Ambassadors For Jesus Christ
Lent 4 II Corinthians 5:16-21
The theme for this worship service grows out of the passage from II Corinthians where the Apostle Paul says, “We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ, God making his appeal for reconciliation through us.”
The basic question before us today is: what does it mean to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ in the year 2001 in our community of Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way and south King County?
This past week, I have been thinking about ambassadors. Now, I haven’t known many ambassadors in my life, and I have to recall conversations from a long time ago. I have met only one ambassador in my sixty years. His name was Sydney Rand, the President of St. Olaf College many years ago, and St. Olaf is my alma mater. King Olaf from Norway would often visit St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, when the king visited the States. There was a strong connection between those Norwegians in Norway and those Norwegians in Minnesota. So when Dr. Sydney Rand finished his presidency of St. Olaf College, it was arranged by the senators in that state that he would be appointed ambassador to Norway. This was a great honor. It was the crowning of Dr. Rand’s long and distinguished career. Ambassadors? I knew Sydney Rand as the president of my college so many years ago.
I met another ambassador one time when we were down in Managua, Nicaragua. When my wife and I were there in Nicaragua on a Third World Experiential Education venture, we were to meet Ambassador Quinton. Ambassador Quinton was the ambassador from the United States to Nicaragua and was representing President Reagan. We were all informed that when the ambassador comes into the room, everyone is to stand and stand formally at attention in order to honor the position of the ambassador. Now, there were several other people coming and going from that room, and we didn’t bother to stand for any of them. But when the ambassador came in, we all stood up there at erect attention. Whether you agreed with the foreign policy or not, that was immaterial. You were to stand and stand formally, not slovenly, because this was an ambassador. This was a representative of the United States. This was a representative of President Reagan. This was an important person, and we were informed in such a way that we were commanded to formally stand before him.
I also remember a conversation with a congregational member from years ago. David Head worked abroad several years ago, and I had asked David if he had any experiences with ambassadors. He said, “O yes.” When he and his wife worked in Zambia in central Africa, they knew a man by the name of Robert Good, the ambassador from the United States to Zambia. They said he was a very good ambassador, and not one of the “ugly Americans.” I asked the question: “Why was he a good ambassador?” David answered, “Robert Good sent his daughters who were in high school to Zambian schools. He really worked for the welfare of the Zambians. We had the honor of being in their home twice. One time, we played the game of Monopoly with them and Vally, my wife, beat the ambassador. Then I beat the ambassador at several games of table tennis.” David later was quietly informed by a man who worked for the ambassador that you never beat the ambassador at a game, especially in is own home.” Ambassadors were to be treated with unusual respect, even losing games to them.
I ask the question: what is an ambassador? I am suggesting to you that an ambassador has three characteristics: l) ambassadors occupy a very distinguished position; 2) the ambassador is the personal representative of the government; 3) and they really need to know the position of the government on a particular issue and then speak the message for that government.
So I ask another question: what is an ambassador for Jesus Christ? What does it mean for you and me to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ? And at the end of this sermon, I am going to ask you what you think it means to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ. This involves congregational participation or in contemporary terms, “interactive dialogue.” The question that you are thinking of during the sermon is this: What does it mean for you to be an ambassador for Christ here in South King Country, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way? What does it mean to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ in the year 2001, in your part of the world?
First, let us set the context. The setting is a letter from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians. This is his second letter, and therefore the letter is called Second Corinthians. The letter is addressed to Christians who are living in a town Italy, and the name of the town is Corinth thus we get the name of Corinthians. … Paul’s letters are dealing with the conflicts in Corinth. In the congregation at Corinth, there were factions and frictions, conflicts and confrontations. In his opening paragraph of this letter, the Apostle Paul directly states: let there be no dissentions among you. And then for two letters, he addresses all the conflicts and confrontations, the factions and frictions in the parish. There were conflicts about worship: whether or not women should wear veils; whether they should eat food sacrificed to pagan idols; whether or not they should speak in ecstatic prayers or not. There were also conflicts about sex: whether or not a particular sexual sinner should be disbarred from worship, the importance of sexual purity and abstinence. There were conflicts about whether Paul was a true apostle or not. Some suggested true apostles had actually walked with Jesus in the flesh whreas Paul merely had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus; others suggested Paul was a genuine apostle. So this congregation had factions and frictions, confrontations and conflicts. And Paul’s primary message was that the Christians were to be reconciled to God and to each other in the midst of these conflicts.
