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July 2 2023 “Being Perfect”

July 2 2023 “Being Perfect”

Moses knew God as well as anyone in the Bible. God met him in a burning bush, gave him the power to do things he was afraid of, like going back to Egypt, where his face was on a Wanted poster, and tell ol’ Pharaoh to let my people go. The ten plagues proved how furiously powerful God was. Moses had talked God out of smiting those same people when they disrespected him, and he’d even seen God’s back as he passed by, which in those days meant he should have died. 

But, like my own father when he got older, Moses described this scary, bossy, rule-writing divinity as loving. Like my dad, God could scare you, and God was “always right,” and it seemed like God knew just about everything. But when my dad, and for that matter, when I describe God, we say stuff like what Michael just read: God loves everybody. Doesn’t take a bribe. Doesn’t play favorites. Sticks up for people against whom the human social deck is stacked, specifically widows, orphans, and strangers. And since God got you out of Egypt, you of all people ought to stick up for the stranger.

Last week, we were still camping in England, but I watched the video of church. Lisa challenged you to take a $20 bill from that blue bowl, and help somebody use their gifts. She said it was “a little crazy” for a church to be giving money back to members, and I watched your faces. Kate kind of nodded like this. Michael was busy trying to think of an enjoyable thing he was good at, so he could write it down. Linnea and Chad tilted their heads like, huh. Okay. So did anyone do anything yet with their $20 bill? [discuss]

Here’s the rest of my sermon. Jesus knew God differently from Moses. Moses had met God as an adult. God became his Boss.  On the other hand, Jesus grew up with God as his daddy, as close as his own self. So Jesus could say, ‘no disrespect to Moses, but if being a child of God simply means doing unto others what they have already done unto us, then there’s nothing special about us.’  And of course we should help the widow and the orphan and the stranger, Jesus said. Obviously. Moses told you that. And help the young woman Lisa told us about last week whose own mother said ‘the only value she would ever have’ was on her back. The young woman whose dream was to start an organization of abuse survivors to help others who had been abused. She knew who her best self was, or at least her better self.

So, Jesus went on in a sermon that reminds me of the Black Church, with the thesis statement repeated like the chorus of a song. “I’m not here to abolish the law, but to make it complete!

  • ‘You have heard Moses said do not murder, but I say, don’t even insult anyone. And don’t even think of suing them.
  • ‘Moses said no adultery, but I say: don’t even look at someone with those kinds of nasty thoughts.
  • ‘Moses said, do not break your oath, but I say: don’t lie, ever. 
  • ‘Moses said, follow these rules, but I say: be special. Be better. Be perfect, even. 

Perfect? Really? Like hole in one or pitching a perfect game?  That would be amazing, but the word Matthew used, quoting Jesus, means full-blown, unbiased, all-inclusive. The translators like “fulfilled.”

It’s up to us to figure out what “being perfect” is, and here’s my take on it. He means, do things out of love for others and yourself. Be your best self, which means humble and flexible, not high-flying. Figure out ways to help people be their best selves, and when they aren’t, don’t shame them or put them down. It’s hard to be a person, to be a grown-up without losing the spontaneous and creative spirit of childhood. Lisa’s young friend was determined to be a guide for others who had lost their way by having their selfhood stomped on. She would fulfill her own selfhood by fulfilling others’. Perfect doesn’t have to mean 100%. More like “just right.”

As for that $20 bill, if you didn’t get one, go ahead and do your generative deed, your investment in someone’s giftedness. We’ll make sure you get reimbursed, not because the church doesn’t need money or we are worried that you haven’t got $20 to spare, but because we want it to be weird. Jesus loved weird ideas, like loving your enemies or not packing anything for a journey. His wisdom is unconventional, even shocking. He wants us to wake up, turn off the autopilot, and pay attention to how perfectly beautiful and gifted our fellow beings are.

10am Summer Service

Second Service (Program Year)