Dr. Pannell speaks on the ministry of reconciliation at All-Seminary Chapel
Dr. Bill Pannell speaks at Ash Wednesday chapel
The sounds of worship wafted across Fuller’s Pasadena campus
on February 13 as students, staff, and faculty gathered on the mall under the
noonday sun for a special Ash Wednesday chapel service.
Fuller community members congregated to hear a powerful message delivered by Senior Professor of Preaching Bill
Pannell. The scripture was from 2 Corinthians 5, in which the apostle Paul tells
the people of Corinth that God reconciled them to himself through Christ in
order that they might be ministers of reconciliation.
That message, Pannell said, rings truer still for people
today, because we live in a world wracked by alienation.
Quoting Fuller’s former Professor of Theology and Ethics
Lewis B. Smedes, Pannell said one of the toughest Christian challenges of the
time is “how to understand the persistent alienation of people in our world.”
He pointed to the many instances of alienation and violence
that we see in our world today from the first act of violence in Genesis when Cain
killed his brother Abel to the “banality of the police force looking for a lone
“One of the surest, consistent strands of reality is the
pain, the puzzlement, the mystery, the reality of alienation,” Pannell said. And
when he reads further to see what the apostle Paul says God can do about this, the
answer is Christ’s love.
“What does God do with alienation? He sends his son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and he displays there, splayed against a cross in a
darkened sky, a love beyond knowing,” Pannell continued. “[God] looks at a
broken world so painfully divided in so many different ways and he tells that
broken world that he loves it, and the extent of his love is the gift of his
But there are many times that Christians fail to recognize
how deep the pain of alienation and sin really is, which in turn diminishes
the work of Jesus on the cross, Pannell told the crowd.
Examining the texts and historical records and observing the
pulse of contemporary life, he said, will reveal that the pain is more profound
than people know.
“Every man and woman born in all of history shakes his fists
in the face of God and defies his authority and tells him to get lost,” Pannell
said with a loud voice, adding that it is no wonder that there are conflicts in
“So how does this work itself out?” he asked. “You got to
start over. You got to start in something radical. You have got, really, to
find a way over against that reality to create a different kind of people in
the earth, and you have to arm them with a different set of yardsticks.”
Pannell explained that cultures, ethnicities, gender,
systems of education, and various aspects of society make up yardsticks that
people measure others against. However, the apostle Paul says that Christians
shouldn’t be measuring with human yardsticks anymore.
To illustrate, Pannell told the crowd that he had watched
television footage of the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans. And as he watched a man dance, he said, “The truth of the
matter is beneath all of that frivolity, beneath all of the costume, and
beneath all of that, there is a certain phoniness about that event that belies
and betrays what’s really beneath it all which is banality; beneath it all
which is boredom; beneath it all which is the awkwardness of trying to dance to
a rhythm that your spirit simply cannot grasp.”
He noted, “The genius of redemption is the God who brings a new song
and a new spirit that enables us to dance to that song and to that music, and we do
it together without the yardsticks.”
Pannell told the crowd that the church is to be the one to
first put away yardsticks and to open fellowship for men and women unimpeded by
rationalizations and yardsticks.
“Here at Fuller, we say we are preparing men and women for
the manifold ministries of Christ and his church,” he said, emphasizing that
the ministry is one of reconciliation that is compelled by the love of Christ.
“Jesus is alive and he’s alive in me and he’s alive in us,”
Pannell said. “We are picked representatives of the new humanity. We are
overcoming alienation and we are agents of good news. We are agents of
He then urged the community that when they receive the ashes
on their foreheads to proclaim that they are no longer their own, but are under
the management of Christ who died and rose again.