November 13, 2016 – Ambassadors for Christ

Pentecost 26   November 13, 2016   Psalm 46, Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, Luke 6:31-38   Ambassadors for Christ

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I had a friend in my seminary days, Olu Harding, who was one of only a few students older than I was. (I was 47 when I started seminary, he was five years older.) But Olu liked to call me “his senior colleague” – since, as he pointed out, I started school a semester or two before him. And his “senior colleague” phrase was a carryover from his previous career as a diplomat. Olu’s previous job had been serving as his home country of Sierra Leone’s senior Ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was serving there when he heard his call to ministry…

Olu and I interned together at Church of All Nations in downtown Boston, a block or two down Tremont Street from the Wang Center. The church’s name was changed to All Nations about a century ago, because it served Boston’s growing immigrant populations, at first Italians and Greeks, Syrians and Portuguese…Later many other nations…

Sundays we’d often be in church well into the evening. Most days I took the T to get to church, but Sundays I’d drive my old beater Dodge Aries. That was the one day I could depend on finding a parking place and not get ticketed, even parking half-way up on the sidewalk, near the church… I’d also drive to church Sundays so I could give Olu a ride home to the Newton student housing where he was living. There weren’t as many subways to Newton on Sundays, so he would usually get home rather later otherwise. Olu was always appreciative, and he’d always insist we stop at Burger King on Commonwealth Ave, where he’d buy us supper…

As we ate together, he’d often tell stories of his life as a diplomat, saying, “I used to have a chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz, a gourmet cook preparing my meals, and a well-stocked liquor cabinet full of fine wines and liquors…

“Now, brother Tim, you are my chauffeur on Sundays, and the Green Line subway is my chauffeur all the other days of the week… Now we dine at Burger King… I drink soda or water…“Then I used to be an ambassador for my country….

“Now I am an ambassador for Christ…”

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The word of God tells us we are all of us called to be ambassadors for Christ. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, Corinthians tells us. And God in Christ has entrusted us – all believers in Jesus Christ – with the ministry of reconciliation.

After a long national election season that seemed to go on and on and on forever… We have a lot of healing and peace-making and reconciling to do. Which is not going to be quick or  easy… And our work of reconciliation and peacemaking would be there for us, even if we had not had this recent election… though that has made our task more urgent.

If we didn’t already know it, we know now, that as a nation and a people we are divided…. Often greatly divided, by many factors, many different life experiences… Race, gender, class, age, religion, and dozens of other factors have some effect on how we see the world and how we vote, according to exit polls and interviews.

I don’t believe it’s helpful at this point to say a whole lot more about the elections, at least not yet… Except to caution the obvious. There is never any good time to gloat. There is never a good time to assume that people are bad or good, or motivated by what we might think they are motivated by… There is never a good time to be unkind or judgmental.

And for those of us who put our trust and hope in God, this is an excellent time to let our faith be known… As we show love to all… All, without exceptions…

Because the word of God tells us God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… Not reconciling just the good people of God to God… Not reconciling just the law-abiding well-behaved good-natured people of God and our families and loved ones to God… Not reconciling just the just, merciful, and innocent to God… But God was in Christ reconciling the world – to God…

If there are any exceptions in this reconciling love of God in Christ, sacred scripture neglects to mention them…. So I believe the word of God here is not-very-subtly telling us: as Christ’s ambassadors we are not to make any exceptions either. We are to love everyone, everywhere, without exception.

Is this even remotely possible? Yes. Of course… Because (and only because) all things are possible with God. All things – are possible – with God….

Even the remarkable vision, foreseen by the prophet Isaiah – the vision interpreted in one of his many paintings on this theme for our bulletin covers by the Pennsylvania Quaker artist Edward Hicks, two centuries ago – is not only possible for God – it will happen for sure, God’s word tells us, in God’s time.

Of course this vision of God’s peaceable kingdom of which Isaiah speaks in several other chapters as well as in today’s reading, is not here yet… (Not unless its remarkably well disguised….)

But God has told us that in Jesus Christ God is reconciling the world to himself. Not counting our trespasses, sins, and debts against us. But making us to be a new creation, dead to the old world of sin in which we used to live. Alive, now forever, in Christ. Living now as Christ’s ambassadors of his peaceable kingdom… Where the wolf and lamb feed together with no harm done, where the lion is now a vegetarian, and snakes and vipers eat dust, and they shall no longer hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain of peace…

(Is this vision to be taken literally or symbolically? Or both? We’ll know for sure when God reveals it… But we know even now that it will come to be, in God’s time… And even now God’s vision of the peaceable future is to be our vision too…)

Olu and I and all of us used to sing our opening hymn, Let There be Peace on Earth, as our closing benediction every week at the Church of All Nations… So I’ve known it by heart for a long time… I love the song… Though I have a few theological quibbles with a little bit of its wording…

Mostly, I think it will be a long wait for peace if peace has to begin with me… I mean, I really am all for peace…. But I’m just not all that good at it… If peace on earth depends on me, sorry, but we are in deep trouble…

So when I sing the song by myself I often jiggle the words a little… Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with God… Let there be peace on earth, all over the world abroad… With God our Creator, children all are we… Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony

I know we all have a role to play in letting there be peace on earth… I know I need to work harder at being a peace-maker… But I also know – only God can bring all the peace we need – the peace that is more than the absence of war – the peace that endures forever and surpasses human understanding… So I often sing the song now a little differently:

Let peace begin with God and let it include us all… With every step we take let us remember Christ’s call… To take each moment and live each moment in peace, eternally… Let there be peace on earth… God’s peace, unto you… and me…

The song of peace on earth still works. We just need to tweak a few words…

And remember – in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself – entrusting us with his message of reconciliation.  So we who are in Christ really are ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is a representative of their home country in another land. As Christians our home country is the kingdom of God. We love America. We do our best to love and serve our nation. But our ultimate home country is the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom in which all this world’s nations, tribes, and peoples are equal in the sight of God….

And Jesus spells out for us what he expects of his ambassadors:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you… Love your enemies… Be merciful… Don’t judge…. Don’t condemn… (So you will receive mercy and won’t be judged or condemned.) Forgive –  and you will be forgiven. Give – and it will be given to you. The measure you give will be the measure that you will get back…”

Live these words. Teach these words. Make disciples for Jesus Christ of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded us. For we are not here on earth to represent ourselves and our own self-interests, which God knows we have, and God will take care of also. But our vocation, our task, our calling on earth, is to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ and his kingdom of pure universal love…

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And again I remember my friend Olu, telling me again as we dined on burgers and fries at Burger King… “I used to be an ambassador for my country…. I loved my work, and I had everything I could possibly want…. Yet always there was something missing…

“Now I am an ambassador for Christ… Now at last I have the very best of all there is…Now I am at peace…”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is our high calling. To be ambassadors and emissaries of peace for Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. To Him be all glory.

Thanks be to God. Amen.