Sunday, February 11, 2018

How to be Perfect

Matthew 5:48 (NRSV): The Cost of Perfection
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfection seems an impossible word to the Christian faithful. We are all sinners who fall daily in our walk with the Lord. But we are called by Christ to be perfect as our “heavenly Father is perfect.” This is a tall order, especially for a sinner like me. In Mere Christianity, however, C.S. Lewis explains this teaching with clarity: 

. . . Let me explain. When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell. 
Now, if I may put it that way, Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment. 
That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect— until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’ (201-202)
Lewis kids not. Jesus says and means it. As Christ’s disciples, we are in for the full treatment, nothing half-baked or partial. The key to this, however, is to “not push [Jesus] away.” We have free will, and even if this call to Christian perfection is otherworldly and incomprehensible, its is God’s work in us, not ours. We are to abide in Jesus and do our best to love those in front of us. God will take care of the rest. 

Loving God, make us a new creation. 
We yearn to be what you call us to be, loving disciples of your Son, Jesus Christ. 
Amen. 

Have a blessed week! 

Stan

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Jesus as a Model of Service to Others

Mark 1:29,34,38 (NRSV): Jesus Models Service to Others
Jesus came and took [Simon’s mother-in-law] by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. . .

And Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. . . 

Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
Healing and serving others, expelling evil, and bringing forth the message of hope seem like impossible tasks. Throughout the gospels, however, Jesus models them. As the body of Christ, we are called to imitate Jesus’ actions. At first glance, this call appears problematic: We are all not faith healers, exorcists, or preachers. Or are we?

My grandmother lived a life of clandestine Christian ministry. She was a devout Roman Catholic from Italy, emigrating to the US after she married my grandfather during the second World War. She was a brilliant entrepreneur, and with little language and cultural knowledge, she started with almost nothing and built a successful produce business that served her community for decades. I never knew a person who worked harder than she did. She was up before dawn and worked all day and into the night. She was not a person to sit still. In the midst of her buying, travelling, retailing, and conversing with customers, she always took the time to serve those who struggled to serve themselves. 

Mrs. H was in her eighties and had difficulty getting out of her apartment. I vividly remember my grandmother taking her orders over the phone. And it was not a business transaction. Those conversations were about family and health, and the theme of caring concern flowed over the receiver. My grandmother was known to add, gratis, a few special items like her homemade fruit salad. And believe me, there was no better fruit salad than that of my grandmother.  

I was often the delivery boy, and I dreaded the third-floor climb with that towering box full of produce. I would say hello, drop off the box, and look for my egress. But Mrs. H was always full of words. She thanked me and always talked about how good a person my grandmother was by delivering the produce she no longer had the mobility to get. 

As a spiritually blind ten-year-old, I did not get it. I saw those deliveries as a hassle, as an undesirable chore. But what was happening around me was miraculous. Through God’s grace, my grandmother was bringing healing, joy, love, and smiles to those around her. She was, whether she knew it or not, offering her Christian ministry to others, imitating Jesus’ model in the gospels. 

What is our ministry? How does our vocation allow us to be Christ to those we encounter? We are called to heal, to expel hopelessness, to serve, and to bring good news to those we encounter. 
Heavenly Father, grant us that, like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, we all rise up in the healing hands of Christ, your Son, and serve others with all our hearts. And we pray in Jesus Christ’s name, amen. 
Have a blessed week!
Stan