Today we are kicking off our fourth annual “Hope Month.” This is a month every year where we talk about how God is healing one of what we call the “six broken places of the world” and how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to join him in that work.
It’s been a minute since we’ve talked about the six broken places, so I think it’s worth mentioning what they are.
In short, the six broken places are the realities we see when we look around that tell us “this is not the way things were meant to be.”
For example, when we see injustice - people taking advantage of one another, poverty, hunger, and inequality - we know this isn’t right. This world is broken.
When we see hatred - racism and classism and dehumanization - we know this is not what’s best for humanity.
When we see isolation - people alone or outcast from community - something has broken down.
Or how about the decay of our planet? Pollution and species extinction and man-made climate change - we are rapidly breaking God’s beautiful creation.
And of course, we see pain. Physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain… cancer, anxiety, pandemics, suicide… humanity itself - our very bodies are broken.
But there’s good news. God is in the business of healing all this brokenness. Through Jesus he’s healing pain, he’s establishing justice, overcoming hatred with love, and so on… That’s what God is up to in our world.
And that is what Hope Month is all about. Digging in to how God is healing these broken places of our world and exploring how we can be a part of that healing.
In past Hope Months we’ve talked about hatred and isolation and decay. But this year, we’re going to talk about the sixth (or maybe the first) of all the broken places: the granddaddy of all them all. The reason there’s brokenness in the first place.
I’m talking about humanity’s separation from God. We, as a species, have fallen away from who God intended us - created us - to be.
Our relationship with our Creator has broken down.
And as a result of that separation we’ve broken the world. We hate, we perpetuate injustice, we trash this planet, we hurt people and isolate them…
It’s that broken relationship that leads to all the others.
If we ever want to see this broken world become what it was meant to be, we have to deal with our separation from God.
But just like with the other broken places, I have good news. God is healing our separation from him. And we get to be a part of that healing.
And that is what we’re going to explore this Hope Month.
So let’s dig into it. How do we heal separation from God?
To find an answer to that question, we’re going to look at something the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. So grab a Bible, and turn with me to
2 Corinthians 5:16.
While you’re turning there, I want to give you just a little bit of context. Paul and the Church in Corinth had a bit of a rocky relationship.
The reason he wrote this letter was because people in Corinth were starting to doubt his authority. And as a result, they were starting to doubt his message about Jesus.
And so Paul says, “hold up. The stuff I taught you wasn’t just some new-fangled philosophy. I’m explaining to you the very fabric of our reality. Including your relationship to the Creator of life.”
Here’s what he says:
2 Corinthians 5:16-18
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.
Alright, let’s stop right there for a second.
The key here is verse 18. “…a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.” The implication is that he brought us back from somewhere.
So where were we? Well, we were separated from him. Apart. Distant.
Next week I’m going to walk you through the grand story of God’s redemption of humanity. How we got separated from Him in the first place and what he did to bring us back.
But for now, I’ll just give you a quick thumbnail version.
God made this creation to be a very good place. And he intended humanity to dwell here in love and peace and abundance.
But we had other plans. We chose to separate ourself from our Creator. We rebelled against God’s good intentions.
God wanted peace, we chose violence.
God wanted abundance, we chose greed.
God wanted equality, we chose injustice.
We were designed to be representatives of God’s purity and order and life, but we chose to become slaves to our own animalistic lusts and lurid passions and selfish impulses. We separated ourselves from God.
All of this rebellion is what we call Sin - our rejection of what God desires for us.
And again, out of this rejection - this sin - flowed all the broken places of our world. Hatred, pain, isolation…
Now, I talk about this like it’s all in the distant past, but this is the human condition, isn’t it?
I mean, just take a second to think about the brokenness you’ve seen in your world this year (this month, this week).
Think about the lives around you completely driven by selfishness. Or those you love who are spiraling into despair. Think about the abuse and pain and violence you see day after day.
This is what happens when humanity is separated from God.
But that’s not the end of the story. Again, look at verse 18. God “brought us back to himself through Christ.” Past tense. It happened.
What’s he talking about? Well, on the cross, Jesus took onto himself all the consequences of our rebellion and sin. He experienced death for us. The ultimate separation from God.
But then God raised Christ from the dead, he defeated death’s power, and gave all of humanity a doorway to a new kind of life where that separation from God would end.
Look back at verse 17. “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.”
Literally Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ… New Creation!” That’s what the Greek says.
In other words, the old creation - this universe and everything in it - is defined by human rebellion and brokenness and death.
But God’s new creation - what he began with the body of Christ risen from that grave - is defined by life and a healing of our separation from God. In Christ we are now face to face with our Creator again. Just as God intended it to be.
And that new creation is available now to anyone who belongs to Christ. “The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
The broken place of separation from God is being healed - in my life, in your life, in the life of anyone who chooses to follow in the footsteps of our Savior. And because of that, all the other broken places of our world (the pain, the hatred, the isolation) can start to heal as well.
Humanity has separated ourselves from God but He is bringing us back through Christ.
So that’s amazing. That’s great news. We can become new people. Our old, selfish lives don’t define us. The broken places of our lives can be healed. That’s what God is doing. That’s what God has done.
So how do we participate in that? I mean, I can understand how we might help out with healing injustice or decay, right? But how do we join in healing separation from God? Salvation from sin is his job, isn’t it?
Well, let’s keep reading, because Paul gives us an answer.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Alright, so there’s our answer. God is healing separation. He’s bringing us back to himself through Christ.
