Sermons

"Be Ambassadors and Be Reconciled!": Sermon For Ash Wednesday, Year B

"Be Ambassadors and Be Reconciled!": Sermon For Ash Wednesday, Year B

Feb 18, 2015

Passage:2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Lent

Category: Discipleship

Keywords: reconciliation, repentance, sin, guilt, practices, lent

Summary:

The Apostle Paul writes that "on behalf of Christ" we should be "reconciled to God." In the ancient world, this verb, "to reconcile" was about repairing relationship between two parties that had grown apart. This season of Lent, we need to focus our practices on repairing our own alienation from God. Ash Wednesday serves as a reminder that we must repent (turn back to God--who is always turning to us).

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

When I was a teenager, I played basketball. But I didn't play on the high school basketball team. I played in a league put together by the local Baptist churches. Being the Methodist preacher's kid in the small town I lived in, this was particularly interesting, but it worked out well. Brother Thompson, the First Baptist Church pastor, was our coach. And the starting line-up for our team included two Methodists, two Catholics, and only one Baptist. The team and the league we played in were known as the "Royal Ambassadors." As Brother Thompson told us, "we are always Royal Ambassadors for Christ in all that we do... now let's go crush those other Royal Ambassadors!"

Playing on the First Baptist Royal Ambassador team was actually quite wonderful. And Brother Thompson was pretty great. Before each practice, he gave us a little sermon about salvation. But what really sticks in my head--what made the experience really fun--is that we were a winning team. We won the league, not necessarily because we had more talent than everyone else (after all, they had their Catholic and Methodist "ringers" too). We won because Brother Thompson had us running drill after drill after drill in practices each week. We practiced free throws. We practiced different plays over and over. Our game became part of who we were. We practiced being good basketball players to the point that we actually became good basketball players.

In the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we have the fantastic correspondence that Paul sent to the troubled Church at Corinth. His message is one in which he gets at the heart of the mission of the Church. He states: we "are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us" and that as a result, "on behalf of Christ," we need to "be reconciled to God."

That verb—to be reconciled—is a key verb in Paul's letter. Reconciliation is a radical concept. In fact, it's fairly infrequently used as a term in the New Testament. And when it does appear, it's never talking about "cleansing one's guilt." It's not about "being pardoned for sins." Instead, reconciliation in the New Testament is a word that's drawn from the world of politics. It's a word from the sphere of "dispute resolution." "To reconcile" is speaking of transforming and moving beyond alienation. "To reconcile" means to establish a new and peaceful relationship between two parties that were previously apart or distant.[1]

We alienate ourselves from God's purpose and God's countenance in the world. We do this through our pettiness, our suspicion, our jealousy, our hostility, our anger, our envy, our pride, our greed, and our fear. You see, this is what sin is. Sin is that which separates us from the knowledge of God's love. Sin is that which separate us from knowing God's presence in our lives. Sin is alienation.

Reconciliation, however, is what God does. It is what God has always done. God has taken the initiative to overcome our pettiness and our hostility and our separation and our alienation. God is always working to reconcile us back to God.[2]

So what is our role in this? We are to be the agents of reconciliation. Paul writes: "For our sake ... [God] made ... [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." This is a powerful statement. Jesus came not so that we can understand the righteousness of God. He did not come so that we can proclaim the righteousness of God. He did not even come just so that we can be saved and feel good about the righteousness of God. Jesus came so that we can BECOME the righteousness of God.

We've been given a commission. We've been given a Holy charge. We are to embody the righteousness of God in the world. We are to bring God's reconciliation to the world.

So is this connected to Ash Wednesday? How is this connected with Lent?

The only way we can become the righteousness of God is through the grace of God. We must acknowledge our need for God.

We have to humbly acknowledge that we are God’s creation, and without God, we are only dust. Today, on Ash Wednesday, we even receive the mark of ashes on our foreheads as a reminder of this humble acknowledgment.

Part of this acknowledgement also comes through in our own penitence. Being penitent has the same word root as "repentance." To turn back. We purposely set ourselves to turn back to our relationship with God--to restore things.

That is our goal--to restore the relationship that God created for us, so that we may be the righteousness of God in the world.

During Lent, therefore, we focus our attention on our behaviors and our lives in such a way as to examine ourselves. We try to discern what things in our lives are getting in the way of that right relationship with God. What things are keeping us from being God's righteousness in the world? What are our stumbling blocks? And we also try to look at those practices and efforts that we should focus on that would help us be the righteousness of God, as God created us.

In a few minutes, you will hear the invitation to participate in a Holy Lent. That invitation will include the summons “to self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” All of these disciplines are designed to help you and to help me “reconcile” with God during this season of Lent.

So, just as my team practiced over and over and over to become the best Royal Ambassadors we could be on the basketball court, I invite you to find the practices of prayer and meditation; to do the work of and self-examination and to be part of the joy communal worship. These practices will help you be the Royal Ambassador to Christ that God created you to be.

And the journey of Lent that begins today through our Lenten practices will be about helping us all to reconcile with God, and be God’s righteousness in the world.

 

[1] Richard Hays, "The Word of Reconciliation," July 20, 2010, Faith and Leadership Website, at http://www.faithandleadership.com/sermons/the-word-reconciliation?page=full&print=true

[2] See Ibid for more on this argument.