You have to be Perfect to be Loved

Sermons

Preached by Father Paul Allick on 7th Sunday after Epiphany (Sunday, February 19, 2017)

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48

 

Over the past few weeks our Gospel readings have been taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is interpreting the Law given to Moses on another Mount. Today Jesus sums it up this way: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” For some of us this will be easy since we are already perfect. The rest of you will want to consider how it is that you will reach this perfection.  

 

Jesus puts forth a whole series of impossible demands here: Turn the other cheek, give into those who sue you, and give to everyone who begs or borrows from you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

 

Our glimpse of the Law from Leviticus is no easier: Leave some of your harvest for the poor and the immigrants but also don’t show favoritism to either the poor or the great. Don’t gossip. Don’t secretly hate your neighbor. Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

And of course it begins with this: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

 

We ask ourselves, how on earth can I be as perfect and holy as God?

 

First we have to decide what our idea of perfection looks like.

 

New Testament teacher Fr. Bill Countryman asks, “Is it a kind of sculptured or crystalline beauty? Or is it the “haphazard and fleeting perfection of a handsome tree or dog or deer or flower?”

 

He points out that human beings are not born full grown. Human perfection is organic and grows over time and is never absolutely without flaw. Jesus’ call to perfection is not about getting it unfailingly right, rather it focuses, “on love and generosity, even toward our enemies.”

 

How do we become holy and perfect? We learn how to love. It’s not a Hallmark Greeting kind of love. It’s not about being “nice” to each other. It is a love that comes from outside of us. It is Divine Love. Love of neighbor is secondary to it. To love our Lord with all of our heart, mind and soul comes first. All the rest of the love, the holiness and the perfection will come from our fidelity toward God.  

 

Therefore the first step in learning how to love is to learn how to be loved. Can we accept the love God has for us? God is love. How can we learn to love without intimately understanding God’s love for us?

 

Sincere habitual devotion to God will change everything because that is how we begin to fathom how much God loves us. In Christ we see that Divine Love is a sacrificial love. This is where all love comes from. It doesn’t come from our willpower. It comes from our determination to stay in right relationship with God thus ending up in right relationship with our neighbors.

 

In our collect we recalled that the greatest gift of God is love. Without it all else we do is worthless. Without love we are accounted as dead before God. The gift of love is the true bond of peace and of all virtue.

 

The love of God is eternal and overflowing. The Catechism teaches us that we pray for the dead because we still hold them in our love and we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is. (Book of Common Prayer, p.862)

 

This is true for all Christians the living and the dead. Our souls are eternal. Our journey toward God’s presence has already begun. We are soaking in the process of being perfected in Christ and finding our inner holiness. Of course we stumble along the way. This is why we repent, confess, and then receive absolution in the name of the Church so that we can get up and move on.

 

Now this is all lofty and nice but let me give some practical advice for the journey. It comes from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Archbishop Justin has set out three priorities for his tenure. I believe these three priorities can help the Church learn how to be loved by God and how to then perfectly love one another.

 

First, the Archbishop has called for a Renewal of Prayer and the Religious Life. He is encouraging all Christians to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer. He is also encouraging

us to support our friars, sisters, monks and nuns in the Anglican Communion. They can teach the rest of us about prayer and their prayers will empower and uphold the Church.

 

Second, the Archbishop asks us to focus on Reconciliation. He writes, “Reconciliation does not mean we all agree. It means we find ways to disagree - perhaps very passionately - but loving each other deeply at the same time, and being deeply committed to each other.”

 

The third priority is Evangelism and Witness. He explains that evangelism means showing others - through our words, actions, attitudes and interactions - how God has offered every one of us a new start.

 

Can we ever become holy? Can we ever let go enough to let Christ perfect us in his love? The Archbishop tells us how: prayer, reconciliation, and evangelism.

 

This is how we open our hearts and allow Jesus to do the perfecting. This is how we discover our inner holiness.

 

References:

“Forgiven and Forgiving” by L. William Countryman

Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA 1998 (Pp. 27-29)

 

Archbishop’s Priorities: www.archbisophofcanterbury.org