Sunday, May 22, 2011

5th Sunday of Easter - May 22, 2011 (alternate sermon @ St. Peter)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today, Jesus gives us a very simple command; he tells us to be perfect like God. 
He tells us to be perfect like God.
He tells us to be perfect like God.
Now that is quite a command!  When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, at least they seemed realistic.  The people of Israel still weren’t able to keep them, mind you, but at least it seemed like they had a fighting chance.  What are we supposed to do with this new commandment from Jesus?  This sermon is going to be about how three different people understand God’s commands, particularly this big one from Jesus. And at the end, it will be a sermon on what we as Lutherans know about such things.

Now there is a certain kind of person who hears God’s command to be perfect and gets excited.  Lets call this person Tom.  Tom gets excited because he is an observant man.  He pays attention to the news.  He is involved in his community.  He has noticed what happens when God’s law is broken or ignored.  All kinds of trouble!  Abortion, drug abuse, violence, divorce.  Tom is a kind-hearted man and he wants good things for people.  “If only we would take God’s commands more seriously then we wouldn’t have so many of these problems,” he says.  Tom gets excited when he hears God’s command to be perfect because he has faith that if we just tried harder, God would work through the law to make us into better people.

There is another kind of person and we will call her Jane.  Jane hears God’s command to be perfect and she cringes.  She takes God’s law seriously too, but she’s well aware that she hasn’t kept it very well.  Jane made some bad decisions when she was younger, got pregnant when she was still in high school, married the father.  Divorced the father because he had a drinking problem.  She’s always trying to do the right thing.  But it’s always seemed out of reach for her.  And so when she hears God’s command to be perfect she just feels guilty.  “God, why does it have to be so difficult,” is what she says.  “Oh well, I guess I’ll just keep trying.”

Bob is another kind of fellow altogether.  He runs his own business and places high value on getting things done.  He hears God’s command to be perfect and it strikes him as unrealistic.  Bob is a practical man, after all.  “Clearly,” he thinks, “Jesus was just exaggerating to make a point.”  For Bob, God’s commands are more or less good moral suggestions that sometimes are relevant and sometimes aren’t, depending on how well they work.  What’s important is “living right.”  That is what God is really interested in, after all.  Each person needs to use a little common sense to live right and that should be fine.

So there you go.  Three different kinds of people who hear God’s command in three different ways.

As you might imagine, there are problems with all three.  Or rather, there is a particular problem with all three.  When Tom, Jane and Bob hear the gospel lesson for today and when they hear Jesus say, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect” their minds are trapped.  They immediately start thinking about whether or not they have kept the command.  “How well have I done?” is what they are thinking.

  • Tom thinks that he’s done pretty well, by the grace of God.
  • Jane knows that she’s messed it up and wishes she could go back and do a better job of it.
  • Bob congratulates himself for being reasonable enough to live right without getting hung up on being too literal.
All are thinking about how well they have done.  And I don’t blame them one bit.  That’s just how people think.  It’s perfectly rationale.  In their own ways Tom, Jane and Bob are each responding rationally to the command of Jesus.  But so long as they remain stuck there on the command, they are missing the part that really matters.    

The gospel is not rationale.  God’s choosing you to be his child is not rationale.  Quite to the contrary, the gospel comes out of left field.  It’s about the most irrational thing that you can think of.  Trying to explain it can rob it of it of its beauty and its power so here it is.   

When God looks at you, he isn’t trying to figure out whether or not you’ve been perfect.  God does not say, “Well, you’ve really shown some improvement.”   God does not say, “If only you’d just try a little harder!”  He looks at you and he sees his son, Jesus Christ, absolutely perfect and without fault.  And then he says to you, his voice swelling with pride, “I am pleased with you.”

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