Friday, March 30, 2012


For the first time in nearly two weeks, I sit in Japan, with a reliable wi-fi signal, and with enough mental energy to write. The last two weeks have been a wild ride, as exactly two weeks ago, I was packing so that I could leave for Thailand early the next morning.

The Senior Council chose "Ambassadors 24-7" as their theme for devotions during the week--something to focus their interactions with those who we would encounter over the course of the week. Several Senior Council reps had approached me about a month ago and asked if I would be willing to give the message on Sunday (our first full day at the Maekok River Village Resort), to set the tone for the weeks' devotions.

So, I devoted several weeks' worth of thought to the concept of ambassadorship: what does it mean for humans to be ambassadors, what does it mean for me to be an ambassador and then most importantly, what does it mean for the Seniors to be ambassadors?

I started to commit my thoughts to writing several days before leaving, and did a good amount of typing on the plane to Bangkok. Here are the detailed notes for the reflection that I gave (a rough approximation of what I said; I try to push myself to speak extemporaneously and so deviated from my notes at several points, and the wording was largely different from what you see here):

2nd Corinthians 5: 17-21:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. 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. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

How many of you have heard this from your parents before?

“Your behavior was an embarrassment to this family!”

or perhaps the preemptive,

“Please don’t embarrass this family!”

I remember one time when I heard something like this. It was during my sophomore year of high school, during a Spring Choir Concert. So, almost exactly 10 years ago. At this particular concert, I had a friend who was sitting in the front row, right up close to the risers. He decided that it would be funny to try and make me laugh while I was on stage with the Concert Choir, trying to sing. So, he started making faces. I tried my best not to look at him, to look at the director instead, but eventually I did break into silent, shaking laughter during a particularly somber piece. Embarrassed, I vowed revenge. During the next song, I made faces... horrible, grotesque and silly faces while I was singing, occasionally looking my friend square in the eyes. I felt a sense of satisfaction when he had to bury his face in his hands while people around him glared at his disruptive laughter in annoyance. However, my shenanigans had not gone unnoticed:

On the car ride home, my mother turned to the backseat and said to me

“Tonight, you were an embarrassment to this family!”

I remember thinking at the time, “why should she care? It’s not like she was the one who people were staring at. If she did something dumb, then she’d have the right to be embarrassed, but why should I be charged with embarrassing her when it was me on stage and not her?”

Perhaps the answer is more obvious to you than it was to the 16-year-old me. You see, I simply could not comprehend the fact that people would watch my behavior and make assumptions about my parents, about my family.

“That Gibson boy’s acting weird again... must run in the genes.”

“He must not be getting enough attention at home and so he needs to make a scene in public!”

“That boy’s parents obviously didn’t know how to teach him good manners!”

...that kind of talk. You see, just by the fact that I was their son, I represented my parents, my family, in just about everything I did. My successes always came back to my parents as complements. My failures always came back as embarrassments.

Like it or not, just by being me, I am an ambassador for my family. Same for you in your family.

There are three truths that I would like to bring before you this morning and the first is this:

  1. As humans, we are all ambassadors for someone else.

We can talk about non-conformity and individualism all we want, but here’s the reality: unless you live alone in a cave out in the woods and never interact with anybody else, you are an ambassador. You represent the values and interests of someone else as the world watches. Our lives are dense with connections, and those connections make us ambassadors, representatives in ways that we might not even realize. So, let’s unpack this. Who are we ambassadors for? Who do we represent? Gonna do the teacher thing here: turn to the person next to you and in 30 seconds, just share 4 or 5 different people or groups who you represent.

Okay, let’s hear what you’ve got:

(let students contribute ideas to form a list)

As you can tell, there are a lot of levels to our ambassadorship, so many connections that we have and opportunities to represent others. It is fundamental to our nature as human beings to reflect, to represent, to ambassador for someone else. We don’t get to choose whether or not we are ambassadors, though we do get to choose how we handle the responsibility. Out of all of these connections and relationships that make up the fabric of our lives, one stands out as being the most important...

This brings me to the second truth, that...

Point 2: We are all ambassadors of Christ

2 layers:

-Generally, as human image-bearers of God.

Mostly this is what Bible class has been about... the whole “Creation” thing and living up to the purpose for which God created us. This is the idea that we bear the unmistakable stamp of God’s workmanship, and not only his workmanship, but his likeness, and that whether or not we or others identify it in these terms, we represent Christ with every single breath we take. Very philosophical, and actually a lot more philosophical than I care to dive this morning.

-I know that for me, it’s easy to stay in this zone of philosophical and seemingly abstract ideas as I teach, and it’s easy to overlook what is obvious and concrete. The second layer is the one that I wish to focus in on this morning... so yes, I do believe that we’re ambassadors of Christ in a general sense, but we’re also ambassadors of Christ in a very specific, concrete sense as members of the CAJ community.

A lot of people who we meet this week only know this much about us: we’re a group from the Christian Academy in Japan. You’re used to the name; you’ve gotten into the rhythm of going to school each day and even simply abbreviating our school’s name to CAJ. But when you back up and look at it with fresh eyes, it’s all there in the name: Each of us is a representative of Christian Academy in Japan, and there are so many implications to this.

