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The Perfect Invitation.

Matthew 5:38-48

Epiphany 7, Common Lectionary Year A

©2017 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

Is this not all, de trop, too much?
Turning the other cheek?
Going the extra mile?
Willingly giving more than the overreaching demands
of those who ask too much?
Loving those who have done us wrong?
Forgiving those who have trespassed against us,
welcoming the stranger, who speaks differently,
whose name for God sends shivers down our spine
as we’ve been taught by the mongers of fear?
And then, as if that is not already too much,
Jesus tops it all with “Be perfect, just like God?”

How often have we, individually, and as a community,
tried and failed, at one or more of these?
Which one is your stumbling block?
Your rake in the grass? The one that trips you up every time?
– Being generous to the stingy,
– Turning the other cheek, staying connected to the sharp tongued, or the hyper-critical?
– Choosing to remain non-violent in response to aggression of word or action?
– or the seemingly benign relentless pursuit of impossible perfection that breaks hearts, spirits, health, relationships?

I had to pick one, it would be failing utterly to love those
who have done my loved ones wrong.
When that happens, I’m all there with the eye for eye and tooth for tooth…. I don’t want to hear Jesus tell me to love my enemies!
And if truth be told, I don’t know how, without God’s help. I really don’t.

But that’s only the half of it.
How many times has this passage been used
by good God-fearing folk, often unwittingly….
to increase the violation,
to compound the ugliness, to deepen the darkness?
A wife told to take it on the chin from a bullying husband?
Mile after mile, year after year.
A violated child told she has to forgive her attacker?
I’m with the Dixie Chicks on this one…
“I’m not ready to make nice.. not ready to back down”[1]
not while women are missing and murdered,
not while refugees are crawling under barbed wire,
not while the freedom of people is in jeopardy,
not while the poor shackled to the begging bowl,
at the mercy of the fickle generosity of people and systems.
If I’m supposed forgive the enemies of God’s Dream,
then I fail miserably at this Gospel.

So what’s this preacher to do?
Follow, go deep, wrestle a little,
search for the golden thread woven
through this entire Invitation on the Mount,
for it is there.
We glimpse its stunning brilliance in the last verse of today’s passage.
“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
Telos. ????? [2]

That shot arrow…. that almost misses it mark in English translation.
Sure, it can be translated ‘perfect.’
Telos ????? is a word big enough not merely to imply lack of moral blemish (if it means that at all),
but also to embrace the rich depth of meaning
of words like
purpose, goal, maturation, completion, the ultimate end, persistence, fulfillment, intention, essence,
the dream come true.
“Perfect,” like that brilliant sunrise sparkling off icicles perfect…
like juice from a ripe peach dripping down your chin perfect,
like the beautiful twisted eyebrow and chipped tooth of your best beloved perfect.
like photos of scarves on lampposts, or tea lights in the snow perfect.

When that perfect arrow arcs over
everything Jesus has said these past weeks,
from his first “Come, see, Come Follow,
over his “You are blessed” – holy wholly loved –
over his “You are salt, You are light!”
over the choices we are invited to make,
to be right or to be caring….
as we watch it reach its mark, we go… “Oohh!!”
This “be perfect” this telos ????? Jesus invites us into
is not about checking a list of impossible things,
or about trying to be someone we’re not ever going to be,
it’s an invitation, with our name on it, to become
most fully, essentially, completely who we are,
for the love of God, and the sake of the world!

It’s about each of us sitting on that hillside,
uniquely, individually invited to be the me, the you,
we’re created by God to be!
It’s about us sitting here, invited to be
God’s Dream come true,
a caring community,
bringing God’s Dream to bear on the kingdoms
of the earth.

Now, of course, we all have imperfections.
We all have our healing work and soul work to do.
We all need God’s forgiveness, and grace.
We all need to be recipients of one another’s forgiveness, especially in a diverse, gifted, community.

And we all live in a world itself flawed like us,
still on its journey towards its intended telos.
That means someone, something in this world will knock us sideways.
Someone, something will demand the shirt of our backs.
Some system will silence us, someone will hate us,
wrong us in some unconscionable way.

But this perfect invitation reminds that we are
up to the task of non-violent, kingdom response.
We are enough!
You’ve seen this before I’m sure.
(God don’t make no junk!)

Let me quote Marianne Williamson
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us……in everyone.

So, when troubles come,
Jesus invites to respond from the telos, the essence,
of who we are.

Imagine what this looks like! For us as a community, and for each of us in our day-to-day living;
If you’re a perfectionist; how will you use that in service of God’s Dream?
If you’re Zen, type B, a peace maker, then we need you! Show us how to forgive well, how to stay connected.
If you’re cranky, and opinionated, perhaps your telos is to get us all “woke” woken up,
alert to the injustices we may not have noticed.
If you’re the stolid persistent type, your telos will keep us faithful to the long haul of God’s kingdom task.
If you’re an artist, a poet, musician, your telos is to inspire the world with your art to tell truths we’d otherwise be blind and deaf to.
If you’re a parent, your ????? may be to raise children who can believe in God, themselves, and the world as “Good” and worthy of their future.

We each get this perfect invitation.
It has our own name on it…
We get to put it on our bathroom mirror,
so we learn to see ourselves
as the perfect ‘me’ that God created and loves.
And, we get to spend the rest of our lives
figuring out how our own unique, perfect telos will bring the make the Dream of God come true among the kingdoms of the earth.


[1] Dixie Chicks “I’m not ready to make nice” ©Columbia Records 2006

[2] Greek fonts not available for this footnote….

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