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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Midweek Lent 2015 + Clay Jars filled with Grace (Paul’s second letter to Corinth)

Week 5:  “God’s Appeal”

We are not our own people anymore: made a new creation in Christ, reconciled to God, we are now entrusted by God to bear this reconciling treasure that makes us into a new creation, bear it into the world as ambassadors for Christ.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Wednesday, 25 March 2015; text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

It’s hard to speak for another person.

When someone criticizes our loved one, or has an issue with a friend we know well, we want to defend them.  We want to speak for them, act on their behalf.  Sometimes our friend is the one having difficulty with another, and out of love, we want to help.  We’ll talk to another person on their behalf, smooth the way.

It’s just not the easiest thing to do.  Often it’s the difficult situation that we’re not sure what our loved one would want us to say or do.  Or, we can’t always explain another’s motives.  Especially when others criticize someone we love, and the criticism seems valid.  When our heart feels there must be a good reason for the problem, but our head isn’t sure what that is.

So what should we feel about Paul’s words today, that God is entrusting us with the job of “Ambassador for Christ”?  If it’s hard to speak for a loved one, how much harder to speak for God?

The way some other Christians are living into this role of ambassador doesn’t help.  They speak of a God whom we don’t recognize in the Scriptures, who doesn’t seem to be the Triune God whose love faced death for us and the world.  When we’re offended or angered by how others represent Christ, we sometimes fear to be ambassadors ourselves.

There’s no need to fear.  God’s taken care of both the job description and our ability to do it.

Paul reveals a joyful mystery of the treasure of God we bear within us.

Paul’s said we carry this treasure, God’s grace and love and forgiveness for us and the world, in clay jars, in our fragile, broken selves.  Paul’s also said our bodies are a temporary tent compared to the house prepared for us in the coming world.  This is only part of the grace.

Because even now, Paul says, this treasure of God’s reconciling with us and all humanity in Christ’s death and resurrection, is re-making us to be unrecognizable from what we were.  Paul declares we are already transformed into this new creation, now, even with our fragile, clay lives.  Even if we only see our failings, our weakness, in fact the forgiveness and life we already know has changed us.

We may need perspective to see this, a look back at the arc of our lives.  Close up, we see how flawed we are.  But if we climb to a better vantage point, turn around, and look back over the past five years, ten years, twenty years, we could see how the Spirit has transformed each of us into a new person.  With this perspective, we realize Paul’s right: we aren’t looking at each other from a human point of view anymore.  We see Christ in each other; others see Christ in us.

God makes us new so we can carry in our bodies God’s appeal to the world.

The Gospel truth is God needs us.  God’s plan to restore all things in Christ will not happen without humanity being transformed from within.  As people who are being transformed, God needs us to live this reconciliation into the world.

God has entrusted this message to us, Paul says.  The treasure we carry in our hearts and lives is not given to us to keep.  It changes us into new people, people who give the treasure away by our very lives in the world, so it reaches everyone.  Only by sharing it can it change the world.

This transforms evangelism for us.

We are made new creations so we can be ambassadors for Christ, not sales people.  An ambassador speaks for the one who sent her, carries messages on behalf of the one in whose name he comes.  Ambassadors stand for their senders.  We represent Christ in the world in our being, in our doing.

So we’re not selling “church” to anyone, or selling God.  Evangelism – “Good Newsing” – isn’t about trying to attract people or increase numbers or convince others only we’re right.

Evangelism is bearing the Good News of God in Christ in our very bodies.  So when people meet us they meet Christ.  We bear forgiving grace so people actually experience it through us.  We bear transforming love so people actually are touched by it when they are with us.  We bear God’s relentless desire for all people to know God and know they are loved, so that people can’t miss it when we are with them.

Really, we’re like Mary.

Today is the feast of the Annunciation, which wasn’t on my mind two months ago when choosing this part of 2 Corinthians for today.  But how wonderful to remember with this word from Paul that today Gabriel came to Mary and invited her to bear God’s Christ into the world.

That is precisely what God is doing to us through Paul.  Except instead of giving birth to a child, we are made into God’s Christ ourselves, so that our lives, our words, our love, our hands, our voices, everything about us bears God’s grace in Christ.

We can do this, be this, because God is making us new so we can.

So we go, filled with joy in our calling.

And all our incentive is with Paul’s words: “the love of Christ urges us on.”  This love we have come to know in Christ not only changes us.  It gets us up in the morning eager to be Christ, motivates us to seek to grow and deepen as disciples, gives us the little bump we need to reach out to another in grace and love rather than hold back.

The love of Christ urges us on.  And gives us all we need for this job.

What a joy and purpose for our lives.  What a delight that God reaches people through us so they, too, know the hope and love and grace we so deeply drink in from God every day.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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