Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sermon for March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009
Scripture: John 2:13-22
Sermon Title: “Was Jesus Perfect?”
Rev. George N. Miller

Two weeks ago we introduced the word resplendent, meaning to shine forth. This week we introduce another word, one that everyone knows, but not many are comfortable with: imperfection.

Imperfection is something that we as Americans have a hard time with. This is partly because we’ve been tricked into thinking perfection is something we can achieve. Noses can be shortened, hair can be dyed, and pale skin can be spray tanned.

The quest for perfection drives our economy. Pay to remove a scratch on the car, pay the gym to get bigger muscles, spend thousands to create the ultimate home-entertainment experience.

The striving for perfection not only drives our culture but is drains our energy, our finances and spiritual core.

That’s why, for some people, discovering they have a chronic disease is a blessing in disguise because they have no choice but to give up the lie of perfection. Allow me to explain.

When someone is diagnosed with chronic illness, a series of events usually happen. They’ll try to find a way to make the illness fit into their life without destroying their lifestyle. They assume they will continue looking the same, feeling the same, being the same and this thing will just silently exist inside of them.

But then the truth unfolds. Things happen to the body. Hair changes texture or falls out. Body shape changes. Skin blotches and blemishes appear. All these things scream “imperfect, imperfect” but the person tries hard to keep things under-wraps and in control.

But to live the charade requires a lot of work and a lot of denial. Eventfully, the person gets to the point in which they say “This is me and who I am”.

In doing so they allow themselves to let go, learn how to make the best of what they got, laugh at their situation and to accept the imperfections as permanent marks of who they now are.

The person realizes they’ll never be perfect and the truth all along was that they never were.

Instead of wasting energy trying to be something they can’t be, they instead spend the rest of their life living it.

In the acceptance of imperfection, something else happens: grace steps in and brings with it
transformative healing. And grace may even help them realize that imperfection is the truest part of living life to its fullest.

Scripture gives evidence of this. Look at Genesis 1 and you’ll see that when God created the world it wasn’t called perfectly flawless but “good.” Part of that goodness was human beings who had the freedom to make choices, even if they were the furthest things from perfect.

Our biblical ancestors had glaring flaws. Moses was afraid of public speaking, Noah got drunk, and Rahab was a prostitute. Yet God loved and used each one of them to bless Creation.

Which brings us to today’s question: if Jesus was fully human and fully divine, walking the earth and sharing in the human experience, was Jesus perfect, or gloriously imperfect like you and I?

Note that I’m not asking if Jesus was without sin, but if by our standards we’d label Jesus as perfect.

Let’s start by examining a piece of pop culture: The Shack. In the book the Trinity is portrayed rather uniquely: God is a black woman who cooks, the Spirit is an Asian woman who gardens.

Jesus is a Middle Easterner who wears a plaid shirt, jeans covered in saw dust and not handsome enough to stand out in a crowd; far from images we’ve seen in movies and stained glass windows.

There’s a part where God, Jesus and the Spirit are preparing dinner when suddenly Jesus drops a bowl of sauce and it splatters all over the place including God’s dress and the Spirit’s feet.

They all become silent and then laughter erupts. There is mention of how clumsy humans are. God calls Jesus “Greasy fingers” and says, with a wink, “You just can’t get good help around here.”

The three laugh harder and harder as they work together to clean up the mess and share their meal.

This scene may appear inconsequential, but what the author has done is so staggering I don’t think he realized what he wrote. By having Jesus drop the bowl, the author shows Jesus as making a mistake. That’s an amazing image to think about.

If that happened in my house, my Mom would yell, there’d be feelings of shame, and someone would probably kick the dog out of frustration. But not in this book. Instead the moment is seized upon as a chance for bonding and community.

By saying Jesus is capable of dropping a bowl, the author is not only implying that, like some men, Jesus would be useless in the kitchen, but he’s also making the theological claim that Jesus is capable of being imperfect.

