Sermon: “Be Perfect as the Father”
Rev. Robert W. Landry
Matthew 5: 38-48
There’s a Greek word I suspect when you hear its meaning is one that many of us struggle with every day. I find this word as a pathway to a new reality, a new hope, and a new path for my life and for yours as well. The word is Axios, a Greek word meaning “worthy”. I have used it in a talk about the sacraments at a retreat I spoke at for Cursillo. On the one hand, I explained, the sacraments are God’s gifts recognizing that we are already axios, “worthy”, of God’s life and love. On the other hand, it is the sacraments that make us axios, worthy, of God’s life and love. I believe that is why at the invitation to communion we may hear these words used by a priest, “These are God’s holy gifts for you, God’s holy people. Behold what you are; become what you see.” That is the invitation to live into the reality of our God-given worthiness. It is the invitation to a shared life with God, what Jesus calls perfection.
Just as he said to us in the word; “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Behind this invitation is our worthiness. The call to perfection is the good news that offers us a new reality, a new hope, and new path for our lives. Some of us or maybe even, many, feel that Jesus’ words are an impossibility. They will hear his words as a demand for moral perfectionism; a demand to always say the right words, always make the correct choices, always behave appropriately.
Such demands leave no room for mistakes, brokenness, or uncertainty and consequently, no room for mercy, forgiveness, or second chances. If that is how we hear Jesus’ words, the Christian life will quickly become overwhelming and intimidating and our humanity becomes a barrier to God rather than a means. Perfection will seem unrealistic. “After all, we are only human,” we will become the justification for how we live.
So, this bring us to a question what does Jesus really expect from us? I think one of the first things Jesus expects is that we stop using our humanity as an excuse, as a reason for being less than who we really are, and realize that our humanity is a means to God. That realization underlies Jesus’ call to be perfect. This call does not change the fact that you and I can name the things we have done and left undone, the ways in which we have turned against God and our neighbor.
Too often we have offered retaliation instead of the other cheek. Our thoughts, words, and deeds have sometimes been filled with violence rather than love, mercy, and forgiveness. Sometimes we have offered the person begging on the street judgments rather than help. Jesus’ call to perfection does not deny that these things are often a reality of the world and of our lives. It denies, rather, that they are the ultimate reality. That is not how the story has to end. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus sees more for our lives than we often see for ourselves. He sees all that we are and all that we can become, that being the children of God.
This is not so much about becoming something that we are not but about becoming what God has always intended and envisioned for our lives. It is about becoming who we really already are. This means we become like God, live like God, love like God, pray like God, forgive like God. This is not, however, a simple imitation, by copying God. It is, instead, a union and a oneness with God. A shared life with God is our truest vocation and in our salvation. It is the purpose, the goal, and intention for our lives. That is the perfection to which we are truly called.
Perfection is really about growing up into the fullness of who we already are. If we hold onto the fact that we are like our heavenly Father. We become like our heavenly Father. In the end this is about becoming fully human. In some way Jesus is saying, “You are children of God, now act like. Be who you are. Be perfect like your Father in heaven.” This perfection is not, however, an escape from the world or from ourselves. It is the means by which we are to engage the world and ourselves. Growing up, becoming perfect, happens in all of the chaos, pain, and messiness of relationships with our enemies.
Then there is the problem that we have with this word “Enemy” it is a strong word and often we do not want to admit we even have any enemies. “Enemy” certainly includes but is not necessarily limited to mean enemy in the usual sense, an invading army, or a group or individual with whom we are fighting and trying to defeat or kill, like at war. It can be as simple as those who are not on my side; those who look, think, speak, or act differently than me; those who have hurt or betrayed me; those who when I see them make my stomach turn, create butterflies, fear and anxiety; those people I would rather not see, listen to, or deal with.
These are the ones we are to love and for whom we are to pray. That doesn’t mean we are to pray that they see the error of their ways, that they change, or that they would simply go away. It doesn’t mean that we love them “if” they change, if they apologize, if they act the way we think they should. We are to love them and pray that God would grant them all the good things we want for ourselves and those we care about the most. Isn’t that what God has done for us? Even when we act like enemies towards God, he never stops loving or praying for us and for our well being.
Let us take a moment right now and recall an enemy, close our eyes and think about this, think of the one who has hurt or betrayed you, one who brings back painful memories, one whom you would like to never see or speak with again.
Do you see their face? Do you remember the event, the words that stung like a slap across the cheek? Feel the weight of the hurt, and now do as God expects of us: Pray for them. Love them.
Loving and praying for our enemies may not change them. It may not bring about world peace and probably will not make everyone get along. Loving and praying for our enemies will change us more than them. It will grow us up and make us perfect like our Father in heaven. We will know ourselves as worthy and as the beloved sons and daughters of God. Behold what you are. Become what you see. How God sees you, perfectly perfect.