First, we are representing Japan. This became so obvious last year when literally everyone at the resort looked to US for some idea of what to do when the earthquake hit in Myanmar on last year’s trip. Like we were experts or something! But they knew we were from Japan and made what must have seemed to be logical assumptions about us. It reminds me of the poems you wrote for me last year in which you talked back against the stereotypes that people might make about you. Yes, I’m from Japan; no, I can’t feel the ground and predict an earthquake.

We are representing international schools. One thing I truly treasure in your class is the diversity: within your numbers, there are so many different heritages represented: Japanese, Korean, American, Canadian, New Zealand, Filipino, Indian, and if I’m missing any others, I apologize. What people think and believe about these other countries, and perhaps even international schools may be shaped by how they see you--the interactions that others witness, the words that others hear you speak.

Finally, and most importantly, we are representing Christ. Paul says as much in the excerpt from the letter to the Corinthians that I read.

Taking a closer look back at verse 20:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Paul knew this was true of this fledgling Christian community in Corinth, and it is true of any community which identifies itself as Christian: we are ambassadors of Christ!

Now perhaps some of you are thinking, “Agggh, I didn’t sign up for this and I don’t want this responsibility.” Doesn’t being a part of any community carry responsibilities along with it? Doesn’t simply living in community mean that you have a duty to represent that community fairly? I mean, what could happen if we were careless or unintentional about how we represent our community?

To refer again back to another term I taught you in English and Humanities last year, the label of Christian has a lot of different connotations to it. Depending on who you speak to, “Christian” may evoke feelings of admiration and respect. It may also evoke feelings of bitterness and resentment. We know full well what behaviors and words can lead to each perception. I’ve heard both sides from others. I enjoy traveling and some of my most peaceful and relaxed moments come in meandering through Narita airport as I wait to board, or in simply sitting and enjoying a long flight. Inevitably when I travel, I have conversations with new people who are always curious to know why I live in Japan. If I tell them that I teach at a Christian school, the responses range from “Oh, like a missionary school? I’ve heard that missionaries have dedicated so much to helping out in the areas most damaged by the tsunami.” Other times, it’s simply ended the conversation, and the other person acts like they hadn’t been talking to me. There can easily be a perception of severity, of legalism, of judgment. And ultimately, of hypocrisy. We know how damaging hypocrisy is in a community, how damaging our limited human concept of judgment is. You know what? This happens at CAJ. I won’t try to pretend otherwise. But you know where else it happens? Every Christian school. It’s a struggle that just about every Christian community faces at some point because people are broken and a lot of the time, that is just really tough to admit. However, is that the end of the story? Is that all there is to CAJ? Of course not! We know that our community has a deep capacity to care, to enfold, to encourage. It was very interesting and somewhat surreal to have the accreditation team tell us in an official report several weeks ago that one of our strengths was indeed how caring our community was... listed next to points about finances and educational practices, it stood out.

How sad is it, though, when hypocrisy, legalism and judgmental, exclusive attitudes are the first things that some people think of when they envision a Christian community, when we know all of the good that happens as well?

This brings me to the third and final truth, which is both a calling and a challenge: Live out the love of Christ. Tagging onto what I referred to about our caring community: Every one of you in here is deeply cared for. I hope you realize that, and feel that. I assume and at least hope that your families care, but I know for a fact that your teachers care for you, that your friends care for you, that your classmates care for you. I know, because I’ve seen this lived out on day-to-day basis, over the course of several years. You are cared for because you have value that runs as deep as your identity as a creation of God, and filled to the brim with unique insights, personalities and capabilities. We are loved by each other, and loved by the one who made us, and this love cannot stay bottled up. We must in turn love and encourage all of those around us. When we do any differently, do any less... that is what generates the stereotype of austere, Puritanical and unloving Christians--pharisees who hold others to a standard that they themselves cannot reach.

Let’s look back at Paul’s letter, verses 18 and 19:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed us to the message of reconciliation.”

Our job is not to keep a checklist of the ways in which other people have messed up. Yes, in any good community there must be accountability, but judgment doesn’t belong to us. Instead, we need to be absorbed in the task of showing God’s love to others. This means breaking out of our comfort zone and interacting with others!

As ambassadors, we are constantly being watched by those around us. That’s the nature of the job--we are meant to live with respect to the values and interests of the one we represent so that everyone will see. At school, the eyes of the entire school community are naturally drawn to you: you’re the oldest group of students on campus, you’ve got facial hair, some of you, you’ve got the cool shirts with the superman logo, you’ve sold junk food to parents, peers and children alike, you sit, talk, laugh, study and get distracted in the Senior lounge as underclassmen and middle schoolers look on in jealousy or admiration. Here, you’ll be watched by so many small children, for many of whom you may be the most real exposure to Christ that they will ever see. So, what is your rendition of Christ going to look like?

I ask you this not to freak you out, not to paralyze you to the point that you don’t dare move for fear of messing something up. I ask you this to call you to a standard I know you are capable of because I’ve seen you do it for each other: you are a class that cares for those within it. You’re fairly attentive to each other’s needs (at least that was true when you were in my classroom), and I challenge you this week to show that same level of care and love to others. This may not be easy or comfortable, but it’s what you were created for, and it is how you can be a good ambassador, an agent of healing and reconciliation. For you are all ambassadors--that is inescapably a part of who you are as humans, and as members of this body, of CAJ, you are ambassadors of Christ. In these things, we have no choice. So I call you to take this role to heart and regardless of what your relationship to Christ is, to strive to be a good representative and to love those around you.

I’ll close with the prayer of Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


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