Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What kind of absurd demand is that? Why in the world would Jesus tell all of us who are clearly imperfect to become perfect?
As it turns out, it’s one of those commands that lit a fire under early Methodist preachers like John Wesley and Francis Asbury.
But it also made for a logical next step in the Eye Rollers series. After a quick detour through an ESPN commercial, a One Direction hit, and a fashion show featuring yours truly, the message landed at this bottom line:
You won’t have perfect performance for Jesus but you do have perfect position in him.
The message concluded with an impromptu pledge of identity, one I like very much.
Maybe you remember this commercial from ESPN in which they compared the pressure of a PERFECT broadcast to what happens in baseball when a pitcher is close to a PERFECT game of no runs, hits, errors, or walks. PLAY CLIP.
Apparently the pressure proved too much! Because the lure of the perfect and the difficulty of attaining can be so overpowering. There’s the perfect season from the 17-0 1972 Miami Dolphins. There’s the perfect wedding that you either had for yourself or planned for someone else. There was the movie about the Perfect 10 … anyone remember Bo Derek? Or the Perfect 10 score on the balance beams in the Olympics? One Direction has that song Baby You’re Perfect (play clip) (Standing O that I know a One Direction song). And all my adult life I have been in search of the … perfect sermons. The lure of it, the pressure of it, & it’s almost too much!
But let’s add one other piece to all this: PerfectionISTS. See, there’s a reason in baseball that the other players stay away from a guy who’s trending towards a perfect game. They become DIFFICULT, annoying. And that’s the way it is in our lives with perfectionISTS, is it not? They want perfect service at a restaurant, perfect seats at a movie, perfect grades on the report card, a perfect Xmas every single year. Some of you have probably wilted under the pressure of living with or trying to please a perfectionist. And now others of you realize with a flash of clarity why so many have wilted around YOU. You’ve been the perfectionist wilting others.
So with all that, my question to Jesus is just a simple WHY? Why do you add to his already heavy burden that perfectionists have and that they inflict? Why, Jesus? See, at the culmination of a whole series of statements that cause us to roll our eyes – love your enemies, turn the other cheek, don’t lust – he summarizes it with the eye rolleriest of them all: Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect. And oh, Lord, how much blood has been shed and ink has been spilled trying to make this verse says something other than what it is saying? How many hundreds of different ways have preachers and teachers and pretenders tried to explain it away or edit it out? And here I am, just adding to that list … unless, unless I don’t shed any blood or spill any ink but I think I can help point to one clue – ONE CLUE 00 that changes this whole eye roller from burden to blessing, from duty to design, from threat to promise.
But before I do that, can I show you something? Here I am in my John Travolta Saturday Night Fever dance off leisure suit. Hey, we THOUGHT about me trying on a sumo wrestling outfit so consider yourselves lucky! But that is an UNCOMFORTABLE SUIT. It doesn’t fit. It’s not me. And that’s typically how we feel when we combine Jesus and religion with words like perfection, holiness, maturity, completion. Like it is an ill-fitting suit, not designed for us, robbing us of any fun or any natural anything, simple ensure that we read all the bible’s NOs loudly, clearly, literally. Cover to cover NO. It’s an unfair burden placed on us. We’ve dealt with perfectionists, we’ve been around holier than thous, and now it’s like we add God to the list.
But what if, what if, instead of that, what Jesus was talking about, WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, is more like this:
(Pic of mein tennis clothes, with racket). Now that fits. Comfortable, natural, the real-est me there ever was. Not an ill-fitting suit; a super comfortable ensemble! And what if what Jesus is talking about fits just like that does? What if we’re not talking punishment, we’re talking privilege? Not obligation but opportunity?