Today’s Scripture makes that argument too. It’s Passover. Jesus enters the Temple, the front area filled with the activity of merchants and money changers. He fashions himself a whip and tears through the place flipping over tables and raising his voice.

It’s an image we don’t see portrayed very much, and yet its there, in all four gospels, showing a very human Jesus doing a very human thing that many of us would not consider to be appropriate or the definition of perfection.

Imagine I started flipping over pews or tossing coins and see how the phone lines would light up!

And yet, to say Jesus was fully human, to claim that the Word became flesh, means that Jesus had to have said and done things that do not fall neatly into our sense of perfection.

Let’s take a look at what we know.

For starters, Jesus was conceived by an unwed teenage mother. Does that sounds perfect to you? There’s a word for that, and anyone who had or was a child out of wedlock can tell you that word.

Jesus was raised in a family so poor his mother could only afford two turtle-doves as her offering. How many people accept poverty as their definition of perfection?

Did Jesus live what we’d call a perfect lifestyle? He was a 30 year old bachelor, hanging out with the guys and women of questionable morals, wandering from place to place, drinking wine. How would that fair at Calvin College or the Letters to the Editor section of the Press?

He had no problem challenging the authorities or getting in the way of local commerce. Is that perfection or cause for concern?

Jesus touched and was touched by people with illness, skin diseases and different lifestyles. Would you want to shake his hand?

And the way he died? It wasn’t at a ripe old age surrounded by family, but on a cross, the ultimate political form of shame. He died like a common criminal, on the outskirts of town, deserted by almost all of his friends. Does that fit into anyone’s definition of perfection?

In fact, if you look at the whole trajectory of Jesus’s life, he was born, raised, lived and died in complete imperfection.

Yet he was God incarnate; our faith is based on him, and from him came the most perfect gift. Because when Jesus agreed to face the cross, he did something no one else could do: he brought us grace, amazing grace, the stuff we sing about, pray about, and base our Mission Statement on.

Grace was the perfect gift that Jesus gave us by accepting to live an imperfect life.

By living amongst us, Jesus knew what it was like to be one of us. The temptations, the trials, the victories and losses. He endured and experienced it all, so when the time came, not just he, but all the things we judge ourselves about could be nailed to the cross.

Our imperfections, our mistakes, our flaws, they were brought with him to be placed on the cross. And up there they were pierced and shattered.

By carrying our imperfections to the cross, Jesus ended the power they have over us and helped us realize those things are just part of who we are, not what ultimately defines or controls us.

By taking our imperfections to the cross, Jesus created a way for us to let go so the grace of God could enter in and bring about transformation.

His actions allowed us to release whatever feelings of shame, anger or remorse we may have and instead focus on what God has given.

This grace means that we in turn can look at those around us, see their imperfections and flaws and realize that they too are worthy of grace.

And when we realize that grace is for all, we can release others from the hold of whatever jealousy, anger or ill-will we may have for them.

We can stop judging the imperfections of others because we’ve stopped judging the imperfections that are our own.

And when this grace is accepted and shared, an amazing thing takes place. Our imperfections lose their power, and we become transformed just as Christ was transformed on Easter morn.

And who knows? God may find a way to use our flaws for the greater good, making them the means by which we are called to reach out to others, to do ministry and maybe even earn our keep.

To embrace the claim that Jesus lived with us and dwelled in imperfection means that we can stop putting so much energy into trying to present the perfect look and perfect life.

Instead we can put that energy into living, and being in relationship with one another and with our own self. And all that time and money spent trying to achieve perfection can instead be spent worshiping God and ministering to others.

We are humans. Mistakes will be made. Bowls will be broken, sauces will spill, our skin will bear visible scars.

By embracing the humanness of Jesus Christ we can begin to let go of those things and the power they have over us and instead step into who it is God is calling and creating us to be.

Thanks be to God, our gracious hostess, the Spirit who tends to our spiritual gardens and Jesus who endured scars for our sake.

Amen, and amen.

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