Ambassadors for Christ Audio
Well, it’s a big day for these five ordinands as they commit themselves to ordained ministry in the church as well as for George as he takes up a pivotal role as Archdeacon, but it’s also an opportunity for the rest of us to be reminded of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.
As I read through the passage from 2 Cor 5 that we’ve just listened to I was struck by three statements that are particularly appropriate to an occasion like this.
No longer for ourselves but for Him
The passage begins by reminding us that Jesus died for all and that his death draws us in, so we too have died with him. The first thing that struck me was the conclusion that’s drawn from this. It’s there in v15. Jesus died so we could live; but not just live. The gospel has much greater ramifications than us simply being saved to new life. The gospel is much more countercultural than that: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” As I used to say to the kids in the youth group at church: “It’s not just about you.”
What could be more relevant than that for the age we live in? You’d have to say we live in one of the most narcissistic periods of our short history as a nation. Sadly, life has become centred on looking after No 1. Whatever happens, my rights, my needs come first.
Who could forget the scenes of people buying up huge supplies of toilet paper and tissues in the early days of the pandemic? In fact we saw it again just a few days ago in South Australia. In Melbourne we had people going out in buses to country centres to buy up supplies there. I seem to remember one group even coming as far as Heathcote. No-one can quite explain why people behave like that, but I think the root cause is self-centredness: the desire to get what you need for yourself and your family - and who cares about the rest?
But for us who are followers of Christ there’s a quite different priority. We’re no longer to live for ourselves but for him who died and was raised for us.
So what might that mean for these new ordinands? What might it mean for the rest of us?
Living for Christ implies being ready to serve him where he leads us. It means following his example of service to others. It means treating others as though they were him. You may remember Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats where he made the point that the kindness shown to the poor and hungry, the stranger and the prisoner, was actually kindness shown to Jesus himself. So living for Christ means living for those he came to save. For Tim this will be primarily in a school, at least for the time being. For Andrew it’ll be working among disengaged and disenfranchised people in the city centre. For the others they’ll be serving in ministry positions in parishes. And for the rest of us it could be on a number of different levels; perhaps caring for those living around us whose lives are still affected by the Covid-19 virus; perhaps helping someone who’s out of work because of the virus; it could be changing the way we think and act towards people who don’t fit into our particular demographic.
A ministry of reconciliation
Which leads me to the second statement I want us to think about: “18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation is a bit of a buzz word in Australia, isn’t it? It’s used to refer to the need for a coming together of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to build relationships, respect and trust, to repair some of the damage done to indigenous people over the past 230 years.
For us, the motive for reconciliation arises out of a greater reconciliation that Jesus has brought about, whereby God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us. Notice that this wasn’t something that we had to initiate. There’s no sense in which the gospel tells us that if we live good lives God will forgive us for what we’ve done wrong. God doesn’t love us because we’re good people. Nor does his love for us cease when we do the wrong thing. No, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
So we too now have a ministry of reconciliation. We’re to be imitators of Christ. It’s not by chance that one of the last lessons Jesus gave his disciples was to get up from the table take off his robe, tie a towel around his waist and begin to wash their feet. They needed to see that they were to be sent out to be servants. That word minister derives from the word for servant. It’s the word we also translate as deacon. Tim, Darcy and Andrew today are being ordained as servants. Tim and Darcy may well be ordained next year as priests, but as Charles Sherlock used to tell us repeatedly when I was at Ridley, they’ll always be a deacon, a servant. Rob & Bertram won’t stop being deacons because the bishop has laid hands on them to set them aside as Priests. Their task, which they share with each of us by the way, will continue to be to serve in the ministry of reconciliation. That is, they’re to bring the good news of peace with God to those they come into contact with. They’re to show the grace of God in what they do and say. And that ministry of reconciliation may include helping people to be reconciled with each other in their personal lives.
Notice too, that the thing about being a servant is that there may be little or no glory in it. Again, the example of Jesus is that he gave up his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of God and humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant, lowering himself even to death on our behalf.
So the ministry of reconciliation may be a hard one. It may not always be received well by people. It may require us taking the risk, just as Jesus did, of being misunderstood or even rejected. It may well mean working with the downtrodden, seeking to bring justice to those who miss out on justice in their everyday lives.
But at the same time it’s a calling that’s an honourable one.
Ambassadors for Christ
He says “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us”. Now don’t start thinking bow ties and cocktail parties. We are that sort of ambassador but without the pomp and ceremony attached.
The important thing about ambassadors is that they don’t speak on their own behalf. They speak on behalf of the ruler that they represent. When the American Ambassador meets with Scott Morrison or Marise Payne it’s as though Donald Trump were speaking. And the same goes for us. When Tim speaks to students at Moama Grammar or Andrew speaks to people on the streets around the cathedral in Bendigo or Rob or one of the others preaches a sermon or leads a Bible Study they’re speaking under God’s authority.
That of course is both an encouragement and a warning isn’t it? It’s an encouragement because the power of the message doesn’t reside in the bearer but in the God who sends it; in the Holy Spirit who can take those words and use them to change lives. But it’s also a warning that the message must be real and authentic; it must be true to the gospel; and it must be delivered by someone who shows integrity and holiness of life.
Finally, I don’t want you to miss the fact that the role of an ambassador is to take a message to those who need to hear it. Our task isn’t just to work for righteousness and justice for people; it isn’t just to care for those in need; nor to assist the priest in services of worship; as worthwhile as all those things are. No, it’s to bring a message of reconciliation to those who need to hear it. Yes, St Francis did say “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words” but the task is ultimately to speak a message. See what he says in v20: “God is making his appeal through us.” It’s a simple appeal isn’t it? “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Notice it’s an invitation not a demand. We entreat people. We don’t beat them up until they relent. We don’t throw accusations against them. We appeal to them. And it’s an invitation that comes out of a relationship. It’s the waiting father calling out to his prodigal son, come home and be reconciled with me, I’m just waiting for the opportunity to celebrate with you. Look at it again: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
There’s warmth and love in the message of the gospel which we mustn’t lose.
If you’re someone who hasn’t experienced that acceptance from God the father please come and talk to me or one of the other ministers here later today. God is entreating you to be reconciled to him, to become part of his family.
So Tim, Andrew, Darcy, Rob, Bertram, as you go out into the world today commissioned by the Church to be a servant of the gospel may you be ministers who seek above all to live for Christ, to share with others the reconciliation with God that Christ has made possible and to act with confidence as ambassadors for Christ as you pass on God’s appeal to those you minister among.