Because do you remember that before I gave that little SUMO WRESTLING FREE fashion show, I told you I have a clue, just one, that opens this whole thing up? It’s this: as your Father in heaven. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Guess what? That means that whatever holiness or goodness Jesus is talking about it’s NOT YOURS. It’s his! You merely rest in it, reflect it. It stems from something so much deeper than obedience, much more to do with where you take up residence? Here’s what I mean: You won’t have perfect performance for Jesus but you do have perfect position in him. Perfection has so little to do with performance and everything to do with position because it is his perfection anyway! And you know what perfect position him is?
It’s when daily the best thing about your life is that you’re …
Powerless without him.
Never helpless because of him.
That’s your daily position, those realities are your deepest joy – imagine! Your deepest joy is admitting how messed up you are AND how loved you are! That’s your position and because it’s IN HIM … it’s perfect. You won’t have perfect performance for Jesus but you do have perfect position in him.
It’s a bit like what happened to these two young folks trying to break into Hollywood a couple of generations ago. And they kept hearing that John Wayne – the Duke! – was advocating for them. Getting them entrée where they’d never have had it otherwise. So finally they caught up with him and asked, “Mr Wayne, why do you keep doing this for us?” “It’s easy,” he said, “Somebody did it for me.” That’s our position. The only way any of us will ever love enemies, pray for persecutors, greet those who despise us is because we know someone did it for us. We give what we first gained. Not by virtue of our performance for Jesus but our position in him.
Or maybe I saw it in that pastor’s family who adopted a 12 year old named Roger whose parents had both died from drug overdose. And early, because of the vastly different backgrounds, Roger struggled in the new family. And so mom and dad would have to say on occasion, “Roger, that’s not how we behave in our family.” “Roger, we don’t hit in our family.” “Roger we show respect in our family.” Notice the language: he didn’t have to make the changes to become part of the family. He was IN the family. That was his position. His behavior changed not so he could EARN that place but because he was so grateful he HAD that place. You won’t have perfect performance for Jesus but you do have perfect position in him.
This is so much his perfection and not yours. And here’s why. The world “perfect” also means complete or whole. Less moral or intellectual perfection and more spiritual & emotional completion. Look at the completion this way. Other than Jesus on the cross, what do you need for forgiveness of your sins?
Jesus plus nothing leads to forgiveness.
And to complete the picture, what else do you need for your eternity other than the fact that Jesus punched through death and resurrected on its other side?
Jesus plus nothing promises the resurrection of YOUR body.
It’s his performance, not yours, and his performance was in every way possible, PERFECT! From the grandest design to the smallest detail, his performance was flawless.
Because here is a glorious secret. Everything I have been talking about today, sourced in what Jesus spoke about, is not a burden but a blessing. Not some kind of duty but your design. Not an ill fitting suit but comfortable clothes made just for you.
See some of you are so miserable because you’re life is characterized by secrets. You don’t want the people you love the most to know about that relationship or that habit or that thing you do when no one else is around. And then others of you are so unhappy because the more you clamor for respect and attention the more elusive it is. And then others of you are like that friend of mine who, no matter what he did, it was never good enough for mom. Approval withheld. Position tenuous. And so you hear any calls to holiness or goodness or even obedience as just another smackdown.
But you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s the way God has wired you. It’s his design in you. That you so rest in HIS PERFECTION that giving away what you’ve gained becomes second nature. It’s the kind of life where you can do a job whether or not you’re being supervised. Where you can carry money but don’t have to spend it. Where you can get cut off in traffic and realize “nope, there’s no law that says I have to give that guy half the peace sign.” Where you can have a weekend alone and realize you’ve don’t nothing to embarrass your spouse, yourself, or your Savior. Where you can have a searching and fearless moral inventory at the end of the day, go to bed with a clean conscience, and get up eager to do it all over again.
And you realize: this is the REAL me. Not the striving one. Not the seeking one. Not the drunk one. Not the stoned one. This one. The positioned one. You won’t have perfect performance for Jesus but you do have perfect position in him.
As a reminder of our positioning, let’s declare this together:
I am bought.
I am bled for.
I am loved.
I am being resurrected.
I am powerless without him.
Because of him, I am never helpless.