If Not Us, Then Who?

I preached at my home congregation in Kent, CT this past weekend.  I was trying to pack light (ha) so I didn’t bring any study bibles, commentaries or lectionary resources.  Just my bible.  Just a bible in my preaching class would have dropped me at least one letter grade.  It was a little bit scary, but a brilliant person reminded me that I am merely a vessel that God speaks through.  If I just opened myself up to infinite possibilities, the sermon would come. (Thanks, Pema!!)

Here is the text and sermon.
II Corinthians 5:16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

IF NOT US, THEN WHO?

In 2006, Bon Jovi released a song titled, Who Says You Can’t Go Home. In it he sings,
Every step I take, I know that I’m not alone
You take the home from the boy but not the boy from his home
These are my streets, the only life I’ve ever known
Who says you can’t go home?
Who says you can’t go home?
There’s only one place that call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rollin’ stone
Who says you can’t go home?
I think about this song every time I am back in Kent; driving up Main Street, getting coffee at the Villager, running into people I know at the IGA, trying to find enough bars of cell phone service to send one single text message and – most strikingly – when I stand behind this pulpit. Bon Jovi was right; I can come home. This is my home; these are my streets; this is my church; this is my family; and it is wonderful to be here.

I was telling the deacons on Thursday night that we are coming down the homestretch with my ordination process. In December I completed a two-day psychological assessment and career counseling session, I have an interview this coming Thursday with Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta about a summer Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE) position, I have started gathering my references for my Ministerial Profile and I will submit my ordination papers next month or the following. The CPE program that I hope to get into will last through the middle of August and – if all goes well – I will start looking for a church position in September. It is an exciting time, but it is also a very scary time – and I ask for your prayers as I navigate the next couple of months and enter into a time of transition.

This semester I am taking a course called Chaplaincy in a Multi-Religious Context. The woman teaching it is an ordained United Methodist elder, she is the head of the Judiciary Council for the United Methodist Church and she is the University Chaplain for all of Emory University. My class has been looking at some of the major religious traditions represented across the country and we are getting ready to start to circumnavigate how these religious traditions interact with one another and how chaplains minister to a diverse group of people. We were asked to interview someone who is currently ministering to people in a multi-religious environment and then report back. I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with the only female chaplain at West Point, Major Chaplain Julie Rowan, so on Wednesday I spent the day hearing her story and finding out what it means to minister to our nation’s military … and to our friend’s overseas.

In 2005 & 2006, Chaplain Rowan spent 13 months in Afghanistan with a battalion from the Eisenhower Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia. She told me that her ministry was multifaceted; she worked with doctors, nurses and patients – both American soldiers and the local national Afghani people. She said that in addition to her work at the hospital, she arranged humanitarian missions outside of the city that they were in, bringing basic hygiene and medical supplies to the local nationals in need. It was not an easy mission; there were language barriers, cultural barriers and she was a female leader in a male dominated society – but she said it was a worthy ministry and it had a powerful impact on her and on the soldiers that she took wit her.

Chaplain Rowan felt the presence of God as she extended a hand of friendship to the local nationals in need in Afghanistan. She saw Gospel message come alive when she tended to the families of the local nationals injured and brought to the Army medical hospital. “All of our inhibitions, all of the walls of our differences came down,” she said. “And we found common ground – hope, faith and love.”

I asked her if – 14 years later – she had any regrets about her decision to join the army and she smiled and shook her head. “This makes you a better person,” she said. “There is so much to get from this experience. Who else is doing it? You are.”

“Who else? You are.”

I thought about this on my ride back to Kent on Wednesday night. If not her, then who?

If not me, then who?

Now, this is not my way of telling you all that I am joining the army. Rather, this is my way of looking at the Gospel message, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; looking at who I am as a Christian and what I am being called to do and asking myself, “If not me, then who?”

If not us, then who?

We are entering a critical time in the life of the Christian Church. We are no longer hearing about the baby Jesus in the manger, or the teenage Jesus in the temple or the carpenter Jesus or the Jesus who went against the grain of society and healed the sick and reached out to the marginalized. We are getting ready for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We are building the Holy Trinity; when we say the words of the Apostle’s Creed, He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, we are talking about this moment in the life of the Christian Church. In this morning’s epistle, Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer that way.”

Jesus the man is now Jesus the Christ; this is why we are who we are as Christians, this is what it is all about.

But the crucifixion was not some random act of violence; we see now that there was a purpose, that there was a reason. Jesus the man had shown us what it means to be a vessel of God’s ministry and now we are called to go against the grain of society and heal the sick and reach out to the marginalized. We are called to give back to this church and to this community, to love our neighbors and support one another. We are called to feed the children of Teupasenti and to send Easter baskets to Covenant to Care. We are called to give as we are able to One Great Hour of Sharing and to the Deacon’s fund so that monies are available to people in need.

Because … if not us, then who?

Paul’s letter to the church goes on to say, “All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

So we are ambassadors for Christ.”

If not us, then who?

People usually talk about the miracle of Easter being the empty tomb – the resurrection – but I think the real miracle is that God handed over to humanity the ministry of reconciliation, that God called and calls us all to be ambassadors for Christ, that every single day God works through us and within us as we continue the ministry of Jesus Christ.

We are all ministers. Look at the back of your bulletin. My mom doesn’t get the top billing, we all do.

Because … if not us, then who?

When I asked Chaplain Rowan how she was received as a female chaplain in a male dominated society by the Afghani families she saw at the hospital, she said that she and her superiors were surprised at how welcomed she was both as a woman and as a leader. “But I was their only hope,” she went on to say.

Because … if not her, then who?

My pastor in Georgia often uses a benediction that ends with her saying, “May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.” This is what Paul is talking about his letter to the Corinthians; we are called to be ambassadors for Christ.

So – may we see the face of Christ in everyone we meet and may everyone we meet see the face of Christ in us.

Because … if not us, then who?

Amen.

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