Series on Call #2: The Responsibilities of an Ambassador, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Sermon:       Series on Call #2:  The Responsibilities of an Ambassador
Scripture:    2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:             February 26, 2017, Transfiguration Sunday

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

This morning we are continuing in our series on what it means to be called by God. Using Mark Labberton’s book entitled Called, we are meandering our way through Lent exploring God’s call upon us.  If you are reading the book, today’s message is focusing on his chapter 2, “We are called to flourish.”

Our biblical text is from Paul’s second book of Corinthians.  First and Second Corinthians are a compilation of several letters Paul sent to this cosmopolitan, conflicted, and theologically confused congregation.  The Corinthian church’s issue was that it verbally acclaimed the good news message of Jesus Christ but their collective display of what that good news meant in their lives was lacking.  The church’s collective demonstration to Corinth’s other citizens was not a flourishing aromatic scent of the redeemed of Christ but was instead exuding the similar characteristics of their pre-Christian neighbors. Paul’s Corinthian premise is that because they are a new creation Christ, their lives should reflect that flourishing new life so others can see it for themselves; the problem was the Christians of Corinth were wrapped up in doing their own thing (like segregating the Lord’s Supper) instead of working together like instruments of a beautiful symphony orchestra.  We pick up in Paul’s comments about what it means to be new women and men in Christ.  Note with me 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

 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.[1]

Apostle Paul highlights three important items for us to note.  When a person is reconciled to God, she is given three things: A new perspective; a new creation; and a call.

Paul tells the Corinthians that when a person dies to him or herself and is raised back up in the Spirit of Christ, they are given new eyes to see the world around them.  They no longer see things as the world see things; they see through spiritual, Christ-like lenses.  The world sees the key to life is power; the Christ-follower sees the key to life is humility.  The world sees ethnicities, color, and class boundaries; the Christ-follower sees a panoply and multivalent varieties of the Imago Dei, the Image of God, in all people.  The world stresses the importance of hoarding up; the Christ-follower sees the world as a place to practice liberality with the giving away of one’s money, time and talents.  The world encourages the survival of the fittest; the Christ-Follower sees the faces of the least fit or capable in the lives of the poor, the forgotten, the alien and the “other.”  When we are embraced by the Christ, our perspective and the way we look at the world’s values, justice, economics, the way we look at God and one another, changes entirely.

Paul also says that when are embraced by the Christ, not only does our perspective change but we ourselves become new creations!  He reminds us in verse 17 that everything old about us is replaced with something new.  We, at our spiritual and molecular core become different beings.  We are given the gift of replacing this unidimensional fleshy existence with an entirely new model!  Our physical lives become endowed with spiritual bone marrow transplant of sorts.  As new creations, that which drug us downward in the past has been cut away and we can sail free in the winds of the Spirit versus being hampered and held back by life’s marshy bogs which try to suck us further down into an even deeper broken relationship with God.  Like Stan Lee’s Marvel comic book character, Wolverine, in Jesus we are both the same person but also become brand new as we are filled with the theological equivalent to Adamantium[2] called the Holy Spirit.  Think about that, beloved!  You and I are new creations in Christ and Paul’s charge to the Corinthians was that as new creations, we are to demonstrate a life that indicates that!

Paul says that when we are in Christ, we get a new perspective that sees the world with the eyes of God, we ourselves become a new creation where the old is swept out and we are re-marrowed with life-giving Spirit, and lastly, we are given a new job; another way of saying that is we get a new call.

What is this new call we are given?  We read in verse 18 we are given the ministry of reconciliation.  Instead of working against God and one another, the people in Corinth were to work as God’s agents in reconciling other people, systems, values back to God.  As Christ has blessed the Corinthians, they were in turn to bless others.  The same thing is said to us as well! Mark Labberton writes, “The heart of God’s call is this: That we receive and live the love of God for us and for the world.”[3]

The essence of our call, beloved, stems from loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and then we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The essence of call is to create a flywheel effect of loving God which in turns allows us, enables us, to love others.  When we do that, we become God’s ambassadors in the world. Call matters because “God is not a deity of ideas and forms so much as the God of love and relationship.” The Great Commandment is the basis of our calling.  Call defines who we are, i.e. God’s chosen people, and who we are explains why we are called – we are to love others and share that love as God’s ambassadors. We are sent out into a caustic, careless, callous world as God’s ambassadors to be the enfleshed reassurance of God’s presence of among the people.  Our responsibility as ambassadors means we are the ones God uses to answer and explain life’s deepest existential questions to the people “out there” who see from a worldly point of view.

“Why are we here?

“Are we alone in the universe?

“Why is there suffering and how do we make sense of it?

“Is there hope in a world full hate, bigotry, injustice, disease and death?”[4]

We are ambassadors who have been given new sight. We’ve been made into a new creation.  We’ve been given a call to serve as our Lord’s ambassadors spreading the news of God’s forgiveness, love and reconciliation with all people and with our earth.  The crucial question for us, however, is are we using that new sight?  Are we living and demonstrating to others we are new creations in Christ Jesus?  Are we reliable ambassadors sharing our Lord’s values, justice and care or are we peddling our own?

I love what Labberton intuits about the Church being both a college for training and a mission station for sending Christ-following ambassadors.  He says the Church’s largest crisis is, “Our calling has become encrusted, buried under the layers that lack significant evidence of life.  Viral cat videos seem to touch our humanity and longing more than many church services do…the (church’s) temptation is to bring in more clowns and light the sparklers, but the real solution is what the Bible declares is our calling: to live out a genuine love that shows up in face of real need.”[5]

Writer and journalist Rod Dreher is even more blunt.  He says the church needs to be a community that produces counter-cultural ambassadors of Christ that show the world that life in God is different and is disrupting to the status quo of our everyday life. He says, “When the Christian witness gets muted or pushed to the side, it’s not just people in the church who will get hurt – society as a whole will suffer when (the Church) loses its leaven.  I think the church is going to have to not become more seeker-friendly but more finder-friendly.  We’ve got to go beyond just showing up on Sunday or having that altar-call conversion moment.”[6] In other words, as ambassadors with new vision and as new creations, our calling is to become uncomfortable in our comfortableness of being one-day-a-week Christ-followers.  It demands that before we go to bed at night, we ask the Holy Spirit to haunt us through our sleep on what it means to be an ambassador for Jesus for the upcoming day.

This past month, Rex Tillerson was vetted and scrutinized as the President’s candidate for the United States Secretary of State. It was a controversial process as many wanted to ensure that he would represent the causes of the United States and not the interests of the big oil companies.  His confirmation process was a hotly debated matter in Washington and in the Press.  It makes me wonder what type of scrutiny you and I, indeed, this very church, would receive to determine if we are worthy ambassadors for Christ and the Kingdom of God.  Today we are challenged to ask whose interests we represent to the world: Our own or the loving counter-cultural call of God in Christ?  Let’s ponder that this week, beloved.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adamantium.
[3]Mark Labberton, Called. The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 14.
[4] Ibid., 18-19.
[5] Ibid., 20.  He goes on to say a bit later, ““The church does the polka in a hip-hop world.  Perhaps quaint, but clearly disconnected…The problem is when God’s people fail to live our call, the church buries the gospel” (23).
[6]“Building a Communal Church. Whey the Benedict Option is Christianity’s future – and how we get there,” an interview with Rod Dreher, The Plough Quarterly, Winter 2017, Number 11, p. 13.

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