That is how this morning’s reading from Mathew ends in the version of the Bible we normally read from. And Leviticus, our first reading, was no better, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Same story in Matthew’s Gospel, when we are instructed to be perfect, we are told to do so because God is. The version we heard this morning from the Message soft peddles the perfection part. Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message, gives us; “This is what God does. God gives his best.” Peterson understands our modern day infatuation with being perfect…so he saved us from ourselves a bit. After all, let’s be honest, which one of us hasn’t fallen into the trap of looking in the mirror, the fashion magazine, the sports illustrated and lamented the fact that I’ll never be that perfect. The easy thing to do is just give up – who could blame you – I’m never going to look like Matthew McConaughey – I could maybe buy a Lincoln – but I’ll never look as good driving it!
Thankfully God has another kind of perfection in mind for you and me. So the question this morning becomes how do we reveal our god given perfection?
When we think of perfection in today’s world, we get all caught up in tangible stuff: The perfect job with the perfect colleagues, the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood, the perfect church, with the perfect priest (who likely looks more like Matthew McConaughey than me), the perfect hair that perfectly frames your face, the perfect swoosh on your new shoes that have just the perfect shade of blue…Toronto Maple Leaf Blue or maybe Toronto Blue Jays Blue .
These are all things we feel we can affect by changing something about ourselves. If I only do this I can achieve the much more appealing state of that. If I work harder, or if I buy that, or if I get her to like me, or if I say the right thing, I will be more desirable, more accepted, in short perfect! It’s all about adding something: out with the old, and in with the new.
The Gospel reading for today, offers us another path to follow…perfection seems to be all about giving everything away . If you get sued for a coat, give them a cloak also. Someone demands a mile, give them two. You have just been slapped on your face…well just give them the other cheek. “Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Give. Give. Give.
We heard in our Old Testament reading that perfection looks something like this: Honor those who have come before you and keep the holy days. When you collect the harvest or pick in your vineyard leave some for the disadvantaged, do not steal, lie, commit fraud, withhold wages, insult the deaf, fool the blind, be unjust, make illicit profit, or bear a grudge…and our passage from Leviticus for today is just the beginning of a long, long list!
On the surface these expectations just seem like another to do list, and who needs that! But if we look deeper we see that the Laws we are given in the Leviticus passage and Jesus’s re-envisioning of them in Matthew describe a state of relationship. Maybe, to be HOLY, means to look at our neighbor with as much care and fervor as we look at ourselves. This focus on honest relationships makes complete sense because. After all, we worship a God who is in a perpetual state of relationship. The Holy Trinity which exists in three individual persons finds unity in the Godhead. This most divine relationship trickles down to all of creation the beautifully perfect relationship that is God in Three persons.
In the second chapter of Genesis, as God looks upon the Creation he sees Adam alone in the Garden and exclaims, “It is not good that the man should to be alone.” Creation was NOT complete until humanity became plural. And again, through the redemptive work on Calvary Jesus set us free from our bondage to selfishness and opens us up to be in truthful relationships with each other.
So with every act of love and charity we find ourselves resembling more and more the image God has dreamed for us. But the trouble with seeking this heavenly perfection of relationship, compassion, and empathy is that it leaves you and me, open and exposed for the world to marvel at – that child of God that exists in all of us – exposed for the world to see. And that can be pretty scary.
So thinking about being perfect this week I went looking for a story that would give us all a picture of it; at least God’s idea of perfection. And I ran across a story about a boy named Tripp Halstead. When Tripp was two, while he was playing outside at daycare and the remnants of Hurricane Sandy caused a limb to fall and crush his skull. Tripp was knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital where the doctors assumed he would live out his last hours. Tripp went through hours of surgery and miraculously survived.
To help themselves deal with this terrible accident Tripp’s parents turned to social media and created “Tripp Halstead Updates” page. And within a few months this kid had stolen the hearts of nearly one million people.
In a very public manner, his parents posted daily updates on how Tripp was doing: health progress and regression, joys and sorrows, hardships and blessings. The level of honesty was humbling and although I’m sure his parents enjoyed the community, it is pretty obvious that this had and still continues to be a painful process.
Yet every time they share how Tripp is doing, they chisel away at the outer protective shell that we all have mistakenly created for ourselves and Tripp’s family reveal the most beautiful thing in the world, their love for one another.
Tripp is nobody’s image of perfection. He will probably never do any of the things our society says the perfect child does. He will never win the Olympic gold let alone a participation trophy on a local soccer team. He will likely never win the science fair with baking soda-paper machete concoction that minimally represents a volcano.
But to his parents, Tripp is perfect. They love the way he is at peace when he is floating in a pool. They love the way he uses all of his remaining facial muscles to sideways smile when he sees people he loves. They love the way he snuggles and falls asleep in their arms when they watch the latest Disney movie. Tripp’s story has stolen the heart of so many people not because of pity, but because of the surprising strength of this family and their audacity to simply love Tripp because he is here. And that love has opened them up to the world…to be in God’s image…exposed.
The redemptive work of the Cross, and our relationship with Jesus assures us that we are perfect. But, with this great gift comes a greater responsibility. Our Bible passages today give us a call to action: to show the world the love that we’ve known in Jesus.
But here is the thing; who among us is willing to take that chisel and hammer and break away the callouses, shed the dust, relinquish the coverings of the outer self we’ve created so as to be safe from the hurts of this world? Who among us is willing to love both friend AND foe simply because they are here? Who will lace up their shoes and go the second mile? Who will tell the truth in love. And deliver not only justice but also mercy. Who will feed the hungry and clothe the poor-regardless of how worthy or thankful they are?
And here is the kicker; and I didn’t write it , I am quoting someone else so don’t get mad at me – Not sure you have the strength right now to do these things? Well don’t worry…I hear practice makes perfect. And here at church well this is just the practice field – this is where if we’re willing we can learn – and if we’re brave enough – we can take the lessons we learn here and apply them to the rest of our lives. And again, don’t worry … cause I hear practice makes perfect. So let’s get to practicing shall we? Amen.