passage I just read from Paul's letter, he has good news for the world: God is not keeping any list. Of course, God knows and remembers the wrongs we have done and the wrongs done to us. God is not indifferent to evil and on judgement day a merciful God will in some loving way hold us all accountable. But God is not keeping a list to use against us: to punish or shame us or to keep us from being reconciled with God. And this is how we know, says Paul (I'm interpreting): God came to us Christ. Jesus lived among us and suffered terrible wrongs: betrayal, abandonment and denial from friends; torture, public humiliation and death from his enemies. But Christ rose from that death. Christ came back - alive! - and ate and drank with his disciples, as well as with strangers. Christ chooses to be with us still, through the Holy Spirit. His resurrection and his continued presence with us are the assurance that his suffering and death have not been put on a list to be flung back in our faces. On the contrary, says Paul: in Christ God was reconciling the world to God's self, not counting their trespasses against them. And Christ died for all, says Paul. Not just for the soldiers who nailed him on the cross, or for Judas and Peter; not just for the chief priests and scribes, or for Pontius Pilate -- and not just for Christians. But for each and every one of us who have done wrong, in big ways or small. For all of us who have been complicit in evil. For let's face it: what happened to Jesus was not an isolated incident. The suffering he knew was terrible, but commonplace: thousands of others were crucified. If anything, in the past two thousand years we've perfected methods of torture. We now have weapons of mass destruction. God mourns our sin, but none of that is being put on a list to be used against us, to bar us from reconciliation with God: as Paul says elsewhere, nothing - hardship, distress, death nor life, height nor depth nor anything else in all creation -- including any thing that we have done - can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As ambassadors for Christ, we're entrusted with this message. This message of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, this good news that God is not counting our wrongdoing against us. But ambassadors do more than bring messages. Ambassadors also do the work of diplomacy. And so we have been entrusted not just with the message, but with the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces; reconciliation in the world. Reconciliation that heals divisions, restores relationships, and brings peace. Reconciliation does not mean shutting up to keep the peace, or saying sorry but carrying on business as usual. It doesn't mean letting oppression stand or being naive in the face of evil. Reconciliation means truth telling and doing justice; it's the fruit of those things, the end goal. But our goal it must be.
The United Nations has declared 2009 the International Year of Reconciliation [2009 is also the International Year of Natural Fibres; since they can have an important place in the economy of poor people. 2008 was the International Year of the Potato, as well as the International Year of planet earth. I like that the UN has international years of reconciliation for multiple intelligences: for concrete, practical, types, the potato; for abstract and big-pictures types, reconciliation and the planet earth!] This year, the UN General Assembly also elected Daniel D'Escoto Brockmann as its President this year. D'Escoto was the foreign minister in the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua, from 79 to 91; he's also a Jesuit priest. This is from his acceptance speech:
The United Nations has officially designated 2009 as the International Year of Reconciliation. Let us fully heed that call. Reconciliation does not oblige us to forget the past; that would be impossible. What reconciliation obliges us to do is prevent memories of past outrages from becoming obstacles to our unity from now on. We must there- fore be careful not to wear each other down through futile recriminations.
In other words, we have to let go of our lists. We have to let go of those lists we use against families and friends, co-workers and neighbors. We have to let go of those lists we use against ourselves and those lists we use against nations -- such as the list that has 9/11 on it. That doesn't mean we forget 9/11. It doesn't mean we say "that's OK" to Al Queda and do nothing, or that we don't try and stop terrorism and bring the perpetrators to justice (and I know that's complicated). But it does mean we stop using 9/11 against the people of Afghanistan, and it certainly means we stop using it against the people of Iraq. It means we stop using 9/11 against those in the Muslim world with grievances against us, refusing even to listen. It means we stop using 9/11 as the reason to build even more guns and bombs, while ignoring those who are hungry. God, who is a God of justice, does not use our many sins against us; as ambassadors for Christ we must do likewise. Then we'll be preaching and doing the work of reconciliation.
I'd like to end by praying the words of Paul
Gracious and Eternal God,
We are grateful for your reconciling work through Jesus Christ and that you do not count our trespasses against us. We are grateful that you have entrusted us with the message and ministry of reconciliation; give us the grace to be ambassadors for Christ. We ask these things in his name, Amen.