Notes for Passing the Peace
Second Sunday, 01-11-09
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
“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, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 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 people’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 for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
We have started talking about passing the peace in the sense of building a culture of peace within our faith community that is then expressive to the world around us of the peace of God. We started by stating expressly that we desire a posture of peace versus a combative posture with others, specifically moving from trying to influence people from a position of power to an influence that is in line with the scriptural metaphors of salt and yeast.
We’re following that up by talking about a shift from a “persecution complex” being sold in our country today to a realization of our status as ambassadors, with either majority or minority status.
It would be funny to think of Christians as persecuted in our country today, if religious persecution wasn’t such a deadly reality in so many places around the world. Leave it to some American Christians, numbered among the 5% of global consumers who consume an estimated 24% of the world’s resources, to somehow figure themselves victims.
Victims fight for rights, for revenge, for justice for themselves. Ambassadors work create connection, reconciliation, peace… they work for the rights and others. Maybe in many ways the nouns victim and ambassador don’t make complete sense when set up as opposites, but I believe they do a fairly good job of representing the choice we have as Christ followers in our current culture and context in the West. When we choose to be victims we become self-centered, self-interested and self-absorbed. We begin to carry massive chips on our shoulders and to interpret slights against our faith or faithful habits as attacks, a loss of “rights” and a new battle ground on which to make our stand. When we embrace the role of ambassador, as did Christ, as did Saint Paul, and so many others of our historical faith community, we find a new chance to respond to our minority status or at least to the growing cultural dissonance with our public expressions of faith with a new tact, a new level of peace. Victims are humiliated. Ambassadors are humbled.
Saint Paul actually used the word “ambassadors” in our second letter to Corinthians as I believe he immediately spoke about his own work, but also of the work of the Christian community as a whole. I think this flow begins back in the third chapter, at least. In the third chapter he draws a contrast between the will of God written on stone tablets and then written on the living hearts of followers, a contrast between death and lasting righteousness. Theologically he will hang the idea on two points in the fifth chapter: 1) the fact that this life is not the only life or not the paramount expression of life, and also 2) the driving love of Christ. He calls that love “compelling.”
Here’s how I think this all begins to work out… in this world we belong to a kingdom, but we’re not building one. Christ did not come to extend through his followers a new political power base of movers and shakers to dominate the world scene through force of will or arms. Here we are reminded of last week’s scriptural metaphors of salt and yeast. In fact, the kingdom, and it’s influence, would be vastly different, and therefore far more meaningful and lasting than a particular political or civic establishment. We bring life to the dying, that is part of the message of Christ. We bring peace to the hopeless, freedom to the enslaved. These are hallmarks of Christ’s purpose. But we are not called to bring Christian rule. There’s a necessary difference between the reign of Christ and the rule of Christians. Didn’t Jesus renounce the kind of “fighting kingdom” about which Pilate seemed interested? Hmm…
We are also confronted with the imperative to be led by and formed by the compelling love of Christ. In other words, when a Christian confronts anyone and/or responds to any situation out of disgust, hatred, envy, apathy, racism, vengeance, superiority, lust, self-interest or pride they are on the wrong track. This compelling love of Christ is not a pithy Hallmark card slogan, but it is a real and difficult challenge for a “nation of ambassadors” to carry out in the arenas and times of both domestic and international conflict and even relative tranquility.
A people without an understanding of and a commitment to the kingdom priorities of reconciliation and love will quite naturally have a hard time with “speaking the truth in love.” In fact, I think we have often had a hard time doing this thing. Popular alternatives that I’ve seen have tended to look like “speaking the truth with tough love,” or when we are feeling particularly righteous, “speaking the truth and loving it.”
We have to embrace our ambassadorial status to go and make the connections in the world that lead us to being a people of reconciliation. I’m praying for the day that followers of Christ are not known in our hemisphere for who they hate. I pray for the day that fringe groups of our faith, no matter how small or marginal, have stopped making “God hates Fags” signs. I pray for the day that my own understanding of that compelling love has moved me deeper into relationships of reconciliation with my neighbors, maybe the ones I’ve thought would be the least interested in Christ’s message of peace. There can be a kingdom in this world that while being faithful to God is extending and sharing the divine peace with all the fellow travelers along our roads. Bet on it.