A Sermon for Series A 7th Sunday after the Epiphany (2017) “You must be perfect”

 

 Old Testament Lesson  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Second Lesson  1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 5:38-48

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 5:38-48]

Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  How can that be done?  Can any of us expect to be perfect?  Before you get all excited; before you even start to think you can do it, let’s get one thing straight; being a perfectionist does not make you perfect.  It makes you strive to be perfect, but mere striving doesn’t get you there.

In fact, when you’re a perfectionist, you’re never truly content with what you do.  Even if others see a perfectionist’s work and tell them it’s perfect, the true perfectionist isn’t satisfied.  A true perfectionist is never satisfied.

But he says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Is Christ setting us up for a life of frustration and disappointment?  We’re far from being perfect.  We sin in what we do and in what we don’t do; and we remind ourselves of that fact every week as we gather to worship God and ask for his forgiveness.

We confess that we’ve sinned in thought, word, and deed; and even if we never committed a sinful deed, even if we never spoke a disagreeable word, even if we never had an unpleasant thought, we confess that we’re by nature sinful and unclean.  But he says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He doesn’t give us an out.  He doesn’t say we can get around our imperfection; he says we must be perfect.  God doesn’t use a balance and weigh our good works on the one side and our sins on the other, seeing if the good we do outweighs the bad.  He doesn’t ignore our sins.  He doesn’t give us the benefit of the doubt, or cut us a little slack, or just go easy on us.  He says we must be perfect, period, end of sentence, that’s all she wrote.

God doesn’t pretend we’re perfect.  He does love us, but he’s perfectly and completely just and so he can’t overlook our sins.  Our sin requires payment, and only after payment can we be considered perfect.

And here’s the part that sends me over the edge: He knows we can’t do it!  He tells us we must be perfect and he knows we’ll fail.  He tells us we must be perfect, and the more we look in the mirror, the more we consider God’s commandments, the more we see the face of an imperfect sinner who can’t help himself no matter how hard he tries. So why does he tell us we must be perfect?

Christ Jesus tells us to be perfect because he knows we must be perfect to be in our heavenly Father’s presence; and us being in God’s presence is his Father’s will. Us being in the Father’s presence for all eternity is the Son’s will too; but his Father’s perfect holiness demands that whatever, whoever, is before him must be perfectly clean to survive the Father’s absolute purity.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This perfect and holy desire; the will of the Father, the will of the Son, to make us holy in spite of our inherited sinful nature, so that we could be with our God for all eternity; was what made the Son willingly leave his Father’s side.  He came from heaven to earth to embrace the creation he loves.

This ‘spirit’ God came down to us and put on flesh, becoming one of us, becoming one with his creation, for the sole purpose of paying for our sin with his own life.  He came not to hide our sin or to cover it; but to take our sin upon himself, to make it his own, and to receive the wrath of his Father, the payment for all our sins.

Now that our sin’s been removed from us, we can be holy as we must be!  Now, having paid for our sin, Christ Jesus stands before his Father reminding him of what he’s done for us, mediating for us; reminding his Father that our sins are forgiven by his sacrificial offering.

Now and always we’re covered in the righteousness and purity of Christ; not to hide our sin, but to present us to his Father as pure and perfect as he is. Christ is the only perfect man to ever walk the earth, and clothed in his purity we are perfect indeed.  In his death and resurrection, Christ responds to his own command “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are perfect in-Christ.  We’re perfect because the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to open our hearts and minds through God’s holy Word; giving us the gift of faith by which we have access to the forgiveness that’s been waiting for us ever since Christ redeemed us on the cross.

Living in his perfection, we can follow our Savior’s commands. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

We can turn the other cheek.  We can go the extra mile.  We can give freely to those in need who have no way to repay us.  And now we can love our enemies.

It sounds like a monumental, undoable task; mountainous, so enormous that we shudder at the thought of being sent to do it.  We see ourselves as incapable, unworthy, inexperienced and definitely imperfect.  But none of that matters because we’re in Christ.  We aren’t doing this great task, he is; and although we are imperfect he is perfect.

Christ is the source of all mercy; the One who’s perfectly merciful. With his mercy, Christ leads us to live one sided lives; selfless lives that find us constantly turning the other cheek, that give more than is asked for, that love unconditionally without exception, and without expectation of being loved in return.  And yet, he’s not demanding all that much.

He’s just demanding you to be perfect; because you’re in Christ who is perfect.  He supplies you with everything you need; his promises in his holy Word; his Spirit and forgiveness in the holy waters of Baptism; forgiveness and his own body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion; everything you need to be perfect ….even as he is perfect.  You are in Christ.  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In Christ’s Service,

Pastor Huelle