It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a season of reflection and repentance. We do this knowing that God has already reconciled us to Godself through Christ. Having been reconciled and having received this word with openness, we are now able to be God's ambassadors. We tell the story of Christ, who, according to Paul, did not know sin, but became sin so that we might know the righteousness of God.
I invite you to read these words of Paul taken from 2 Corinthians 5-6, a text designated by the lectionary for Ash Wednesday. Hear the word of reconciliation and the invitation to ministry.
20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
1 Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 He says, I listened to you at the right time, and I helped you on the day of salvation. Look, now is the right time! Look, now is the day of salvation!
3 We don’t give anyone any reason to be offended about anything so that our ministry won’t be criticized. 4 Instead, we commend ourselves as ministers of God in every way. We did this with our great endurance through problems, disasters, and stressful situations. 5 We went through beatings, imprisonments, and riots. We experienced hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger. 6 We displayed purity, knowledge, patience, and generosity. We served with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, 7 telling the truth, and God’s power. We carried the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and our left hand. 8 We were treated with honor and dishonor and with verbal abuse and good evaluation. We were seen as both fake and real, 9 as unknown and well known, as dying—and look, we are alive! We were seen as punished but not killed, 10 as going through pain but always happy, as poor but making many rich, and as having nothing but owning everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10a Common English Bible).
As you reflect on these words, consider the nature of our ministry. Consider the way in which God calls us to be present in the world. It is a call to humility. It is a call to take the way of the cross. It is not "onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before." The cross is not a weapon to be wielded, but a path that leads us through Christ into the presence of God.
As you reflect on these words of Paul, consider also these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his Ethics.
The church is the place where it is proclaimed and taken seriously that God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, that God so loved the world that God gave his Son for it. The spaced of the church is not there in order to fight with the world for a piece of its territory, but precisely to testify to the world that it is still the world, namely, the world that is loved and reconciled by God. It is not true that the church intends to or must spread its space out over the space of the world. It desires no more space than it needs to serve the world with its witness to Jesus Christ and to the world's reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. The church can only defend its own space by fighting, not for space, but for the salvation of the world. Otherwise the church becomes a "religious society" that fights in its own interest and thus has ceased to be the church of God in the world. So the first task given to those who belong to the church of God is not to be something for themselves, for example, by creating a religious organization or leading a pious life, but to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. For this the Holy Spirit equips those to whom the Spirit comes. Of course, it is presupposed that such a witness to the world can only happen in the right way when it comes out of sanctified life in God's church-community. Nevertheless, true sanctified life in the church-community of God is distinguished from any pious imitation by the fact that it leads the believer at the same time into witness to the world. Where that witness has become silent it is a sign of inner decay in the church-community, just as failure to bear fruit is a sign that a tree is dying. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 6), pp. 63-64).