On Being Identified as Ambassadors for Christ
Joe R. Jones
2 Corinthians 5.16-21
“16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
It is a wonderful occasion to participate in the ordaining of a person to Christian ministry. The wonder becomes even more intense and overwhelming when the person is your youngest daughter, grown now into competent and commanding adulthood. Many of you know Verity as just this confident, intelligent, and astute friend, pastor, or colleague. You probably don’t have packet full of ‘little Verity’ stories gathered over the years of close observation amidst the intricacies of familial dynamics better left undescribed and unexplained. I will not regale you now with these delicious and revealing stories. But I do confess the wonder and pride of now seeing her stand before us this day, a woman of stature and great promise, seeking the church’s ordination to a future of ministerial leadership for the church.
We are here, then, to ordain Verity Augusta Jones: a solemn act by the church and, like marriage, to be entered into ‘reverently and in the fear of the Lord.’ And to do this act of ordaining this day and in these times should occasion some serious questioning and pondering by us all.
Questions for us and questions for Verity:
1. Who are we who are engaged in this ordaining?
2. What sort of community is this gathered church who intends to ordain?
3. What is the real identity and character of the church?
4. Why do we ordain persons to special leadership?
I would suppose that many of the churches today in North America might have grave difficulties in trying to grasp and articulate just who they are and what their most distinctive character and identity is. And just who are we who are here to participate in this profound ordaining act?
These questions are crucially important and invite us to consider briefly this passage from Paul’s second letter to the beleaguered church at Corinth. Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ with a primary mission to the Gentile or non-Jewish world, writes to his Corinthian fellow Christians by everywhere using the inviting and inclusive pronoun ‘we’—even though we readers know that throughout the letter it is a rhetorical ‘we’, intending to appeal to and persuade his Corinthian readers of what is properly involved in a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ as ‘ambassadors for Christ.’ Perhaps it would be helpful if we who are gathered here today consider ourselves included in the ‘we’ of this provocative passage.
So Paul says: “We regard no one from a human point of view.” Literally translated it means we regard no one “according to the flesh.”
And this fleshy way of regarding folk is in contrast to the way ‘we’ regard folk when we regard them from the point of view of their being in Christ. Hence, this fleshy human point of view seems to have once been held by the Corinthian Christians—and even by us—but has now been abandoned as we have come to see persons in anew through Jesus Christ.
It should be instructive for us who have presumably abandoned this fleshy point of view to pause for a bit and ask just what is this human, all-too-human, point of view. It appears that the fleshy view is quite commodious and includes those many ways of seeing others with the eyes of the worlds in which persons live and move and have their being. These worlds of human conjuring are the ones in which all of us were raised and which beckon and shape us day by day. These are the worlds of principalities and powers that are quite expert at telling persons exactly who they are and what they are to become, what they are to consider the range of the real possibilities of their lives. These fleshy powers are ready and eager to stamp us all with an identity and destiny that serves their interests and their hopes. The human points of view are legion, and they are persistently powerful in their maneuvering and effectiveness. In fact, none of us has escaped their pervasive and formative power: from these worlds of social arrangements and provisions we have a fleshy identity and place. These powers never let up, they never sleep, their vigilance is stunning, they are intent on winning their ways among us, they are not easily disarmed or defeated. And we adopt their point of view about ourselves and about the others who make up the world. We become this fleshy, human world.
Hence, when we ask about our identity this day in the church, we want to be the ‘we’ who have adopted Christ’s point of view and have thereby defeated and given up the fleshy naming and valuing of ourselves and all others. And isn’t this just the dilemma of the church in our time: we are overwhelmed with the identities and values that the world has assigned to us and which we have made our own? ‘We’ struggle to grasp an identity in Christ, but the flesh is so strong and attractive and seductive.
There are at least two fleshy worlds that live in the midst of the churches in North America and constantly threaten the church’s identity in Christ.
First, there is quite simply the identity the church is given by the world of USA citizenship. When push comes to shove in how we intend to live our lives and make decisions, this world of citizenship, with its markets, jobs, politics, pecking orders, and its distribution of goods is so definitive and ‘creator-like’ that we are thoroughly shaped by it. I fear that the churches of the USA are given their most basic identity, values, and mission by this powerful and commanding world. And this world expects the church to be its emissary and promoter.
Second, there is the world of global and pluralistic visions and aspirations that seems intent on dismantling the world of USA sovereign citizenship. The church in this fleshy world of naming and sanctioning is no more than one limited group among many other groups and religions and therefore it should diminish its truth claims and identity. Whatever the talk of the divine might involve, it should be relatively hushed and humble and nonevangelistic. Indeed for the powers of this self-conscious pluralistic world, the church should be an emissary of limited claims.
It seems to me that both of these human renderings and regardings have found conflicting residences in the church of today. They do indeed war within the church, within us, within the ‘we’ that Paul is addressing and trying to persuade to another point of view. Both of these worlds, precisely because they seem so persuasive to us, lay heavy claims on the church, and each beckons the church to become its emissary.
