Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February 6 Sermon (Epiphany 7)

You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
So which is easier, holiness or perfection? Is God asking more than we can really handle? As I thought about what God is asking of us, I was listening to the radio with my kids, and I heard songs with these lyrics:

Pretty, pretty please
Don't you ever, ever feel
Like your less than
F***in' perfect

Pretty, pretty please
If you ever, ever feel
Like your nothing
You're f***in' perfect to me

You're so mean
When you talk
About yourself
You are wrong
Change the voices
In your head
Make them like you
Katy Perry
You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
Cause there's a spark in you
You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
And even Lady Gaga…
My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars

"There's nothin' wrong with lovin' who you are"
She said, "'Cause He made you perfect, babe"
"So hold your head up, girl and you you'll go far,
Listen to me when I say"

I'm beautiful in my way,
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Each in their own way, these singers celebrate our individuality and our common humanity. And I find that these songs speak the truth of who we each are as created by God, each unique, none a mistake, that we all have that spark inside, we are all beautiful in our own way.

It reminds me of a picture of a frayed teddy bear I had as a teenager, that said, something like God sees us as we are (frayed) but loves us for who God made us to be. It is important to remind ourselves that we are all children of God.

William Stringfellow, a lawyer, theologian and Episcopalian, put it this way,
“To become and to be Christian is to become utterly vulnerable to God’s own affirmation of one’s existence . . . and, as it were, to participate in God’s affirmation of one’s self and of all things.”
At the root of who we are is the affirmation that we are part of God’s creation and we are called to participate in that affirmation. (Think of Paul's words to the Corinthians - We are God's temple, the Spirit of God dwells in us.) Just like in those songs, but it doesn’t stop there. We are called to participate in that affirmation of all things and all people. And maybe that is the key for our understanding of what God asks of us to be holy or perfect.

For we need to see God’s work and hand in the world around us, and especially in God’s creation and all of God’s children. Think of that first reading and what Moses tells the congregation of Israel in regard to our interactions with others and what the Lord expects of us:
When you reap the harvest, leave some for the poor and the alien. You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. You shall not defraud your neighbor; You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; You shall not render an unjust judgment; and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. In Leviticus it is an ethical injunction about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
This love of self is made holy by those interactions with others and following what God has laid out in that passage. In Matthew, Jesus takes it even further than we heard in Leviticus…

Eye for and Eye – Tooth for a Tooth becomes if they slap your cheek offer the other, take your coat, give them another, not as passive resistance but in shaming them for an action against another. Because we are not called to strike back, seek vengeance, against other, but help show them another way. We cannot hate one and love another says Jesus. This does not profit us. Perfection and holiness are not found inside ourselves, but are lived out in our human interactions. By the love we share as human beings.
"Being holy . . . does not mean being perfect but being whole; it does not mean being exceptionally religious or being religious at all; it means being liberated from religiosity and religious pietism of any sort; it does not mean being morally better, it means being exemplary; it does not mean being godly, but rather being truly human." ~ William Stringfellow (A Keeper of the Word)
It is about being ourselves like in those songs, we need to be who we are and from such a place move into loving actions towards others. In her memoir Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Kate Braestrup writes about reading St. John's letter on love with her little son Peter. She writes:
"God is love, John's Gospel tells us. That's a whole theology in three words. The practical application of that theology - God is love - is nearly as simple. Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live. Why should you do this? Because. "It's simple enough for a child to understand. 'I can do it,' Peter said stoutly when I explained it to him. 'I can be loving toward anyone. Even an ax murderer.' "'Start with you sister,' I told him. "Start with your spouse. That's what I had to do. Whomever you start with, it doesn't end there. Once I'd gotten the principle more or less down as it applied to [my husband] Drew, it quickly became obvious that the same could apply to other people, and not just the safely distant murderer who has taken the ax to a stranger. The principle might also apply to the guy who swipes my parking spot at Stop & Shop, or the telemarketer who calls at suppertime, or even - imagine this! - to my relatives!"
In Leo Tolstoy’s parable ‘The Two Old Men’. Two elderly peasants, Efim and Elijah, save up and set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but only Efim arrives. Elijah is way-laid by caring for an ailing, starving family and providing for their material needs which exhausts all his pilgrim’s funds. He reasons with himself, ‘Of what avail is it to go across the sea to seek Christ if all the time I lose the Christ that is within me here?’ Efim reaches the holy places but always sees the likeness of his absent companion before him in Jerusalem and as he returns home he knows of the great deed his companion had done for that family and he realizes that to follow God’s will is “to show love and do good to others.”
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Perfection and holiness are not out of reach. They are simply already part of us, when we live from the core of our souls, that beautiful person that God has made, each and every one of us, and we show it by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Amen.

No comments: