Summary: When we are dealing with issues and conflicts, we may select to be babies (unlimited retaliation), children (limited retaliation), adolescents (limited love), or mature (unlimited love), toward Jesus’ command to "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What madman spoke those words? What visionary would even in his wildest dreams suppose that you and I could be perfect? What is this raving?
It is the word of Jesus, at the end of a series of challenges. Love your enemies. Give to those who ask of you. Turn the other cheek. Take off your very clothes and go without for others. Who can live like this? Who even wants to live like this? It’s easy to see why various interpreters have put Jesus’ words on the shelf and have refused to think that anyone might actually live this way!
There is a reason why we are pretty sure this can’t be done, this thing of being perfect as God is perfect. It has to do with the kind of world we live in. We think it’s impossible because the world is in such a mess and it drags us down too. This world is in a mess, and so are we. Sin is real, and it’s in us as well as everywhere else. No argument about that. I am reminded of the little boy whose big brother was in medical school. The younger boy got to looking in his brother’s anatomy textbooks. He saw with astonishment the layouts of bones and muscles. He gaped at the complex system of arteries and veins. He got slightly sick looking at pictures of internal organs. His verdict at the end of the book was, “It sure is yucky. But it is inside us.” That’s the way to think of sin. “It sure is yucky. But it is inside us.”
So how are we ever going to be perfect? How can we possibly dream of being complete? In a world of unlimited ills, who is going to make it to perfection? In a world of corruption, where wrong is forever on the throne and right forever on the scaffold, who can even dream of achieving this perfection thing?
The answer is: we can grow up into Christ. We can grow up into Christ. Grow up, mature. That’s what the word “perfect” really means – to be mature, complete, finished. And we can grow into Christ. If Christ grows in us, we can move toward being complete.
I want to acknowledge my indebtedness for the outline of this message to the late and sainted Clarence Jordan. Clarence Jordan was the founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia. He and Koinonia Farms did a great deal years ago to break down the walls of racial segregation and to attack the foundations of intolerance. Out of Clarence Jordan’s work as a preacher, a scholar, and a visionary came many books, including The Cabbage Patch New Testament, and many good works, including some of the basis of Habitat for Humanity. Clarence Jordan was also part of the circle of influence that touched the heart and mind of President Jimmy Carter. So his little book, Sermon on the Mount, pointed me to something I want to share with you this morning.
Clarence Jordan sees in Jesus’ teachings four stages. They are the baby stage, the childhood stage, the adolescence stage, and the mature stage. He shows that when Jesus teaches us about dealing with the world’s problems, Jesus shows us that we can choose the baby stage – that’s unlimited retaliation; or the childhood stage – that’s limited retaliation. Or we can choose the adolescent stage – that would be limited love; or the mature stage – and that would be unlimited love. If you want to deal with conflict, you have several ways to do it: unlimited retaliation, limited retaliation, limited love, or unlimited love. Let me try to lay this out.
First, you can take the baby’s way, the way of unlimited retaliation. Unlimited retaliation. What’s that? When they hit you, give them everything you’ve got, you spare nothing, you blow up, you explode, you wipe them out. That’s the baby stage. Throw a tantrum and get your way. Unlimited retaliation.
Now don’t tell me you don’t know about that. Most of us have tried that at one time or another. If you don’t get your way in a dispute, one very effective approach is just to go off. You have a hissy fit. You intimidate everybody around you into doing what you want because you threaten to make life totally miserable if they don’t.
Babies, on whom I am taking a refresher course, are the most self-centered creatures in the world. If they are hungry, they let you know about it and will not stop until you satisfy them. If they are tired, they get cranky and do the exact opposite of what they should do. Instead of going to sleep, somewhere down in their tiny brains, they decide to stay awake and keep you awake too. Self-centered! And if they are wet or dirty, well, somebody has said that babies are unsatisfied hunger at one end and total irresponsibility at the other end. Completely self-centered.