Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
February 26, 2020, Ash Wednesday
I grow up in Bethlehem, where the majority of Christians are either Eastern Orthodox or Catholic and Lutherans are a minority. Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholics have a significant influence on my faith and culture. For example, during Lent, Easter Orthodox teaches that faithful Orthodox must become vegan. The Catholic Church teaches us to abstain from particular food that we like. At my school, my classmates and I discussed lent a lot. It was the time of the year when we read the ingredient list carefully on our food label. For my classmates and I, the main point of lent was to remain vegan for 40 days.
The apostle Paul teaches us a different way to live out our faith. He does not focus on what to eat, but he calls us to reconcile with God. Reconciliation with God and our neighbor is the main element of Lent. Paul, the ambassador of Jesus Christ, urges the Corinthians and us to reconcile with God through Jesus Christ. He calls us to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. What kind of ministry is this?
Paul uses paradoxical language to explain his point. The reconciliation ministry is based on what Jesus Christ achieves for our sake. “In short, Jesus escapes the stain of sin only to bear it most fully. He embodies sin though sin had not part of his life.” The ministry of reconciliation is about Christ’s sacrificial act of love on the cross to liberate us from sin and death. Through Jesus, we become the righteousness of God (5:20). We become a new creation. God and we are no longer enemies. See, God is on a mission to reconcile the whole world to Godself. Will you be part of this mission?
Paul says that he works with God. He proclaims God’s word to us, urging us to reconcile with God. We are called to proclaim the word of God and to encourage people to reconcile with God, too.
Paul teaches the Corinthians that the acceptable time to involved in this ministry is now. It is at this moment, not later. Paul continues to explain the nature of this ministry. He explains that serving others is an essential part of the reconciliation. We are the message of Christ to the world.
For this reason, the apostle Paul warns us against putting obstacles in our neighbor’s way from receiving this word of reconciliation. The apostle Paul describes the hardship he had to endure to bring the word of reconciliation to the Corinthians and the nations. He had to tolerate “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger” (6:5). This suffering and hardship have produced “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the holiness of spirit, and genuine love” (6:6).
The apostle Paul explains that not everybody will welcome this ministry because it makes people uncomfortable. It moves people from their comfort zone. Paul says that those who reject Christ will reject you and even harm you. But no matter what, we are not better than our Lord Jesus Christ, who underwent suffering and humiliation on the cross for our sake. In our baptism, God entrusted us to share the good news about Jesus Christ and our redemption through his grace. Hardship should not be an excuse for not living our baptismal vocation and calling.
Now is the acceptable time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. Today’s reading introduces lent with the call to reconciliation. Not a call to choose what to give up for Lent, which is not wrong. To reconcile with God and your neighbor is way more important than to give up a particular food. As we start now our Lenten journey, I invite you to be busy with the ministry of reconciliation. Set your mind on serving your neighbor. Set your heart on feeding the hungry and to share Christ's love.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our journey to the cross and, ultimately, to the resurrection. During Lent, we focus more intensely on walking with Jesus and serving our neighbor as he did. I invite you to think of one new way to involve in the ministry of reconciliation. If you need help, ask me. I’m sure that the Holy Spirit will lead you. You might already participate in this ministry. Who knows, God might need you to start a new ministry or to serve in a different capacity.
“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (6:2).