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. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21, NIV)
When I would read this passage I would often center in on the word ambassador. For me, an ambassador was someone who represented a country and it’s government in a foreign land. As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ and our message and our mission is reconciliation. We are called to engage the world and implore it to be reconciled to Christ and to one another. Again, for me, this took on the tone of me speaking.
While I still believe in my understanding of an ambassador and that an ambassador takes time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation by speaking- I have come to see that the primary role of the ambassador, and thus a Christian, is listening. An ambassador to a nation has to study the customs, and the habits in order to know where the ministry of reconciliation intersects the culture. An ambassador is a student of the culture. I believe a good ambassador knows the story of the people he/she has been sent to because they have listened well and taken the time to walk with the people they have been sent to. Knowing the stories of our community draws us deeper into relationships and further along in the process of reconciliation.
If we are to engage in the ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors, then we must become engaged listeners of the stories of those we are sent to.
In our 24 hour news twitter-verse we (and our congregants) are more apt to shout out our beliefs rather than sitting across from one another listening to each other’s stories over coffee. I believe that sitting across from one another knee-to-knee and listening ultimately leads us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder doing the work of the kingdom: Reconciliation.
The community I grew up in did not have a lot of racial diversity. I heard every kind of slur and, regretfully, I used every kind of slur in arguments and on the playgrounds. My perception of people who were different than me were based on caricatures and stereotypes. Because of this, I was/am broken and sinful in my views of the other. I began to experience reconciliation through various people in my life who loved me, got to know me and allowed me to get to know them, and rather than the caricature I was able to see the unique, made-in-God’s-image individuals that we all are.
I am grateful for the people in my life who have invited me into their story given me the opportunity to listen and understand. I am honored by the role we have as clergy to listen to those who are searching for God and to invite them to be reconciled as we are given permission to enter their lives. If we hope to experience reconciliation in our communities then we must learn to listen to one another’s stories and experiences in order to seek understanding.