Ambassadors of Reconciliation/Ambassadors of Christ – Sermon – 7 June 2020

Welcome from Rick and Bernice Boose

Note:  We will be taking part in the Lord’s Table later in this worship service, so please have bread and juice/wine ready

Introduction

Who would have thought in March that the global Covid-19 pandemic could get displaced from the headlines as the lead story, but here we are in the weeks before summer’s official start, witnessing once again the results of racial tension in the United States that is being expressed all around the world. The passage today will help us in our response as Christians to all of this.

While we were continuing to struggle with the isolation and in many places, escalation in infections, we witnessed on May 25th the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This video horrified and baffled anyone who watched it, as it set off protests around the world. It also set off a great deal of anger, violence and chaos, leaving us unsure what to make of it all. Protests we can understand, but destruction and looting? And why did it seem that in the midst of trying to maintain some semblance of order, more examples of racism were being captured on mobile phones and television cameras for all to see.

Civil unrest isn’t anything new, and it isn’t a bad thing. In his remarks this week, former President Barack Obama reminded his nation that every single step forward for better human rights and freedoms has always begun with protest. Jesus Himself led protests in His own ministry – mostly non-violently as He spoke against the injustice of the religious leaders, but the cleansing of the Temple was an example of how even He could get a bit more dramatic.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to represent Him as His ambassador in this world. Sometimes that will call us to stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and sometimes we will be called to calm the tensions that arise. In both cases, we are to be His agents of reconciliation and hope, pointing people to the Prince of Peace.

Song – Praise You in the Storm (by Casting Crowns)

Confession and Call to Worship – Prayer of St. Francis

Again this week, we turn to the Prayer of Saint Francis as our confession and call to worship:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt; faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood and to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in the giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
amen

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Message: Ambassadors of Jesus

Racism Today

The Oxford dictionary defines racism as follows:

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

When you read this definition, it may strike you as surprising that racism even exists in our multi-cultural country here in 2020, but it does. It exists in the hearts of people who believe they are better than others, and therefore entitled. And it lingers in the corners of many of our own hearts. Very few of us would admit being a racist, and many in Canada think it is an American problem, but it is here too. Certainly, our history is different than that of our southern neighbours, but minorities in Canada continue to experience racism every day.

Reflect:

Do you believe that racism is a problem in Canada? Have you ever said that it is a U.S. problem, not our problem?

New Creations/Ambassadors of Christ

As Christians, Paul is telling us that those who belong to Jesus are “new creations.” With this comes the benefit of new hope, forgiveness and a changed life. What also comes from this is the potential for the transformation of values and a whole new job! We are called to be “Ambassadors of Christ” with the “message of reconciliation.”

To be an ambassador is to be the physical representative of someone (or a group of someone’s) in a specific place. For example, the Ambassador of France is called to live in Ottawa and be the representative of the French government. When the ambassador speaks, France is speaking. That is a great deal of responsibility.

In the same way, we are ambassadors of Jesus. What we say and do is a direct reflection of who we represent. Sometimes we represent Jesus well and with integrity, but other times we don’t. Either way, whatever we as Christians do and say is seen as coming from the mouth of our Master – for good or for ill. That is a lot of responsibility and while we do sometimes make significant errors, that is the program! Fortunately, Jesus remains patient with us in all of this.

Reflect:

Do you see yourself as an Ambassador of Jesus in this world? Would it make a difference if you did?

Consider your last few interactions with people. Did you represent Jesus well?

Ministry of Reconciliation

This is where we get back to the issue of racism and the current unrest. As representatives of Jesus, the task He has given us is “the ministry of reconciliation.” When we see or hear of injustice in our midst, or conflict that separates, or abuse that terrorizes, we are called to this holy task.

I recognize this is a job we would probably rather not have. It would be so much easier to look the other way or to avoid it altogether. But that isn’t the job Paul is identifying for us here, nor is it the attitude Jesus clearly called us to in Matthew 25:36-40 as follows:

34  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom  prepared for you since the creation of the world.  35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  36  I needed clothes and you clothed me,  I was sick and you looked after me,  I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  39  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It is a complete negligence of the gospel to encounter this teaching and ignore it altogether. We are representatives of Christ and are called to represent Him as the difference in this world. When we truly belong to Him and walk in His Spirit, you and I are often called to be the answer to the prayers of this world.

Reflect:

How does it feel to hear this clear mandate from Jesus? Does it inspire you or make you feel guilt? Is it a burden or a privilege? Would you rather God had chosen a different way?

Application

Here is the really difficult part of this message – what are we called to do about the racism we encounter as Christ’s Ambassadors of Reconciliation here in Kingsville, or wherever we live? That is a good question, and while I can’t answer it for you specifically, I can say that the answer isn’t “nothing.” Here are a couple of ways all of us can begin to do, to be faithful to His calling:

1.  Search for the racism that is in you

The first step is always to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to ensure we are in the process of being transformed by Him. Being silent before God and asking Him to reveal our true hearts to us is always the place to begin.