The Apostle Paul said: “When a person is in Christ Jesus, they become a new person. The old qualities in them pass away.” When a person is in Christ, that person becomes controlled by his love, controlled by the love of Christ. In fact, that person becomes the goodness of God in human form.
When a person is “in Christ,” there are then three “no longers” in the Biblical passage. The Bible says, when a person is in Christ, no longer do you live for yourself but you live for Christ and others. … No longer do you regard other people from a human point of view e.g. I would love to have them for my friends. They are rich; they have personality; they have popularity; they have class; they are my kind of people.” … When a person is in Christ, no longer do you do you count the sins of other people. You no longer say to yourself, “Am I glad to hear about so and so and what they did wrong. Their sin makes me feel secretly better.” When a person is in Jesus Christ, no longer do you take pleasure in counting the sins of other people. … When you are in Christ, these former things have passed away, and you become a new person. There is a new person inside of you, even though your personality has not necessarily changed. There are new things happening inside of you, even though your personality continues to be the way it is. …When a person is in Christ and is a new person, you are entrusted with God’s message of reconciliation. When you are in Christ, you become God’s ambassador’s on earth, God making his appeal through people just like you and me. … So in the midst of all this conflict and confrontation and factions and frictions in the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul was calling for new people who were reconciled with God and therefore reconciled with each other.
But there is a second facet to the setting or situation. At this time in history, Roman provinces were governed either by the Roman Senate or the Roman Caesar. When a province was peaceful and serene, it was ruled by the Roman Senate. But when a province was filled with conflicts and confrontations, factions and frictions, then the divisive province was governed by a personal representative of the Roman Caesar, and that personal representative was called an “ambassador.” Ambassadors were the personal representatives of the Caesar to work with conflictive provinces. And so it was for these first Christians; they were called to be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation towards the conflicts and confrontations among them. … The word, ambassador, was a Roman word and known in the Roman world. That is, both the words “adoption” and the word, “ambassador” were not known nor used in the Old Testament or in the vocabulary of Jesus, but the Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen and so he used Roman concepts such as “adoption” or “ambassador.” Christians are called to be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation to conflictive congregations and conflictive situations and communities.
Now, for myself, personally, when I ask myself what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, I want to briefly mention three things:
To be an ambassador for Jesus Christ is a great honor. It is a great privilege. It was an honor for Dr. Sydney Rand to be an ambassador of the United States government to Norway. It was an honor for Ambassador Quinton to be an ambassador of the United States government to Nicaragua. It was an honor for Robert Good to be an ambassador of the United States to Zambia. It is a distinct honor to be chosen to be an ambassador to represent the greatest nation on earth, the United States, and it is an honor to be chosen to be an ambassador and represent the greatest and only God there is, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no need to be ashamed of Jesus Christ and the love of God who created the whole universe in all of its beauty and then this same God died for us on the cross, and there is no need to be ashamed of this God and what God has done for all of us. Jesus Christ has been the most positive influence here on earth for the past two thousand years, and we have the distinct privilege of being his ambassador. O yes, we can be ashamed of the Church and many of the Church’s activities through the centuries. O yes, we can be ashamed of the actions of other Christians and shake our head in disappointment. O yes, we can be ashamed of own imperfect actions and shake our heads in disappointments with our own lives. But we are not ambassadors who represent the Church, other Christians or even ourselves. The Bible says that we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ, and that is as good as you get. It is as high as distinction as you ever get. When I think of the word, ambassador, I think of someone of high distinction; and so it is with us as Christians. It is a high honor and great privilege to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ.
