The worst thing you can tell a perfectionist is to “be perfect.” Trust me, I speak from experience. I am a perfectionist. But, believe it or not, I actually have been working on letting go of some of my perfectionist tendencies. I have been working on a concept my therapist calls “good enough.” Maybe some of you have heard of this before? What that means is that I am trying to be happy with what most people would call perfect and allow myself a little bit of the grace I preach. I feel good about the progress I have been making. And then I read this scripture. Thanks, Jesus. As if being a disciple wasn’t challenging enough, now you want me to be perfect? Awesome! I didn’t think that God created me to have a complex, but perhaps I’m wrong. I don’t mind being a perfectionist. It drives me to work hard.
This scripture picks up this week exactly where we left off last week. This is the last reading we will get from the Sermon on the Mount. Just as a reminder, Jesus is preaching to the disciples (and us) what I referred to as “discipleship 101.” We are learning what is expected of the disciples, what is expected of us, and ultimately, how to make new disciples. The ultimate goal that we’re working towards in Matthew’s Gospel is Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The end goal for Jesus isn’t resurrection. The end goal is to prepare the disciples and all of his followers to go to all the ends of the earth telling anyone that will listen through any means possible that they are loved and saved.
Now, in case you haven’t really heard me the last few weeks, this discipleship stuff isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not easy. But, being a disciple and living in the community of believers is what makes church different from the country club. Can you imagine belonging to a golf course and one of the rules was “for every game you win, someone else in your party must win also.” Being a disciple is counter-cultural. Being a disciple laughs in the face of the question “what’s in it for me?” Being a disciple leads to death. It’s leads to Jesus’ death on the cross, of course. But it also leads to our own death. In order for the message to be about God and God’s saving actions on the cross through Jesus Christ, we have to get out of the way.
If this wasn’t difficult enough, this week Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Not only love our enemies but pray for those who would persecute us. I don’t like this idea at all. I don’t want to love my enemies and I certainly don’t want to pray for those who are out to get me. But again, being a disciple isn’t easy. Now, it should be said that this scripture isn’t a blank check for our enemies or those who would wish to do us harm. In certain contexts, this scripture has been used to encourage people in abusive relationships to stay in those relationships. That’s not what Jesus meant. Loving someone doesn’t equate to universal tolerance.
See, the love that Jesus is talking about here is “agape” love; God-like love. The word “agape” in the Greek is used to describe the love of God to and for God’s people. This isn’t person to person love. Agape love is centered in the cross. God like love means loving someone enough to tell them the truth. And sometimes the truth is “hey you’re a jerk” or “that’s not acceptable here.” Agape love is love that supports the theology of the cross. This means calling something what it is. Death can be terrible. Suffering is unacceptable. People can be jerks. But, it also means loving one another enough to hold one another accountable and to call them to the carpet. Agape love always leads to the cross where everyone is on equal ground. The difficult part of agape love is that if we’re going to give it or at least point to it, we have to be willing to accept it for ourselves. This means that we live and act like God loves us but we are also open to accepting when people call us to the carpet.
Being a disciple isn’t a one time job. It isn’t something that we can do for a few hours a day (like paperwork) and call it good. This is a life time calling. With that in mind, the idea of being perfect can be overwhelming. But, the original Greek here could be translated as “be persistent.” I like that idea much better. God does not call us as disciples to be perfect, but to be persistent. To persist in working towards ushering in God’s kingdom here on earth. The idea of persistence is to not give up. It’s also something we should work on every day. Being a disciple also takes practice and so we persist in that as well. Being persistent is to live as an example to those around us that God is still working on us too. “Because God persists, we persist” (Mary Brown via Karoline Lewis).
See, we serve a God that is nothing if not persistent. God doesn’t give up on us. God keeps working on us. God keeps molding us, shaping us, feeding us, and providing for us. We don’t mess up once and God crosses us of the “things to worry about list.” No, God is persistent. We have a God of second, third, fourth, infinity chances. God is persistent. I’ve often joked that God is the hide and seek master. We can try and hide from God for whatever reason, but God will find us. And when God finds us, it’s not to punish us, shame us, or make us suffer for whatever shortcomings we’ve had. God finds us because God is persistent and longs to love us. Again, that doesn’t mean we get a blank check to do whatever we like because God will love us. Because God is persistent, God is always working on us.
Now, more than ever, the world is hungry for words of love, mercy, and forgiveness. At the same time, people are afraid to listen for God or listen to God. They are afraid of judgement and wrath. But, God does and will speak through disciples. God speaks through us and to us. We are created to be in community and we are created to care for one another, even when the other is our enemy. God continues to be “Immanuel, God with us.” What difference might it make for you to be the one to tell someone “God doesn’t give up on you because God is persistent”? What difference does it make for you to hear that God hasn’t given up on you because God is persistent. God isn’t done with you yet. God did not create you, wash you, and redeem you only to forget you. God doesn’t feed you only to leave you hungry for more. God didn’t hang on a cross and bleed so that you would question if you are loved. God doesn’t and hasn’t given up on you, brothers and sisters, because God is persistent. And because God is persistent, so we shall be also.