First Congregational Church
March 30, 2014
Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Broken Justice Restored"
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So what do you call an arrogant thief falling from a building? Condescending. Did you hear that the Energizer Bunny was arrested? He was charged with battery. What was the charge when Ole threw sodium chloride at Sven? A salt. A lawyer was interviewing his plaintiff, and the conversation went like this.
Lawyer: Tell us about the fight. Witness: I didn't see no fight. Lawyer: Well, tell us what you did see. Witness: I went to a dance at the Turner house, and as the folks swung around and changed partners, they would slap each other, and one fellow hit harder than the other one liked, and so the other one hit back and somebody pulled a knife and someone else drew a six-shooter and another guy came up with a rifle that had been hidden under a bed, and the air was filled with yelling and smoke and bullets. Lawyer: You, too were shot in the fracas? Witness: No sir, I was shot midway between the fracas and the navel.
This morning we continue the Lenten series on Brokenness. It began with the brokenness of vessels/people, and the woman who broke and poured out a jar of perfume on Jesus’ head. Week two dealt with the story of Judas breaking his trust with Jesus. Last week time was spent on broken promises and the incident of Peter’s promises to be faithful to Jesus and the rooster’s crowing revelation of the broken promises. In dealing with all these rather personal and close topics, it wasn’t just about the brokenness, but about how Christ’s life, death and resurrection restores our brokenness.
While the first three sermons used the gospels of Mark and Matthew, this morning we meander over to one of the famous letters written by the apostle Paul to the churches in Corinth. In Paul’s day, there were some 750,000 people in Corinth, perhaps mostly because it was on the north-south trade route, and from east to west, it was only four miles, versus the 200 miles to sail around the island of Peloponnese. The incredible trading routes also brought many different faith practices, although the main temple was to the Greek goddess, Artemis. Most of the people that became Christians in Corinth were from the middle and lower economic classes, and they had trouble leaving their old lives behind them.
As I’ve been “observing” the threads of communication in the last six months or so, for some reason, there seems to be a resurgence of women and their roles in ministry and life. This morning’s message is not to stand on a soapbox to defend women’s rights. But part of the message is to understand the culture at the time, and how the apostles were trying to raise up the early Christians.
One way to get people to notice you is to do something drastically different. So we’ve been through the eras of big hair and permed hair, bell-bottoms and skinny legged jeans, Goth and preppy. In a sense, the apostle Paul was trying to get the early Christians to “stand out” by not doing things like everyone else.
To get people back then to “notice” Christians, the apostles told the followers to cover their heads, or to be respectful, or any of the other “behaviors” that have been pulled out of contexts. To fix the broken ways of how they treated each other, new ways needed to be implemented for the time, so that through following Christ, that which sin had broken - could be restored. That is why all the cultural education of the day is needed in the hearing of this morning’s scripture.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 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. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 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. 20 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. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Thank you, Bob. At the first reading of this passage, I sort of glossed over the word “ambassadors,” but one of my old commentary buddies, William Barclay, brought the word to life, even though he wrote this in 1952, hence all the pronouns “he.” He said, “There is no more responsible position than that of an ambassador. An ambassador of Britain is a Briton in a foreign land. His life is spent among people who usually speak a different language, who have a different tradition and who follow a different way of life. The Christian is always like that. He lives in the world; he takes part in all the life and work of the world; but he is a citizen of heaven.” “The honour of a country is in its ambassador's hands. His country is judged by him. His words are listened to, his deeds are watched and people say, "That is the way such-and-such a country speaks and acts."
Remember that most of the new Christians in Corinth were middle and lower class citizens. Thinking of themselves as an ambassador was a crazy as, say, both Michigan and Michigan State basketball teams making it into the elite eight bracket. Better yet, it would be like me, running for president of the United States. Sure, the potential is there, but seriously….
Seriously, God always saw the Corinthian people as honored and beloved, but they couldn’t see it for themselves. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a way to help them - and us - see the depth of love and honor that God has for us - that God would give up God’s own son for us to see it.
There is a little video clip on the internet of a woman filming a guy driving too close behind her. Before the story even starts, there are all kinds of wrong: filming a video while driving - in the left lane of a four lane highway. Despite all her excuses, basically she was not driving very politely. As they say, it is what it is, so we have this little two minute clip that catches the young man behind her, eventually passing her on her right side, slowing down in the same lane so that he can pass her again, but this time with a little sign-language, if you catch my drift.
As the young man pulls up in front of the lady again, not watching his own driving, he swerved to keep from hitting a bendable divider pole, overcompensated the swerve, hitting another divider pole, skidding out to 180 degrees, running backward into the opposite ditch, across two lanes of on-coming traffic. Some people use the word karma, others use justice, but I’m pretty sure that whatever a person calls it, that young man probably won’t do that little stunt again.
I will point out that although the word “justice” is in today’s sermon title, it is not found in the scripture passage. But listen how Merriam Webster defines it. “the maintenance or administration of what is just - especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Since that is a mouth-full, I’ll repeat it. “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments."
Too often, churches, ministers, well-meaning individuals “preach” about the punishment part, and give little more than passing thought to the maintenance or administration of what is just” - like reminding each other that we have a royal brother, which makes us princes and princesses of the most high God. The longer I look at what God has given us in Christ and in God’s word, the more it seems that it is about restoring the brokenness and oppression that has ruled us for so long. The truth is that while a broken justice system put Jesus on the cross, his resurrection and ascension back to God restored us all to being members of a royal priesthood and ambassadors in a weary land.
In related terms, from somewhere in the back closet of my memory, there is a definition of justification, which is a term from the legal system, that means “just as if it (sin) never happened.” From a file I stashed away a long time ago, “Justice us when you get what you deserve. Mercy is when you don't get what you deserve. Grace is when you get what you don't deserve.” And from Paul, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
Paul tells us that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Most of us could come up with Merriam Webster’s definition of reconcile: “to cause people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.” But that is not the first definition. That one is, “to find a way of making (two different ideas, facts, etc.) exist or be true at the same time.” There are so many folks that need to be reminded that they are of great value to God, because they are beloved. There are so many hurting hearts that need us to help them see that while the way may be dark, Christ is the light of the world. And there are so many ready to give up on God and/or Christianity, that our openness, encouragement and embrace is the breath of fresh air that will help them live into their new creation.
For such an high calling, we should most definitely pray. Holy and Great God, you have given us a great calling. We do our best work when you enable and empower us, so we ask for extra measures of those things. Give us energy to reach out to those needing your love, especially when we don’t feel so energetic or so lovely ourselves. Help us to not regard anyone from a worldly view, but from your view, no matter how good - or not so good - he or she might be. And thank you, God, for so loving us that you have gone to a great length to give us justice, mercy and grace. Thank you for the love that gave us Christ and restored us to your intended life for us - at least as much as is possible - until we return to eternity with you. For all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.