A second quality of an ambassador for Jesus Christ is that under all circumstances, we are personal representatives of Jesus Christ. Just as there was no place in Norway that Sydney Rand could have gone to escape being an ambassador, and no place in Nicaragua that Mr. Quinton could have gone to escape being an ambassador, and there was no place in Zambia that Robert Good could have gone to escape being an ambassador, there is no place on this earth that you can go that you escape being an ambassador for Jesus Christ. That is just the way it is. You are not only your own person and personality; but you are a representative of Christ in all circumstances.
Let me give you three trivial examples from this past week where I was in situations of potential conflict.. . I took back a chair to the warehouse of the Bon Marche. Have you even returned a piece of furniture to the Bon? I stood there in front of a counter for what seemed to be endless minutes. There was not even a “clinger” to “clang” and get someone’s attention. Finally a person came to the counter, and I thought to myself, “Now, I am an ambassador for Christ and his peace in this situation. Should I ventilate my anger and frustration? Is my anger and frustration appropriate? What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ in this particular moment? A second trivial example. I went to the Target store to get my fishing license for the season, and I came to the cash register in time to be behind a woman who had a huge cart of groceries she was going to check out at this counter rather than in the food section of the store. The wait for this woman was going to be endless, from my perspective. I was thinking about being an ambassador for Christ and his peace, and how did it apply to this situation and my feelings of frustration inside. Where was this new person inside of my impatient personality? What does it mean that no longer am I controlled by the sins of others? A third trivial example of daily, potential conflict. I telephoned for directions to a store in north Seattle and we left right away so as to avoid rush hour traffic. Before we knew it, the directions were not good or my recording of the directions were not good and we were stuck in rush hour traffic for ninety minutes, and we didn’t find the store. We returned home, only to telephone the person who gave us instructions. I was thinking to myself: I am an ambassador for Christ in this potentially explosive situation. How do I respond peacefully? Where is that new person inside of my impatient personality that will converse peacefully with the person who gave me directions. … What I am suggesting to you this morning is that we are personal representatives of Christ and his peace in all situations, and especially in those conflictive situations.
The third quality of an ambassador for Jesus Christ is that the ambassador needs to know the “party line,” and then speak the message. Ambassador Rand needed to know the government policy to Norway, Ambassador Quinton to Nicaragua, Ambassador Good to Zambia. Likewise, we Christians need to know the party line; we need to know the fundamental message of the Christian faith. What is the fundamental message of the Christian faith? When a person is in Christ, you are a new person. You are a new person and you become controlled by the love of God. You become the goodness of God in human form. You become the peace of God in human form.
Now, you can be “in church” and not be a new person. When a person is in Christ, you are changed. It is possible to be “in Church” but not in Christ. Not once in the whole Bible does it talk about the importance of being “in Church.” Not once. The primary religious experience is always to be in Christ. I know all kinds of people who are “in Church” and still are very self centered; who are in church and still are impressed with certain kinds of people; who are in church and they still really delight in the sins of others. But when you are in Christ, this is not true of you. The power of life is found in being in Christ, not “in church,” and you and I need to understand that. When a person is in Christ, he or she is a new person. This is the primary message of the Christian faith.
