Published by Michael Bigg on Wed, 14 Feb 2018 14:08

The text of Mike's Ash Wednesday sermon, based on Matthew 5:48


“Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. No pressure there, then. What could be easier? “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

It’s a daunting charge that Jesus gives but a helpful one as we begin the season of Lent. Let’s unpack it a little and hopefully it will become an encouragement rather than an impossible task that leaves us in the wilderness.

 

Firstly, the word translated “perfect” in most translations is teleios. It literally means “goal” or “purpose”. The same word root is used by Jesus on the cross: “tetelestai” – the goal has been achieved (or “it is finished” in many translations). In this context teleios is probably best translated “complete” or “fully realised”: “be complete as your heavenly Father is complete”; “be fully realised as your heavenly Father is fully realised”.

One of the defining features of God is “perfection” in this sense. God cannot be added to. There is nothing in God’s character that needs development. God cannot become more godly. In technical language God has no potential; God is as fully God as it is possible to be. God is completely God. God’s potential is fully realised. God is teleios, complete.

Perfection in that sense is, I think, something we can reasonably aspire to. To aspire to perfection is to aspire to be fully the people God has called us to be. Being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect is not to aspire to be like God (after all, that aspiration led to the first sin in the garden of Eden). No, to aspire to perfection is to fully realise the potential God has given us.

 

Consider a cup of tea. I’d like you to imagine a perfect cup of tea. The perfection of that cup of tea is in no way diminished by the fact that it’s not a cup of coffee. A perfect cup of tea is to fully realise the potential of those tea leaves. The fact that they are not something else does not matter a jot!

Theodore Roosevelt is credited with the phrase: “Comparison is the thief of joy”. When we look at what someone else has and compare ourselves unfavourably it robs us of the joy of our own condition. When we see greener grass on the other side of the fence our capacity to enjoy the verdant pleasure of our own grass is reduced.

 

 

 

When this life is over and we return to the dust whence we’ve come we will only be able to plead Jesus’ righteousness before God’s throne. However, when we’re asked about the way we’ve lived I don’t think any of us will be asked “Why were you not more like Mother Theresa?” or “Why weren’t you more like Peter?”. I don’t even think we’ll be asked “Why were you not more like Jesus?” but instead “Why were you not more the person you were created to be?”, “Why were you not more like Mike?”

 

Lent recalls Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness. Part of that time was for Jesus to be alone with God to hear what God was calling him to. In Matthew 4:17 we hear that after his time in the wilderness: “from that time Jesus began to proclaim: Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near”. He spent time listening to God’s calling and then went to do it.

God calls each of you to the service of the Kingdom. It might be through hospitality. It might be as an evangelist, quietly speaking God’s words to a hungry people. It might be as a teacher, or as a nurse, or as a mechanic. Maybe calls you to serve his Kingdom through a commitment to a life of prayer. Maybe God is calling you into the particular ministry of ordained priesthood.

None of God’s callings are any more noble or worthwhile than any other; God calls all of us to become the people he made us to be. People fully alive!

If we want to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” then I encourage you to spend time this Lent asking God to speak to you afresh. Maybe God is calling you to a new thing. A new phase. A new ministry. Maybe God is calling you to revive an old thing.

So Pray. Ask others what they discern in you. Read John’s gospel. Pray again. In 6 weeks we celebrate the breaking of the chains of death on Easter morning. My prayer is that as we approach that celebration we would hear afresh God’s gracious calling on our lives, that you would know life and be empowered to live those perfect lives we are called to. Amen.

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