Proper 11, Trinity 5 Beyond all hope

We can be certain of one thing and that is we are not perfect human beings. Some are very imperfect physically, though it is probably not their fault. The worst cases of imperfection are those who are spiritually imperfect. However, no matter how spiritually imperfect we are, as Christians we are not beyond all hope. So says Paul in today’s reading from his letter to the Ephesians though he expresses this sentiment by putting it in reverse … that when we were without God we were people without hope. It follows that if we are people of God then we are also people who have hope. Hope to be perfect.

Perfection, according to the Oxford dictionary, is a state of completeness; at least that is what was believed in the seventeenth century as perfection. It was an idea they developed from medieval times, the action or process of “being made perfect and complete.” By the time we get to the nineteenth century perfection has come to mean flawlessness or faultlessness. The medieval monastic tradition aimed at being morally perfect. It was another way of saying holy. It was considered that whatever was perfect was an extreme of a faculty or quality whether the result was good or evil. In other words, we can be perfectly evil as well as perfectly good.

In Luke’s gospel (8:14) in the story of the sower, Luke has Jesus saying, “the seed that falls among the thistles gets chocked, the people thus represented bring nothing to perfection.”  If you look in a modern translation it will say that “they bring nothing to maturity.” Perfection is maturity.

In the Book of Lamentation in the Old Covenant (2:14) it says:

“The visions that they saw for you were delusions, false and fraudulent.

All those who pass by snap their fingers at you;

they hiss and wag their heads at you, daughter of Jerusalem:

Is this the city once called Perfect in beauty,

Joy of the whole earth?

Perfect in beauty, the ultimate beauty is perfect beauty and a perfectionist is anyone who holds a theory or follows any practice for the attainment of religious, moral, social or political perfection. That is what we should be as Christians … perfectionists.

However we should be careful in our assessment of what perfect and perfection really is in the world of humans. To be perfect is not to lose all joy; to be perfect is not to be “too good to be true.”

We might say that perfection is absolute truth.

As we have seen in the translation of Luke … perfection is also total maturity. When we say that Jesus is perfect man we can mean that he is the ultimate in maturity in our species. The words do not necessarily mean that he can do no wrong.

What we, as Christians should be aiming for is maturity; a definite completeness and wholeness. Jesus says that he comes to bring “life in all its fullness” … it is complete, mature, and perfect. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that when we are children, in other words, when we are immature, our knowledge is partial and incomplete and we take this incompleteness with us into adulthood. Only when we come face to face with God can we become whole and this should be for all of us our ultimate ambition.

One of the advantages of marriage is that it can help each partner to become more complete as a person, but like all institutions and arrangements, marriage can also be destructive. We should therefore, in all our relationships, take steps to help each other to become more mature, better people, helping and assisting each other in this move towards perfection.

One of the reasons we are all here this morning is to be involved in a community action that moves us towards a better maturity and so is yet another step towards perfection. The community action is the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ in which we positively identify ourselves with him and his unique relationship with God. Coming face to face with God, as Paul puts it.

It is a question of achieving, or becoming the most complete people we can possibly be. We admire those who reach the pinnacle of their ambitions in sport or work, and we should especially admire those who are the achievers in spiritual and social living. Just occasionally, some do attain recognition for this … like Mother Theresa … but by and large, the struggles of these people go unnoticed by the majority but not by God. It is these people to whom we turn for help when we enter our own personal crises, and it is to them we probably owe our greatest debts.

This worship of thanksgiving, in which we hopefully are involved this morning, is not a Uriah Heap groveling in the hope we can get something more out of the person with the power and authority.

We are not children seeing our mother return with the shopping in which we can see in the carrier bag some chocolate biscuits, and if we are nice to her and tell her we love her, she will respond by opening up the biscuit packet and send us out to play with half a dozen of the cookies in our grubby hand. That is about as immature as we can get.

Optimistically, I am predicting that we will have moved on a little bit from this to be responsible people capable of having adult relationships in which we are no longer seeking to receive only for ourselves but are generously making contributions also to our families and to society. True Christian worship is the offering of ourselves in the service of others so that we can grow in maturity, or perfection, if you prefer that word instead.

Two people can go to a talk or lecture. Both will listen, but one will be involved in what was said, a participant, whereas the other will have no real interest and at the end will walk away unmoved. Same with going to a music concert in which some will be caught up and drawn into the event and others left impassive and unaffected. So it is with worship and church and with life itself, but if we have any understanding of the New Covenant and the life of Christ we will know that he considered no one to be beyond all hope but that we are all capable of a complete and perfect maturity, born out of our attachment, connection and respect for God.

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