Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Belonging to Perfection


My wife and I have been parents for nine years. Each day brings something new, and we're still learning. We're learning what it means to parent a preteen who is beginning to feel the emotional swings that accompany a changing body. We're learning how to balance the demands of school, church, sports, music, and friends. We're also still learning how to make time for one another through all of that. And we're also learning what it means to raise preacher's kids (PKs).

Everyone knows that PKs have a bad reputation. And sometimes its well deserved. Some PKs are total little $%#&s. But so are other kids. Not all kids, of course, but there are plenty of crappy children who belong to doctors and nurses and teachers. Some of the misbehaving tendencies of PKs is because they're PKs, and some of it is pure projection by everyone else. The scrutiny of belonging to a preacher's family, in which kids are expected by their parents to be perfect and expected by everyone else to be terrible, can send even a well-wired child into disarray. But sometimes kids are just kids. Five-year-olds have a hard time sitting still, and PKs typically go to church EVERY week, which gives the congregation a greater sample size of squirmy PKs than other kids. As parents of PKs, we're still learning how to relax more than our instincts would allow, how to expose our children a modest dose of pressure from others, and how to shield them from some of the unfair criticism. It's a tough line to walk, but it's nothing compared to the perfection that is demanded of everyone who belongs to God.

Take a moment to read all of Leviticus 19, sections of which we will read as the first lesson on Sunday. It's a strange collection of commandments and prohibitions. Some of them make great sense to us (e.g. "You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him"). Others are a little weird (e.g. "Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute"). Although there's debate over which ones should still be kept, there is no debate over the logic behind them. Over and over, we are reminded, "I am the Lord your God." We are to be holy because our God is holy.

Set aside the impossibility of that for a moment and just sit with the implication of that. The Lord is our God. By that, we mean that we belong to God (not the other way around). The Lord has called us, named us, designated us as God's own. That has implications for us and for our life. Because we are the Lord's, we don't participate in idol worship or child sacrifice. Because we are the Lord's, we take care of the needy, remember the orphan and widow, and provide for the common good. Because we are the Lord's, we model our family life on the love God has for us .We do those things because we already belong to God (not the other way around).

The gospel lesson for Sunday (Matthew 5:38-48) is the end of Jesus' own version of the "Holiness Code." He concludes by saying, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is his recapitulation of Leviticus 19. He's telling us that the bar is set to perfection. We are to be holy because God is holy, and we are to be holy just as God is holy. Our holiness is a reflection of his holiness. God's ways must be our ways. If we fully embrace our identity as belonging to God, if he is our heavenly father, then we will be holy and perfect just as God is holy and perfect. How? Through the one who makes us holy, the one who makes us God's children, the one who is our perfection, Jesus Christ.

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