2/23/2013, Loving Toward Perfection

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18, I Corinthians 3:16-23, Matthew 5:38-48

Today, the Old Testament reading from Leviticus and the Gospel reading from Matthew set forth challenging words.  “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy…. Therefore, be perfect just as Abba God is perfect.”

Now there’s a tall order indeed.  Be holy!  Be perfect!  Jesus uses these words to summarize the teaching of Matthew 5. In this teaching, he gave his disciples an updated instruction about the Law.  Jesus would start out presenting a certain piece of Jewish law: “You have heard it said.”  But then he would turn that law on its head: “But I say to you.”  Jesus’ point is that God’s law is a law of love, not control.  It is a rule of behavior that does not seek judgment or condemnation.  Rather, it takes merciful and even self-sacrificial action towards another: action that promotes the good of their body and soul.  As we learn and practice consistently this kind of other-directed, gracious love, we grow into the holiness or perfection that characterizes God.

The words “holy” and “perfect” as used in scripture mean pretty much the same thing.  They describe something or someone having reached fullness or completion of its purpose.  We believe that humans are made in the image of God. As we move through childhood and young adult years, we tend to accumulate an ego-driven image that loves itself and its human desires more than it loves God.  But as the emptiness of such self-centeredness becomes apparent, many human beings give themselves gradually to the expression of the Law of Love, for in it they sense the image of God coming to life in them.  The human spiritual journey is all about movement towards becoming the fullness of that Divine image in which we are created. It is about becoming perfected in love.

What better crucible for the molding of Divine love could there be than the commitment to marriage and family life? 

Years ago, I was unforgettably impressed by the wise statement of a Catholic priest I knew.  Of the human tendency to complain about not being happy in marriage, he would say, “Marriage is meant to make you holy, not to make you happy. ”

The Catholic faith tradition counts marriage as a sacrament. Sacraments are gifts of grace through which we are strengthened to move towards holiness, towards perfection, towards the image of God coming to fullness in us. In the Sacrament of Marriage, two persons offer each other the promise to be living expressions of grace towards one another throughout their lives.  In marriage, the heart of God with its desire to love fully in body, soul and spirit is lived out in human form. Living out the law of love in this intense relationship is a God-given gift that has potential to move people towards spiritual wholeness, or holiness, or perfection.

Tonight we celebrate in community 50 years of marriage shared by our good friends Judy and Les. Fifty years is a lot of life! For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, they have found the strength in their love and commitment to endure and enjoy all that has come their way.  As we witness their reaffirmation of the promises they made a half century ago, may we be reminded that the grace that moves us towards perfection is discovered within the commitments of our human relationships.  Whether commitment of partners in marriage, parents to children, or individuals to community, loving without limit shapes human beings progressively into the image of God in which they were created.  It brings us to w-holiness.  It makes it possible for that commandment of Jesus to someday be fulfilled: “Be therefore perfect, just as Abba God is perfect.”

By Sandi DeMaster