"What Is Perfection?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 5, 2003
Psalm 26: Hebrews 2:5-12
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.
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?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
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.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
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 . . .