(2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6: 10)
Procrastination and avoidance. Two things I do well. Not because I like to, but more because I’d rather put off those things I don’t like to do, those things I know will be unpleasant. Procrastination and avoidance were real problems for me back when I practiced law, and it didn’t matter if I was in private practice or was a prosecutor. I’d get a phone message that someone wanted to talk to me, and I’d have a pretty good idea what it was about. More likely than not, they were calling to complain about the handling of their case, or to see if I did what I told them I would do, which I hadn’t because I’m a procrastinator. There’s always something you’d much rather be doing and just talking to a person such as this will only ruin your day. One of the things they used to tell us at legal seminars was to never go home without first returning all of your phone calls. That was hard and having these conversations was something you really wanted to avoid, to put off to a better, more convenient time. The problem was there was no better, more convenient time. There was no time like the present.
And that’s what the Apostle Paul is trying to get across to the Corinthian believers. He’s making an appeal to them to stop procrastinating and get reconciled to God before it’s too late. Stop putting it off, stop avoiding it, there is no time like the present. He says; 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. As we know from previous sermons, the city of Corinth was a very metropolitan city. It was a seaport, a center for trade, and not far from Athens. There was a lot going on and plenty of distractions for the believers which caused them to put off or procrastinate in their decision to make a firm commitment for Christ, to change their lifestyle. This was very frustrating for Paul as he struggled to make them see what they were missing in their avoidance. He’s telling them, and us, that God sent Jesus who knew no sin, to take our sin, so that through his sacrifice we might be reconciled with God and receive his righteousness. Paul continues; As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the Grace of God in vain. He’s telling them not to take this offer of salvation lightly as the time is coming when it might be too late. He quotes the prophet Isaiah where the Lord said: At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you. Paul is saying that now is the time, don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. The day of salvation is upon you!
You can almost hear the desperation in Paul’s voice as he all but pleads with them to listen to what he’s saying. He says that they have not put any obstacles in their way to prevent them from doing what they ought to do. He says that as servants of God he and his followers have done everything they can to expose them to the truth, and that no fault can be found with their ministry. Paul says that even when the going got tough with imprisonments, beatings, hardships and other calamities, by the power of God through knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, and genuine love they are still alive and working hard to bring the gospel of Christ to the world, to them, for their salvation.
And that, I believe, is why we observe Lent each year. It’s a reminder to us that the day of salvation is closer than we think, a reminder that we shouldn’t put off any longer our decision to be reconciled with God through Christ. When we trust in Christ, we make an exchange, our sin for his righteousness. We’re giving up our worthless sin, our lost lives, for his invaluable righteousness, a life of meaning and value in Christ. And if you are a believer, you are a minister for God. You are an ambassador of Jesus Christ sent with his message of reconciliation to the world. This ambassadorship brings with it an important responsibility to live Christ-like lives to the watching and skeptical world. In the course of each day, we need to be mindful that non-Christians are watching our every move. And we must be careful not to let our careless or undisciplined actions be another person’s excuse for rejecting Christ, for putting off their embracing of the Word and being reconciled to God the Father.
And during these difficult times we need to take our cue from Paul who realized that his current circumstances weren’t as important as what he did with them. He worked to turn bad, less than optimal situations into good ones, into teachable moments, into opportunities to save the lost. The Covid-19 pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to shine as a church, to excel as ambassadors for Christ. Being quarantined and not having in-person worship for almost a year now has caused us to re-examine ourselves and explore new ways of doing things in our efforts to bring reconciliation with God. Like Paul, you can look for new ways to demonstrate your faith, even in bad situations. And whether or not the situation improves, your faith will grow stronger and be a beacon of light and hope.
It’s during this time of Lent when we reaffirm Christ’s sacrifice for us, his beloved brothers and sisters, where he became as it were, a sinner for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God, that is, a justified and righteous people belonging to God in Christ. And what a difference it makes to know Jesus as he cares for us in spite of what the world may think. As Christians we don’t have to give in to public opinion and pressure, as in our freedom, they have no hold on us. So, don’t let circumstances or public expectations control you. Don’t procrastinate and put off to tomorrow what you need to do today. There is no time like the present to become the righteousness of God.
Please pray with me.
Gracious and loving God, we praise you for your unconditional love for us, your children, and we give thanks for your tender mercies. The depth and greatness of your love is difficult for us to comprehend as you sent us your son, who was without sin, to take our sins upon himself to reconcile us to you so that we might experience your righteousness. Move us to live lives pleasing to you and, through the guidance of your Holy Spirit, present us with opportunities where we can be your ambassadors leading the lost to you for their salvation. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.