And then we speak God’s message to our situation. God makes his appeal to others through us. We are the means by which God speaks to those around us. Who ever heard of an ambassador who was tongue-tied, who refused to talk, who refused to speak God’s message. Let me give you a few examples of speaking God’s message. Yesterday, we had the funeral of Marv Williams here at Grace. Marv was a famous person in his prime, being president of the Washington Labor Council, head of the AFL-CIO. There were pictures of him with the late Senator Scoop Jackson and with President Carter and Vice President Mondale. He refused a luncheon offer to eat with President Reagan and with a Republican governor of our state. His neighbor who belongs to our parish said he was a “big shot” but never acted like a “big shot.” So the funeral yesterday was filled with people from the labor party and labor movement here in Washington, and it was the occasion for me to be an ambassador, to speak the message about Christ’s forgiveness for all sins, great and small, and to tell of Christ’s victory over death and the gift of everlasting life. The message was very basic, but I knew that God was making his appeal through me in that moment of a funeral service.
Fred Fiertag belongs to our parish. He tells me he is three ambassadors: for the Boeing Company as he travels around the globe. For the United States government because he represents our government, whether he wants to or not. And he is a representative for Jesus Christ. He tells me he is three ambassadors at one time. I asked him about being a personal representative for Christ in those situations. Fred tells me that he asks his hosts about the whereabouts of a nearby cathedral because he wants to go there to worship and pray. Such comments open up conversation about faith and Christ. Fred is keenly aware that he is an ambassador for Christ while at work.
Cookie Morris is from our parish. She tells me she is an ambassador because so many people ask how she is handling her husband’s death. As you may recall, two years ago Dean Morris was killed, the only death of a Boeing worker on the job. Dean was a crane operator. Since that time, many people ask how Cookie can be so strong through all of this, and Dean’s death gives her the occasion to speak God’s message. God is making his appeal through her.
And so an ambassador knows the message of God and speaks the message of God into a particular situation.
What is an ambassador from my point of view? It is an honored position. What is an ambassador for Jesus Christ? We are always a personal representative Jesus Christ in every situation. What is an ambassador? We know the message and we speak the message of Jesus Christ
Today, the question is: What does it mean for you to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ in your particular situation, in the year 2001, here in Des Moines, Kent, and Federal Way?
(Those are my thoughts of what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. But what do you think? Now it is your turn to speak. What do you think it means to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ in the year 2001 in your situation? In 1988 when I gave this sermon, Nancy Welliver was the first person to speak at the 8:30 worship service. In 1988, that was the first time that we had a congregational dialog in church, where members of the church actually spoke as part of the sermon. We do the same today. What does it mean for you to be an ambassador for Christ? You please stand, introduce yourself by name, speak loudly, and I will repeat what you have said through the microphone.)
Person 1: To be an ambassador for Christ is to do the very best in every circumstance; it is to know right from wrong and to do the right in all circumstances.
Person 2: To show the love in me that Christ has shared with me. To show the love of God and share the love of God with as many different people as I can.
Person 3: I belong to a group of 12 steppers in our church. It follows the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, and our theme is to let go and let God. That is the way we live. To be an ambassador is to let go and let God rule in all circumstances of your life. … To be an ambassador is to be part of a group that strengthens you and makes you wiser. The group helps me to let go and let God. It is hard to do that alone. The help of others makes you stronger.
Person 4: I work with the general public and I run into a lot of belligerent and obnoxious people, and in those daily situations, it is importance that I demonstrate patience. To be an ambassador for Christ is to show patience. To deal with people who are obnoxious and belligerent with the love of Christ.
Person 5: You work at Boeing and you run into all of these people who are not part of Christ or the church, and you actually invite them to church and into a relationship with Christ. Christ is making his appeal to them through you.
Person 6: I work as a public school teacher with six and seven year olds, and it is important that I show them the love of Christ every day in all situations. It is important that an ambassador walk in the shoes of the people in the culture he or she is serving, and so it is with a fine teacher. I cannot mention the name of Christ overtly, but I do show the love of Christ silently and in my actions. It is so important for little children to see the love of God in you.
Person 7: For me, I teach at a college. It is important that in every situation that I meet in life to live in a Christ-like way.
Thank you for sharing. The Apostle Paul says: We are ambassadors for Christ and we are entrusted with Christ’s message of peace, God making his appeal through us.
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