Yesterday, I stated that when I woke up, I was completely in awe, and horrified at what I was seeing on the news in the Gulf States. I wasn’t sure what to think; what to feel, etc. Grief? Anger? Pain? Confusion? I was experiencing all these things, and because of that, I knew I couldn’t go into my college group last night, and preach on something I had been preparing all week, forgetting about what has happened in our country. And I knew that there needed to be more than just an acknowledgement of what had happened. So at about 9am yesterday morning, I decided to scratch the talk I had prepared, in order to focus on a message that was more relevant to the current circumstances. Not that what I had planned was not current, but at times, I wonder if we are more concerned about getting off courses from our leccionaries and teaching schedules, than we are about addressing some of the immediate concerns, fears, struggles, and more of our community? How do we proclaim God’s Word in the midst of such brokenness and pain?
So yesterday afternoon, there was only one passage that I could not get out of my mind. In the book of II Corinthians Paul paints a beautiful message of what it means to live in a broken world. A beautiful picture of what it means for us to be broken people, groaning under our labor, as we await for eternal glory. And in the midst of this brokenness we are given a job, a mission. We are given the job of being ambassadors for Christ. What a beautiful message for the church of Corinth. I find it sad and disheartening all the Christians talking about this hurricane being God’s judgment upon New Orleans. This decadent city, destroyed by a hurricane. It’s ironic, because Corinth was so much more decadent than New Orleans could ever be, yet Paul, in the midst of them, gives them a message of hope. He gives them a message of Christ’s renewing work in their life. Paul could have judged and condemned them. Hoping that they would get what they deserved. But thank God that we all don’t get what we truly deserved. Thank God that we have people like Paul who remind us of Christ’s work in our lives. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (II Cor. 5:18-19).
In the previous chapter, chapter 4, Paul reminds us of our earthly state: “Be we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (II Cor. 4:7-12). Paul paints this wonderful image of us, having this extraordinary treasure of Jesus Christ in our lives, this message of hope and salvation. But it is a message that lives in jars of clay. It is a message that experiences troubles, trials, affliction, pains. We are these jars of clay, who go through life, suffering at times, but through our suffering, identifying with our Christ who suffered. This is the message we proclaim.
As I watched the news, and looked at all the suffering, I was reminded that as a Christian, this is not my home. That though I make my dwelling, here on earth, there is a permanent, more eternal dwelling that I hope to one day live in. And Paul’s words in II Corinthians 4:16-5:10, remind me of this, not-yet state that I live in. I live in this present reality, here on earth, groaning at times under the burden of life, but knowing that one day I will be with God in heaven. Paul says:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Sometimes I wonder how I would really respond if I was living in these circumstances. Would I have the courage to pick up the pieces and move on? Would I give up? What would I do? I cannot imagine, therefore, I try not to pretend that I would behave differently than what I see on tv at times. I hope that I would respond how Christ would want me to respond though. And what is that response? How are we to respond in the midst of disasters? Whether we are there physically in the presence, or far away, removed from any immediate disaster. And then I came across these words of Paul:
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This idea of being ambassadors for Christ. That Christ is making his appeal, through us. The enormity of that is staggering. That in Christ, we have been reconciled to God. That our trepasses were not counted against us, but instead we were made new. And we have been given a task. Us. Broken people. Jars of clay, in the midst of a world groaning in pain, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and the task of making an appeal to others on behalf of Christ. Why would Christ even allow me to be a part of this? Blows my mind.
And he goes on further to say, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
We are to be ambassadors for Christ, and in our ministries, our lives, we are to not be a stumbling block to others, or to hinder them from knowing Christ. Rather, we are to be the ones that Christ uses, to make his appeal to the world. And in this ministry, we will suffer all kinds of things, but we will not be crushed. Rather, our own present suffering is just a small part of our identification with our LORD. And one day, we may live with him eternally, in glory.
New Orleans. What a disaster! I can not even imagine. But as a follower of Christ, I believe that I am to be an ambassador for Him. I am to live my life in such a way, even through the sufferings around me, and my own sufferings..in such a way that others are given hope…that they are given a glimpse of what a new life in Christ is like. I am to be ministering to others, and the world, in such a way that I do not hinder them from seeing Christ.
I expect the world to be in pain…Paul reminds us of this. But we, broken people, are given the chance to play a huge role in the unfolding drama of redemption. My hope in the midst of suffering, is not only a way of identifying with Christ, but is a pathway to show others how their own pain and suffering is transcended through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
As I watch the news, I am both distraught and hopeful. I am distraught at the many ways that Christians behave. Pointing fingers. Judging. Putting up obstacles in front of others who are seeking for God. Who wants to follow Christ, if it is Christians who are calling this hurricane God’s judgement? Who wants to follow Christ, if we as Christians can not live in hope as a new creation? But I am also hopeful. I am hopeful at all the loving and gracious Christians and ministries who are down there, in the midst of suffering, being ambassadors for Christ. Putting up no obstacles, but rather opening doors.
For an awesome blog about the hurricane, and the brokenness of nature, check out this post by Mark D. Roberts. Great stuff.