So, then what is this other point of view that Paul wants to differentiate from the all too attractive and powerful human points of view?
First, this alternative view is that of persons who have an overwhelming sense of the old passing away and having been graciously given a new identity, a new creation. How is that? All this gracious giving of the new is accomplished by the God who acted in Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, to reconcile the whole world of creatures to Godself.
And again how did ‘we’ come to this? This God has acted in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ to show persons that they need no longer be subject to their fleshy worlds of judging themselves and others by their various standards of worldly deviance and sin. These worlds of human judgment are evacuated of their power to tell ‘us’ who we are and what we are worth and what we are to become. This is to us ‘goods news’, even as it is peculiar and odd news when compared to the daily news of the principalities and powers.
So, Christians, ‘we’ stand or fall according to the truth and power of this Gospel of God’s work in Jesus Christ. We are given a new point of view that sweeps away the other points of reference and determination. And therefore, we are given a task: we are given a ministry of reconciliation. We are called to be the community of persons who have the defining and identifying aim of declaring in word and deed, that is, in declaring with our very lives, that the Creator of all things has graciously loved and acted to save the world from its self-chosen but finally fruitless, hopeless, and violent ways of living.
Indeed, as the church, we are called to be a community of new creatures, to be ambassadors for Christ, to be emissaries of mercy and peace to this human world of misery and lostness. But as emissaries of Christ, we have nothing to boast of, nothing of our own superiority. We are merely the forgiven sinners who, in saying ‘yes’ to the Gospel, entrust our lives to this crucified Savior as the One who resurrects hopes and buries the kingdoms of death.
We are not emissaries of the world of USA citizenship and power, nor are we emissaries of the world of pluralistic dismantling. We are emissaries for Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. As the Christ’s ambassadors, we are carriers of a message of peace and justice, of a message of God’s life of reconciliation among the people of the various worlds.
Can we bear this point of view, can we truly know ourselves as reconciled in Christ and thereby know ourselves as called to works of love on behalf of all the humans we now know as neighbors in Christ?
This is our ministry, the ministry of all those who have a new identity in Jesus Christ. This is not simply the ministry of the church’s ordained ministers. As we ordain Verity to the leadership of the church of Jesus Christ, we know she is an ambassador, an emissary with us for the world.
So, we come to ask what it means for this all too human church of Jesus Christ, which struggles daily in the world to claim its identity and mission as witness to God’s reconciling Gospel—what does it mean to ordain persons for leadership within the church?
The ‘Free Church’ traditions which are ordaining Verity today have been loath to make too high claims about the status and separateness of the ordained minister. It thus becomes important to be clear as to just what these traditions are ordaining Verity for and to. Let me state a few bold points.
We are calling and entrusting Verity to the special responsibility of keeping us the church clear and committed about our purpose and identity as ambassadors for Christ who is God’s reconciliation of the world to Godself.
We are calling and entrusting Verity to preach and teach this Gospel of Jesus Christ in such wise that we may have our lives graced and forgiven and our daily paths illuminated by the light of this sovereign grace. Among other things she is entrusted to teach us the witness of Holy Scripture as a living and authorizing witness today.
We are calling and entrusting Verity to be a vibrant and articulate visionary for us, to point to God’s surprising possibilities for us as agents of reconciliation. We need her vision as a dedicated and trained Christian woman to lift up the hope that calls us into action on behalf of the world’s forgotten and neglected and calls us to be parables of God’s ultimate redemption of all.
We are calling and entrusting Verity to be a muscular and truth-telling prophet in our midst, to remind us of our wandering and befuddling omissions, of our inclinations to be conformed cowardly to the world, of our propensity to tell and enjoy the lie about ourselves, the neighbor and about human well-being.
We are calling and entrusting Verity to be our caring pastor, who loves us with a steady openness to our weaknesses and sufferings, to be our friend and companion in discovering daily how to become God’s new creation in the midst of a troubled and stressed world.
These callings and entrustings are, of course, impossible just in themselves. They become graciously empowered possibilites by the movement of the Holy Spirit in Verity and in the church.
As a not-so-neutral observer, I declare my conviction that Verity is equipped and ready to take on these challenging tasks of Servant Leadership. She has already been a rich blessing to many of us, and her promise is great to become a blessing and a gift to the future of the church of Jesus Christ.
In this ordaining, then, we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to renew us, to empower us to give up the old lives we learned from the worlds in which we have lived, and to empower us to live as free ambassadors of reconciliation among the warring people of the various worlds of human conjuring. And we pray for Verity that she may live from the new creation she is in Christ and live toward the redemptive future God is bringing for the worlds.
All this dear friends, who are the ‘we’ of Paul’s church, I have dared to preach in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Mother of us all. Amen.
Delivered at the ordination to Christian ministry of Verity Augusta Jones.
Colchester Federated Church
Saturday, March 25, 1995