Let us pray: Holy and awesome God, your love is unparalleled by anyone or anything. Through your Son, who knew no sin, you have reconciled all of humanity to yourself. As we journey through this season of Lent, we pray for your presence to be awakened in us. We pray that we may recognize the ways in which you live and act in and through each one of us. We pray that in recognizing your presence in one another, that we may together bring your new creation to fruition. O God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you are our strength and our redeemer. Amen!

“It is reported that Karl Barth, a Swiss Reform Theologian, was asked once what he would say to Adolph Hitler if he ever had the chance to meet the monster who was destroying Europe and who would ruin the whole world if he were not stopped.”[1] Clearly, the person asking Barth had an inclination, if not a desire to hear Barth say that he would unleash a prophetic speech against Hitler. Instead, Barth replied that he would simply speak the words found in Paul’s letter to the Romans 5:8: “But God proves [God’s] love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” I suspect Barth’s response surprises us today as much as it did the person to whom Barth responded. Barth reasoned that it was only the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God that could persuade Hitler to repent of his actions, and that if he had spoken harsh words to Hitler, Hitler would have used these words to further act in self-righteousness, defending his actions as justified.

Nearly 80 years later, we don’t have to strain our minds to recall other people who have caused such wide-spread tragedy. What is remarkable, though, is that Barth’s response is as valid today as it was when he offered it. As humans, we regard other people through our human eyes. We size up a person by our human standards: do they look like me, think like me, act like me? Do they share common values with me: politically, spiritually, and economically? Riding home with a colleague this past week, I was surprised when they stated that after having met an individual for two minutes, they knew the individual was not a good candidate for ministry in The United Methodist Church. Looking at one another and judging one another from our human point of view is not a stretch for any person. Regarding someone from God’s view, as Barth did with Hitler, and as the apostle Paul writes about today, though is much harder.

Casey Thompson, one of the contributors, to the Biblical Commentary, Feasting on the Word suggests that if we read and hear Paul’s promises from our passage today in the first person, they are easier to accept:

…So if I am in Christ, there is a new creation…if I am reconciled to God…if I am an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18, 20).

Reading the phrases this way puts the emphasis on the word if and the work of self-examination squarely on each one’s shoulders. But, Paul is not writing a journal entry to himself. He is addressing a community of economically, religiously, and socially diverse people.

Paul teaches the church at Corinth that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God who knew no sin, reconciled humanity to God’s own self. It is through this act of love, grace, and forgiveness, that we, who have been reconciled to God, are to respond. In theology, this is called atonement, but as one of my professors taught me, atonement is at-one-ment. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, humanity is made one with God. As persons who are one with God, it follows, as Paul writes that we regard everyone from God’s point of view and not our own. To regard everyone from God’s point of view means that we can no longer determine for ourselves who is with or without the hope of salvation. It means that we can no longer limit the hope or potential of any other human whether they be: born or unborn, exploiters, murderers, terrorists, frauds, failures. No one is beyond the reach of Christ. Furthermore, at no time in the history of the Christian Church has anyone ever been definitively damned—not even Judas. Conversely, in the history of the Christian church, many souls have been declared as saved, including the prostitute, Rahab.

Though I am not clairvoyant, I can hear questions now. To start with, “Carmen, if no one is beyond the reach of Christ, then why does this world we live in look like a dump and not a new creation?” Paul teaches that the new creation is one where “everything old has passed away” and “everything has become new” (v. 17). Everything old cannot pass away until we accept the love, grace and forgiveness offered through the death and resurrection of Christ and until we respond to that gift of reconciliation by living our lives as if we are in Christ.

When we are in Christ, then we offer ourselves: our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness on behalf of Christ. In her book, Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Grace Reese shares a story about three women in a church who were trying to build up evangelism in their church. They met with a mentor one day who challenged them to do nothing but pray for three months. Offering ourselves on behalf of Christ means offering ourselves to do, to say, to think, and to act as God would have us act, and not how we think God might want us to do these things. Every day, at 7:30am, the women from the church prayed whether they were together or not. They prayed for each other. They prayed for people in their church. They prayed for the people who God might want them as a church to reach. They studied and read. After three months of doing nothing but praying, the team of three women grew by more than 20-fold. During the course of just praying, people came to the women offering to bake bread and take it to new guests of the church, an opportunity to develop a ministry with a nearby apartment complex emerged.

When we release our sense of control and our fears of death and failure, when we live into our call as ambassadors of Christ, and when we see the world through the eyes of God by engaging in a time of intentional prayer, meditation, and study, we open ourselves to realize God’s new creation, here on earth: a new creation in which “death, pain and mourning are no more; where the world is free from addiction; where parents and children are able to find love where there was mistrust; where marriages are joys and not burdens; a world where every person has a decent place to live, clean water to drink; where children can learn in safety, and teachers do not cry themselves to sleep; a world where people do not suffer from pain and disease because medication and healthcare are unattainable; a world where women and young people are not trafficked; a world where young boys are not made to fight in wars that old men create; a world in which one’s imagination is as powerful as the market’s value at the end of the day or a nuclear weapon; a world where every new creation arises from an act of faith, an act of trusting the future God whispers to God’s ambassadors and can be brought forth into being.”[2]

This new creation does not emerge by being careful or productive with our time, but when we recklessly abandon our will and intentionally live in Christ as we live in community with one another. My prayer for us all is that in these next two weeks of Lent, we may let go of our self-will and fill our time and our work with intentional prayer, study, and meditation, that we may embody Christ for the world around us. Amen.

 

[1]               Wood, Ralph C. in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 2. Bartlett, David L. and Brown Taylor, Barbara (eds). Westminster John Knox Press (2009), 110.

[2]               Ibid.