But look at what we just read: he has given us the task of reconciling people to him. He gave us this “message of reconciliation.” Verse 20: God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ…
In other words, there are two truths:
Truth #1 - People are separated from God (rebellion, sin, brokenness, death, all of it)
Truth #2 - God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ (v.19, no longer counting people’s sins against them)
Two fundamental truths. People are separated. God is reconciling.
And it is our job to help the people around us make those truths connect. “Come back to God! It’s possible now!”
This is the good news of Jesus. That’s what the word “gospel” means. Good news. And good news is meant to be shared.
God is making his appeal through us.
Ah, but right here is the point where a lot of us get a tight feeling in our throat. Because, “Oh no… Barry you’re talking about evangelism, aren’t you?”
And immediately our mind is filled with images of people going door to door with pamphlets (and everyone inside pretending not to be home).
Or angry street preachers yelling into a microphone about the end of the world while everybody laughs at them.
Or awkward, embarrassing moments where you are trying to figure out how to inject God into the conversation.
Or maybe your mind goes to darker places. You think of the times you’ve seen people claiming to be speaking for God but they’re sharing a message of judgementalism and hatred and exclusion.
Maybe you think of the many, many, many, many people who have been hurt by the Church. People you love and care about who want nothing to do with Jesus because of how his followers have behaved.
If that’s what comes to mind when you think about “evangelism” or “sharing the good news,” then I don’t blame you if you don’t want to be associated with it. Because I don’t either.
So what do we do?
People are separated from God. We see the pain and loss and brokenness in the people we care about. The addiction, the self-hatred, the rage, the greed, the pain… We know they were made for more than this.
People are separated from God. At the same time, God is reconciling people to himself.
So how do we help our friends and neighbors and family members connect these truths when the credibility gap is so wide?
Well, that is what this series is all about. That’s why we have Hope Month. Because the brokenness of our world can be pretty overwhelming.
But there is hope.
So today, I just want to plant the seed of an idea that we’ll develop throughout this month. A way to take this overwhelming responsibility of God “making his appeal through us” and make it simple.
It’s something we’ve talked about at Grace before: the concept of Your ‘one’
Rather than thinking of all the hurting people in your world who are distant from God, all the people you pass on the street… who is one person that you feel God’s Spirit has placed deeply in your heart?
A coworker, a family member, a classmate… Who is your ‘one’ that you long to be reconciled with God? Think of their name. Think of their face.
What would it look like for you to dedicate yourself to helping heal their separation from God?
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Uh, Barry I thought we already covered that evangelism makes us queasy. You have no idea how hostile they are to Christianity.”
Or. “You don’t know the kind of stuff they’re into. They are not open to spiritual conversations. The idea of talking to them about God makes me want to vomit.”
I get it. I get it.
But what if, instead of knocking on their door with pamphlets in your hand - instead of shouting into a microphone… what if there was another way?
Another way to help your ‘one’ come back to their Creator…
Well I think there is. And it’s right here in verse 20. Take a look.
Paul says that in this whole business of reconciliation that we are “Christ’s ambassadors.”
What’s an ambassador? Well,
Ambassador - an authorized representative of another
Think of an American ambassador to a foreign country. What do they do? Well, two things.
First, they represent our country to that one. And second, they represent that country to ours.
Back in Paul’s day, if Caesar sent an ambassador from Rome to Parthia, that ambassador spoke with the authority of Caesar himself. He represented Roman values and customs and interests in a foreign land.
At the same time, that ambassador represented Parthia back to Caesar. This is what they want. This is what they need. This is what they’re asking for.
What if you were God’s ambassador to your ‘one’?
What if that’s how you looked at it? Well just like a foreign ambassador, you’d do two things..
First, You represent God to your ‘one.’ You are God’s authorized representative in their lives.
What does that look like? Well, if God is sending you to them, then it means you’ve got to move into their lives.
And as you do, you act like your king. You represent the values and customs of your home country. And what is your home country? The kingdom of God.
As Paul says elsewhere, we are “citizens of heaven.”
Where we come from, we offer grace to those who are broken. Love is the law of the land. We are generous. We are forgiving. We are humble. We give of ourselves to lift others up. That’s who we are.
If you are God’s ambassador to your ‘one,’ then start by demonstrating the culture of your home country. Don’t worry about words. Worry about action.
Genuine love and compassion is what bridges the credibility gap more than anything else.
There are dozens of things you can do for your ‘one’ to represent the values of our king without ever busting out the four spiritual laws. Without ever getting into theological arguments.
Focus on living out the radical, self-giving love of Christ in their lives – act like Jesus to them - and let them be surprised by hope. As the Apostle Peter says,
1 Peter 3:15
You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.
“Why am I acting like this? Why do I love you? Well, I was separated from God but he brought me back through Jesus. And you can come back too.”
You are Christ’s ambassador to your ‘one.’ Represent your king well. But remember: an ambassador has two jobs. You represent God to your ‘one,’ but also:
You represent your ‘one’ to God.
What do they need? What are they struggling with? What are the obstacles standing in their way?
You are Christ’s ambassador to them. Which means you are authorized to walk right into the throne room of God and ask him to do something about it. That’s your job!
I know you care about your ‘one.’ Your heart breaks for their pain, for their anger, for their isolation… You care. They wouldn’t be your ‘one’ if you didn’t.
So be encouraged. God has sent you to them because he is working to bring them home and he wants you to be a part of it.
You are Christ’s ambassador. Represent well the values of God’s kingdom. And don’t stop bringing your ‘one’ to God in prayer.
The words will come in time. For now, let your actions and the cry of your heart to God do the talking.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself surprised by hope.