Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lent 4

2 Corinthians 5
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:[a] 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[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I think I can speak for everyone here when I say we have mixed feelings about Ben Affleck.

We loved him In Good Will Hunting and The Town, we understood the need to do Armageddon and Pearl Harbour, we forgave the whole extended J.Lo episode, but with Argo, it feels like too much.

Sure, fans and critics loved the film. One moment it is a tense action film, then a political drama, then a parody of the Hollywood studio system, all the while purporting to tell a true story of when the CIA managed to be helpful in a time of crisis. This is American history as Americans love to tell it: it feels good, but seldom troubles the audience with the facts.

The real victim of the film is not among those held captive or the Iranian people who are little more than cartoon versions of themselves (thank you Gian Ghomeshi) but Ken Taylor, OC, who actually did many of the things we see Ben Affleck’s character do in the film. In Argo, our ambassador becomes little more than a gracious host, and the Canadian Caper is little more than a misnamed CIA op.

If, however, you ignore the film and focus on the real Ken Taylor, you see the best example of the role of ambassador: protecting citizens and allies, representing the values of your nation, and (even if it seems dangerous) working for peace. If you add to that the judicious use of diplomatic immunity, you see a Canadian icon. And to be fair to Mr. Affleck, we didn’t make the film ourselves, so how can we complain?

I share all this not to discourage you from seeing Argo, or not fully to discourage you from seeing Argo, but to highlight the role of ambassador and to try to understand how this relates to our role as Christ’s ambassadors, as described by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.

First the letter itself. Paul writes to educate, to encourage, to caution, and all the while reinforce the relationship he forged while living with the community addressed. In this case, he writes again to the believers at Corinth, and it seems likely that by the time of this letter he has moved on once or perhaps twice, and may be living in Philippi or Thessalonica.

And 2 Corinthians 5, like much of Paul’s writing, attempts to create a framework that allows the believer, and particularly the new believer, to understand themselves in the world. You might say the critical verse is 17, which often doubles as an Assurance of Pardon:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

It is understanding ‘the new,’ and living into ‘the new,’ that is at the heart of Paul’s words. Add to this the careful application of metaphor, and you have much of what you need to put your life in Christ in context.

Before I go further, I need to tell you that while you are in Weston at this moment, you are not of Weston. I know, I know, some of you are thinking ‘well of course I’m in Weston but not of Weston, I’m from Mount Dennis, or Etobicoke.‘ And some are from as far as Mississauga, which may make you ‘ambassadors of Hazel.‘ But for today, I want you to reflect on being here, but not from here.

At best, we are dual citizens. We belong to the Kingdom of God, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and we are residents of Canada. Maybe we have two passports, but I think everyone who is in the enviable position of having two passports will tell you that one always sits atop the other on the nightside table. People who have two passports generally know which one they would give up if pressed, and therefore being dual is is more a luxury that a reality of the heart.

So we are citizens of the heavenly realm, the Kingdom set down for us at the foundation of the world (Mt. 25) and we reach for ways to describe what it means to live in the world God made. Paul suggests ‘ambassadors for Christ,’ so we get to test his metaphor to see if it truly fits.

As Ken Taylor showed us, the first duty is to protect citizens and allies ‘in country.’ There is a note in the front of your second passport—the Canadian one, not the heavenly one—that says that if you need services or protection in a country that does not have a Canadian mission, we can turn to the mission of the United Kingdom instead. And as Argo accurately portrayed, this often extends to historic allies beyond the nations with which we share a Queen.

So how do we extend protection to fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God? Prayer is the first answer, the obligation we have to pray for fellow believers and ourselves, both in other churches and here, that we may be strengthened and upheld. This includes the day-to-day struggles of life on earth, but also the kind of mission we undertake in the world. And it is not just health, although that is where our mind goes first, wishing the best for the ones we love. We also pray for certainty in belief and understanding, that we do not waiver in the knowledge of God’s love and mercy.

And how else do we extend protection within the Kingdom? According to Matthew 25, by protecting ‘the least of these my brothers and sisters,’ the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, we are also protecting Christ. Think of it as offering, under divine auspices, refugee status to those who most need protection from the world. It is the least and last that we are called to serve first, and we do it through our office of ambassador.

What about representing the values of our country? Ken Taylor demonstrated, in the most tangible way, our commitment to freedom, and the rule of law that must exist when nations seek to coexist. In our context, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we represent the values of Matthew 25, just noted, but also the desire for peace. In many ways, the tension we feel as believers is like that of diplomats stationed around the world. The primary goal is to safeguard and promote peace, all the while protecting the rights of the homeland.

There are those who would undermine our belief in God and God’s mission in the world, and we are tempted to name them enemies of God, when in fact, the job of ambassador is to explain and interpret, to describe what we believe and respectfully reject those who deny the transforming power of Jesus Christ in our lives. In many ways, the United Church has the opposite problem. We are so quick to apologize for offending anyone, that we tend to downplay our ambassadorship, or suggest that it is somehow secondary to helping people or just being good.

The final mark of the ambassador is also a favourite among screenwriters and authors: the idea of diplomatic immunity. Think of Mel Gibson taking on the South African baddies who run around Los Angeles making trouble, all the while claiming ‘diplomatic immunity.’

Ignoring Lethal Weapon 2 and all the others, diplomatic immunity is a cornerstone of bilateral relations, whereby trouble between nations is not taken out on that countries representatives. The temptation to throw the ambassador in jail for blocking the sale of softwood lumber, for example, is strong, but diplomatic immunity prevents such a measure. It also means that ambassadors are not subject to local laws that are in conflict with the values of the nation that sends them.

And this perhaps is the most compelling case for being an ambassador for Christ. Paul says, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” In other words, we are not subject to the local laws of quid pro quo, or refusing to forgive. We follow the heavenly law of extending grace to others, and not counting the cost in hope of future return. And we follow the heavenly law of forgiving others when we have the ability and power to do so, even if the world would not.

We are ambassadors for Christ, on a mission of reconciliation and good will, serving the most vulnerable, and representing the values of heaven. May God strengthen us for this mission, now and always, amen.


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