June 10, 2018 sermon
Isaiah 43:18-21/ 2 Corinthians 4:7-15, 5:17-20
Ambassadors of Christ
Last Sunday at the BC Conference meeting in Penticton, we had a celebration of ministry service, which happens at every conference meeting. Seven candidates were ordained and four were admitted from other denominations, including yours truly. There were a lot of emotions floating around. Our BC Conference president got choked up while ordaining our new ministers and had to pause once in a while. We received gifts from the BC Conference, our children, and from the UCW. One of my colleagues who got ordained, Ingrid, received the children’s gifts from her own two children; everyone cried when they came to the stage. Then there were crying mothers proud of their daughters getting ordained. One mother started crying at 8 o’ clock in the morning at a Star Bucks coffee shop. After the ordination ceremony, I was paired up with Ingrid to serve the Holy Communion. Her mother came up to us to receive the communion, sobbing violently and calling her daughter “reverend” for the first time, making both of us cry. Oh mothers, what would we do without you? And when I say “mothers”, I would like to include anyone who cares for us and “mother” us, men or women, people with or without children. As I am officially admitted into the United Church of Canada, I salute the mothers without whom neither us pastors nor our church would exist.
Just like graduation, ordination is the end of an era and the beginning of another. My colleagues who were newly ordained are full of excitement and anticipation. People keep congratulating them. But with this excitement inevitably comes the fear of the unknown. They are moving toward uncharted waters; there’s a sense of ominousness and foreboding. But those who are ordained are not the only ones about to move toward uncharted waters; our whole church is changing. We voted to change the church structure; presbyteries will be no more starting January 2019. We are all gripped with a sense of fear of the unknown. Nobody has done this before, so in a way, we are all equally clueless. Also, because the church is declining, congregations must change to survive. I started the visioning process and sharing some of my ministry goals with our church leaders, to find ways for the Kimberley United Church to survive, and hopefully, thrive. So far, we are almost equally clueless; the prospect is daunting and scary. So, what do we do?
Today we read the theme scripture for this year’s BC Conference meeting from 2nd Corinthians. In the face of the change to come, all of us in the United Church of Canada feel clueless. But fear not; according to Paul, it’s okay. It’s normal because we are all vulnerable clay jars. We are vulnerable clay jars containing greatness, such as the love of God and the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Our great works come from the power of God, not us. Paul teaches us that Christ lives in us and we in Christ. We are vulnerable clay jars containing Christ. Don’t know what to do? Let the Spirit of God guide us. You know the philosophy of self-centered people; “If something goes well, it’s my doing, and if someone goes wrong, it’s your fault?” The belief that, having been reborn in Christ, it is Christ who lives in us, and helps us to be humble. We did something good? All glory to God! Don’t know what to do? Ask God for guidance. This is the nature of our relationship with God.
In 2nd Corinthians, Paul keeps urging his audience to reconcile with God. We belong to God and Christ lives in us. Therefore, we need to maintain a good relationship with God. Reconciling with God includes, but is not limited to, turning back from sin; repentance. In all relationships, reconciliation has to include apologies and the promise that we will do better in the future. Relationships also require listening, intimacy, honesty, trust, and understanding.
Understanding… Paul said we are the ambassadors of Christ. I think understanding is the first step of being an ambassador. How can anyone represent his or her government without first knowing the government’s policies and values? I remember historical dramas with king’s ambassadors and thinking, “What if the ambassador of England who is sent to France to propose a royal marriage between the prince and princess to insure peace between the two countries, instead of proposing the marriage, started by threatening with a war? “How did the French king respond to our proposal of marriage?” “I didn’t propose the marriage, your majesty. I told him that we would attack if they don’t give us what we want.” Ambassadors are citizens of one country sent out to live in another, to represent their own countries. The first thing an ambassador needs is the knowledge of his or her government’s policies and values. The second thing about ambassadors is that the other countries will know about the ambassadors’ countries through observing and interacting with them. If your government is committed to peace and reconciliation, you cannot go around and declare war and conflict. If we belong to God’s kingdom and are the ambassadors of Christ, we understand what God’s kingdom and Christ stand for. We represent God’s kingdom and the teachings of Christ in the world by living out the values of God’s kingdom.
We are about to embark on a scary journey of change, both in the United Church of Canada and in our Kimberley United Church congregation. We are all new to these changes, and it is scary because we don’t know where we are going. So, I invite all of you Kimberley UC family to join me in this journey of faith and trust. Let us entrust ourselves and our future as a church in God’s hand. We are vulnerable clay jars, but the power of God is in us. Let us not be afraid. Let us trust God more. Let us be transformed into proper ambassadors of God, so we may be able to properly represent God’s kingdom in the world. In Galatians, Paul teaches the fruit of the Spirit; what should and will happen to us if we live in the Spirit of God; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As ambassadors of Christ, let us be joyful, living in Christ. In both good times and bad, the knowledge that God is with us will help us not to despair. Let us be peaceful, kind, faithful, and gentle-hearted towards God and each other. Let us bear the love of God by treating others with compassion and in the spirit of humility. This is how we live as the ambassadors of Christ. And in the knowledge that we are the clay jar containing God’s greatness, let us listen for God’s guidance in our way forward; trusting God, being humble about our achievements, and not being discouraged by our failures. To Isaiah, God said, “I am about to do a new thing. I will create a way through the wilderness, and rivers in the dry lands.” It is God working through us, and no matter how daunting it seems to change the church, God will make a pathway and rivers in the wilderness. Let us not rely on our own understanding; trust God more, be less scared, and follow the Spirit’s guidance.
Rev. Sunny Kim