For some of us, this process may bring forward some ugly attitudes we have not even realized we were carrying around with us; ugly attitudes about people of different races, or people we perceive to be different from us – below us.

As a way to begin, think about how you felt when you first saw the riots and heard about the looting and destruction. While this type of violence isn’t a Christlike response to injustice, did you find yourself automatically rushing to judgement? Did you find yourself just as upset with all of that as you were with the murder of George Floyd?

2. Seek to understand your “White Privilege”

For a long time, I didn’t really like the phrase “white privilege.” I didn’t understand it and I didn’t feel like I benefited from any sense of favouritism in my life. But I have come to learn that white privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that my life has been easy, just that the colour of my skin has allowed me to avoid many of the indignities and challenges faced by others. For example, I never had to have “the talk” with my children. I never had to tell them how encounters with people in authority could be very dangerous to them. I never had to tell them that people would hate them just because of the colour of their skin. I didn’t know that “the talk” was even a thing.

As an aside, I want to say that I am not putting down police at all, and believe that they deserve our respect. I believe that the vast majority of police in Canada are not racist and do treat people equally. I even believe that is true in the United States as we have seen a number of inspiring examples of police identifying with and even marching with peaceful protesters. Unfortunately, there is far too much clear evidence that there is a real problem. The video of George Floyd’s murder is just one more example of that reality.

White privilege isn’t a theory. It is a reality, and we will never achieve reconciliation between the races until we can at least admit this.

3. Listen to your neighbours

We need to listen to the stories and experiences of our non-white friends and neighbours. Don’t just pass them off as paranoid and don’t be quick to conclude that they are overreacting. They may legitimately have had a different experience of living in this country and this town that makes you uncomfortable. That’s ok, be uncomfortable. Just listen to them and believe them.

4. Do something about it

The first step of action for most of us is to stop being an obstacle to positive change, but that alone isn’t reconciliation. Perhaps it is time to join a peaceful march yourself. Perhaps you could write a letter (or publish a message for Sunday morning!). Or perhaps we could make room in our lives and in our community of faith for people to tell their stories and show them our support.

Conclusion

I admit that this message today is far more socially focused than most Sundays, but I believe the situation calls for it. Racism is a real problem in our country and it grieves the heart of God who “died for all.” In the week to come, I encourage you to spend some time in prayer, asking God to show you if there are any shadows of racism in the corners of your heart; and ask Him to show you what you can do to be rid of them, and be used as His agent of reconciliation in this fallen world.

Prayer and Communion

Dear Heavenly Father,

I pray that we have experienced worship of you this morning with open and contrite hearts. I pray that we are willing to search them and allow the purifying power of the Holy Spirit access to them.

We pray for this ancient sin of racism that we continue to struggle with. We ask not that you make us colour blind – that is an insult – but that you make us thankful for our differences, and to see them as blessings from You.

Give us a heart for those who suffer, and remind us that it is through suffering that you demonstrated Your love for us. As we take the bread and the cup that represent the body and blood of your Son Jesus, may we experience more fully our own reconciliation with You, and may we seek that reconciliation between each other, all colours and classes, all ages, all abilities.

Through the ministry of reconciliation displayed though the cross, you have made us one – one with each other and one in You.

And so, may this bread and cup be reminders of your love displayed to us through the broken body and shed blood on the cross, as we eat it in remembrance of You.

May this truth change us from the inside out. And may we represent Jesus well as His ambassadors.

In His holy Name we pray, amen.

Invitation to the Table

We come to the table today,
      together but apart,
      hurting but healed,
      separate but as one.

The Lord’s table has always been a celebration of remembrance and unity for Christians throughout the centuries, as well as a sign of God’s faithfulness to us

This table is for all who have called upon the Name of Jesus and put their trust in Him. It is not a sign that you have figured it all out, but a confession that you can’t, and the only reason we can know Him is because He chose to reveal Himself to us through the Son.

From the Anglican liturgy we read these words for the bread and the cup:

Bread:

On the night before He gave up His life for us, Jesus, at supper with His friends, took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them saying, “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which is given for you.”

(pass the bread and eat it in remembrance of Christ’s body, broken for you)

Cup:

After supper, Jesus took the cup of wine, said the blessing, gave it to His friends and said, “Drink this, all of you: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which is shed for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”

(pass the cup and drink it in remembrance of Christ’s blood, shed for you)

Prayer:

       Father, You call us to be your servants;
       fill us with the courage and love of Jesus,
       that the world may gather in joy
       at the table of your Kingdom.

       We sing you praise, almighty Father,
       through Jesus, our Lord,
       in the power of the Holy Spirit,
       now and forever. Amen

Song: There is a Hope (By Stuart Townend)

Benediction

Based on hymn, “We Shall Overcome” and the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.     
By Terri Stewart

When we see evil and injustice
We shall overcome
When we experience bigotry and pain
The Lord will see us through
When we act with compassion and love
We’re on to victory
When we join our hearts to fight oppression
We’ll walk hand in hand
When we are not afraid
The truth shall make us free.
Thank God almighty, we will be free at last.
Now, go forth to love and serve the world so that all people will be free.
Amen.