August 9, 2020
This morning’s Gospel lesson is found in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount just a few verses after the passage we looked at last week as we talked about what Kingdom Characteristics look like in our life. Last week we focused on how we can right our relationships through saying we are sorry and asking for forgiveness and then trying to right the wrong as we stay committed to not making the same mistake again. Not easy work but God longs to do the heavy lifting if we would but let God.
These words are probably from Jesus’ first sermons, and they are intended primarily, for Jesus’ disciples, this group of folks who have only recently started following Him but ultimately for all.
The disciples were quite the collection of people, most of whom didn’t know each another very well. They didn’t even know Jesus very well. They were fishermen who have left their businesses to follow Jesus, tax collectors who were hated villains in their hometowns because they made their living ripping off their own people, and some were likely former followers of John the Baptist.
They are not well educated; they have no real cultural power, and they don’t have much in the way of resources. They really have no idea what they are doing, and they don’t necessarily know much about religion or God.
And yet Jesus chose them! And here Jesus is teaching them and suggesting some pretty grand ideas about them, like: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” What do you suppose they thought about that? Did they wonder like we do how can this be?
And then He starts tells them crazy things like, they are to not only love their neighbors, but their enemies as well. They are to pray for those who mistreat them.
If someone slaps them on the right cheek, they are to offer them their left cheek as well. If someone wants the shirt off their back, they are to give them their coat as well. And they are to be perfect, as their Heavenly Father is perfect. Perfect?
These are very flawed human beings Jesus is speaking to here. They don’t live this way; they have never lived this way. And, you know what? We struggle with these directives as well, don’t we? And for the very same reasons.
But as people of the Bible, followers of God, Jesus’ disciples, these words should apply to us today just as much as they did to Peter, James, John, and the rest of Jesus’ first followers, right?
A pastor tells the story of stumbling into his kitchen after a long day of work.
They put down their groceries and pressed the voice-mail button. It was one of the church members: “Pastor, I’m doing the Scripture reading for Sunday, and I have that passage where Jesus says, ‘Turn the other cheek.’ You know that passage, right?
Do the other Gospels have that same passage? Is it different in the other Gospels?
Could you let me know, because…no offense, but I think Jesus got it wrong.”
We all wonder if Jesus got it wrong, if truth be told. For centuries, many people have gone to great lengths to try and explain away Jesus’ words in all kinds of ways. When this happens, Jesus’ commands can quickly seem un-necessary or irrelevant, just the way we like them, but Jesus will have none of this, and calls us to an even higher standard.
Jesus looks at you and me and says: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Is this some kind of joke?
Is Jesus taunting us?
Is He asking us to do something that is impossible?
Is Jesus setting us up to fail?
The Greek word here translated as “perfect” is telios.
It refers to “the purpose of a thing or a person, perfect means to be fully functional”
So being “perfect” likely means, less about doing it without error, and more about being who God created us to be. To be single minded about that purpose. It means to be fully functional. It means to be intentionally focused on our role in God’s Kingdom, so that we may be faithful followers of, our “God in heaven.” Could we start by how we relate to each other? Loving others as we love ourselves, how about if we experienced some perfection in this area. Imagine the world we would live in then. What would that look like?
Author Max Lucado writes about a big, muscle-bound man named Daniel, who was ripped off by his brother. He vowed that if he ever saw him again, he would break his neck. A few months later, Daniel became a follower of Jesus.
Even so, he couldn’t forgive his brother. One day Daniel was walking down a busy sidewalk and saw his brother. Daniel described what happened: “I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fists clench and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him. But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. As I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.”
What if we were to see Gods likeness in the faces of others especially those we are at odds with? Doesn’t the Bible say in Genesis, God created every human being in God’s image. And hasn’t God restored us through Jesus, in order to be the people God created us to be.
So, as Jesus followers, we are called to “love as God loves.” To literally see the likeness of God in others
But we can’t do this on our own. We need Gods spirit to lead us, we need the example of Jesus to point the way; we need a plan of attack like we talked about last week in offering and experiencing forgiveness and reconciliation found again in the directions of our passage from today, and we need to strive for perfection. This is how we will become the children of God. This is how we will live this transformed life we are call to. This is how we will love well including our “enemies”.
Jesus suggests in today’s passage that we must look at the very heart of who God is.
God loves the unlovable, came and lived among us in Jesus, suffered our worst, and rose from the dead to offer us grace. Why? So that we might turn the other cheek, give our cloak, go another mile, lend, and love our enemies, why, because that is how God loves.
If we truly, want to follow God, as we have witnessed in the life in Jesus, we must adopt a life in which we find ourselves loving the Jesus’ way, the God way, or how we will ever really know what to do!
I continue to remember and celebrate the amazing ways God has led and used this congregation for the last 75 years but I am equally excited about what we as a community have recently done and some of the things our own Director of Missions, Paul Bertelson and the Missions Resource Team, are planning to do, as we respond missionally to the needs of our community and world… seeking to be good neighbors and loving well, in Jesus name.
Trying to live out this call to perfection and be a loving presence you may be aware or remember that:
Were you as excited as I was that this church gave almost $300,000 to our local ministry partners for food and necessities during the recent protests, this was conducted through the work of The Blessing Initiative and Lance Steinke in concert with the Missions Resource Team, all suggested and executed by a whole team of lay leadership.
We can’t be perfect or have all the answers to all the needs around us, but we can wade into them and be a part of the solutions can’t we. That it us practicing this love and striving for the perfection God calls us to.
We are all caught in the tension between human nature and being children of God.
And to be perfect is not some command, meant to add pressure to our already overwhelmed lives. Maybe because many of us have a very flawed understanding of perfection.
This perfection does not mean that we are somehow magical, or have it all figured out. It doesn’t mean that we won’t miss opportunities to be like Jesus or never use words that hurt or that we won’t experience or cause pain.
Being more like Jesus certainly doesn’t mean that we are morally superior to anyone else. Or better than anyone else. It doesn’t mean that we belong to a particular political party or hold the so-called correct viewpoints on hot-button issues. It’s not about the law or being able to follow a bunch of rules and regulations. And it certainly has nothing to do with knowing everything there is to know.
Perfection is less about getting things right and more about loving as God loves, and Jesus exemplified. Jesus, time and time again, chose to love over following strictly the law
John Wesley had a high definition of Christian Perfection.
He said that Christian Perfection is to “have a habitual love for God and neighbor.”
That is what I want to have more than anything in the world. That is who I want to be, someone who, without thinking, loves God and neighbor. Has a habitual love for God and neighbor!
Jesus calls us to be more than we ever thought we could be and to claim our true identity as God’s children. Returning hate with love, turning the other cheek, praying for those who stand against us is incredibly counter-cultural, isn’t it, and yet this is how Jesus lived and how we are to live as well.
Martin Luther once said that the Christian life is not about arriving but always becoming.
And St. Augustine, at Communion, would invite people to “receive who you are,” and then “go become what you have received.”
The Sermon on the Mount, of which our passage is a part, is not a DIY kit for getting into heaven because we are saved by grace through faith; it is a gift of God, so no one gets to brag or be self-righteous. But, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to be the people God created us to be. Perfection then is the life of Jesus lived in and through us by Gods spirit if we would be willing. For if we would be willing, might we change the world?
I think this must have been what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” This is something that only Jesus can do in us.
And it is our only hope. Jesus said to the first disciples, and Jesus says to you, and Jesus says to me: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of our God in heaven.”
What do you say church — should we strive to be perfect, to be fully functional together, as we habitually love in Jesus name?