"What Is Perfection?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 5, 2003

Psalm 26: Hebrews 2:5-12

     This morning we are going to take a break from our Stewardship messages and discuss one of the cornerstones of our faith -- the perfection of Jesus.  Can a "perfect Jesus" guide us toward our own perfection?  In other words, how can we follow someone who is so far removed from what we experience? 

     The writer of Hebrews placed his understanding before his readers with these words, 

Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, through God's grace, died for everyone.  We see him now crowned with glory and honor because of the death he suffered.  It was only right that God, who creates and preserves all things, should make Jesus perfect through suffering in order to bring many children to share his glory.  For Jesus is the one who leads them to salvation. (Hebrews 2:9f) 

     The problem with perfection is that we each have our own definition of it.  For example,  two men each own a car.  The one car is "perfect" because it has performed flawlessly for 125,000 miles and it is still free from any discernable problems.  The second man's car is a challenge to maintain.  However, he also believes this is the "perfect" car because he has a passion for fixing it.  He is "a shade tree" mechanic who truly enjoys his car because it has so many problems.  Perfection has to do with the values we use while interpreting life's many experiences. 

     An attractive 34-year old woman enjoys dating a number of men as she searches for a life partner. To her thinking each of her experiences has been "perfect." She has cultivated the fine art of being the observer on each excursion.  She is not overly needy or hopeful.  She has a very engaging personality, but she also has great gift for listening. 

     Some men appear extremely opinionated and judgmental.  A number of them attempt to impress her with their own importance, accomplishments and experiences.  Others try to convince her to spend the weekend with them.  Each date has been "perfect" because her experience helps her discern the quality of spirit and character that lie beneath the surface of each man. 

     A "perfect" sermon may be one with which we completely disagree.  It was disturbing because its message undermined some of the fundamental beliefs we consider vital to our faith. What made it "perfect," however, is that it gave us pause and forced us to think. A fresh look at a Scripture passage caused us to reconsider an interpretation which appeared just as valid as the one we have held for years.     

     Even a casual student of the Gospels will find that Jesus did not possess the communication skills that would approach "perfection."  He frequently lost patience with his disciples.  He refused to receive his Mother and siblings when they came to take him home.  He was extremely judgmental when he spoke to the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, men who were only defending the Word of God as it had been taught to them.  Why, then, do we consider Jesus perfect? 

     Jesus' perfection comes through his understanding of two things:  1) Who we are as expressions of God's creativity. 2) What life is like when we carry ourselves with thoughts, deeds and words that communicate our energy through a loving spirit.   

     Think of Jesus' perfection in yet another way.  Suppose you had intimate knowledge of a spiritual reality where sexuality is meaningless, where physical beauty, cars, houses, electricity, hospitals, physical death, massive armies, terrorists and weapons of mass destruction do not exist.

     Suppose you understood that many of the physical symbols in which many of us place our hope and trust are not essential to life, but are only the tools, resources, and stepping stones for our spiritual refinement and eventual evolution.  The chances are very good that you would teach something like this: 

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust will consume and where thieves can break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves can not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matt. 6:19f) 

     Jesus led us to a similar understanding through his death.  He was communicating, "I will demonstrate for you that even our physical forms are non-essential to understanding our true identity."  He taught, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)  He was communicating about a reality that has none of the familiar sign posts in which we consciously or unconsciously place our trust. 

     As a carpenter, perhaps Jesus could not create a perfect yoke that would fit every team of oxen.  His perfection came from telling his listeners who they were in God's mind, and how they could express such an identity more authentically when they followed him. He said that the transition from understanding our world to understanding the spiritual reality he was pointing to with his life and death is like being born again. 

     The question we always have before us is do we really believe this?  Regardless of how we express our faith and beliefs, many of us still cling to and protect the symbols of this world as though our identities depend on them. According to Jesus, they do not. This is the great paradox. 

     Our beauty fades.  Our wealth will be inherited by others.  We eventually retire from our life's work and any portion of our identity we invested in our vocation will fade as well. Even the Scriptures can change as untraditional interpretations become more available.  Everything in this world changes.   

     Jesus perfectly communicated  who we are and who we will become as we follow the trail created by his teachings. Are we ready to see reality through the window Jesus provided, or do we find ourselves still wanting to hold on to the elements of our physical existence that constantly change?     


    Loving and merciful God, we thank you that you created us in your image.  You have called us toward a perfection that appears to escape our grasp.  Yet in our grieving we sense your presence and strength.  During our losses we learn that new beginnings are not far away.  We learn from life's reversals to trust you for the outcome of our lives.  When the visible images of this world fail us, we learn to cling to the world we cannot see.  Such paradoxes, O God, teach us to look at perfection differently.  As we grow in confidence may our identities increasingly reflect your presence.  May we desire to serve one another with joy as we patiently await the day when your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen. 


    As we experience the maze of our physical world, O God, what an incredible work of art it is.  Our grandest creations cannot match the magnificence of the Grand Canyon or the majesty of Niagara or Victoria Falls. We can send up space shuttles and perhaps one day reach the stars, but we cannot comprehend the infinite dimensions of the universe. Thank you for placing in our midst so many mysteries to explore and unravel.   

    While our respective disciplines enable us to understand many aspects of our physical world, may we not lose sight of the one who invited us to explore our inner world, the world that inspires our motivation to love our neighbors.  Guide us to celebrate with gratitude the talents and abilities we have discovered within ourselves.  May we also show profound respect for our shadow side which is like a field that remains unplowed, undisciplined and filled with the power to distract us from our  various missions. 

    Help us to learn how to turn all experiences into lessons that encourage our growth.  May each struggle be seen as a blessing, guiding us to develop our dormant skills.  May each hurt, caused by the changing nature of life's events and personalities, motivate us to model the values which are timeless. Heal our memories of yesterday. Help us bury our fears of the present. Guide us to dream of a day when your presence will be recognized by everyone.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .