Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Are Ambassadors of Reconciliation?

When we think about our calling as church, especially as a missional church, we must keep focused on the gospel.  We are not a social service agency, nor are we culture preservation societies.  What we are, as church, is a community of people who worship and serve the God who has called  us to be  ambassadors of reconciliation  (II Cor. 5:11-6:2).  There is no ministry that the church enters into that does not involve  reconciliation, whether it is evangelism, social justice, or providing pastoral care.  Every Christian has claim to that calling, and should respond to it positively.  

For many years Christians looked at this calling through an either/or lens.  Either reconciliation involved evangelism or social action.  More liberal churches engaged in social action  (justice), but stayed away from evangelism, since that word was tainted by an exclusivist perspective.  Many evangelicals, on the other hand, eschewed social justice, because it was seen as leading toward socialism or something of its ilk.  My hope is that for many of us, we have left behind these polarized views.  

Reconciliation has two dimensions – vertical and horizontal.  When Paul speaks of reconciliation, I believe he has both of these dimensions in mind.  In Christ we experience reconciliation with God and with neighbor.  Consider that the two great commandments speak to both of these dimensions – love of God and love of neighbor (and Jesus has an expansive sense of neighbor).  Thus, reconciliation involves liberation from views of God that limit our relationship with God, which include self-absorption.  It also involves engagement in acts of love and justice that free our neighbors from the clutches of oppression, disease, starvation, or ignorance. 

 The Commandments that guide our faith – love of God and love of neighbor have both spiritual and social implications (Mt. 22: 34-40).   As it is written in 1 John:   
“If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen.  This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.” (I John 4:20-21 CEB).  
In meditating on this passage, can we truly entertain the idea that we can separate our politics or social agendas from our faith?   In the past many of us have allowed the word “moral” to be confined to personal acts, which usually entails sexuality, and not used to speak of more systemic issues, such as poverty and racism.  Thus, the Republican Party has the moral-values voters, and the Democrats don’t.  That is, if you define moral values very narrowly.  

So, what does it mean for us to be ambassadors of reconciliation?  To what issues does Scripture speak today?  When we hear the voice of Scripture, do we hear a message that  God is only concerned about personal morality, or do we hear one that suggests that God is interested in the welfare of all of creation?  

The message of reconciliation is holistic – it addresses spiritual things, but it also addresses what many would call secular things.  The biblical message doesn’t offer us a spirit/matter dichotomy that allows us to opt out of the concerns and pressing needs of the world's people, whether those needs are spiritual or social or physical.  To be ambassadors of reconciliation, we are called to live out our lives  from within our faith in the God of Jesus Christ.   To take seriously the needs of humanity is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.  This task is best done within the ongoing dialogue  of the community of faith.  .
What are some of the implications of the Gospel?   First, it should be clear that we are called to be a worshiping community that loves God with our entire being.   Second, we are called to love our neighbor (and Jesus expands this to include our enemy).  To do this means sharing our faith in both word and deed, inviting others to join us in the worship and service of God.  To do this, we might be well served to take up the mantle of Jesus, who saw in the words of Isaiah his own calling:  Preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of the sight to the blind, the liberation of the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord (Luke 4:16-21).  Each of these callings has political implications.   We are a part of a tradition, one that goes back to the ancient Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah and Amos and Micah, that calls upon the oppressors to repent and turn from their wicked ways.  We as Christians cannot stand around and allow the status quo to continue to exist without challenge.  We must become prophetic, not only calling people to a relationship with God or to personal morality, but we must also speak out on the necessity of  proper relationships with other persons.  

We are fortunate that down through the ages there have been people of faith who have taken up the mantle, and lived this faith, proclaiming their love for God and their love for their neighbor in word and deed.   And, while we are tempted to give complete allegiance to nation and family, allegiance to God has precedence.   Remember that the Church of Jesus Christ extends across all boundaries, whether they be racial, national, social, political, gender, or sexual (Gal. 3:28).  

  As we hear this call to be ambassadors of reconciliation, it is probably wise to remember that this remains God’s world.  There is darkness present in our midst, but God is also present in the world.  As God’s ambassadors of reconciliation, our task is to discern where God is at work and take up this work in partnership with Jesus, who leads the way forward.  If we do this, then we will truly become Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

No comments: