Pentecost 6 Year C Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 July 4, 2010 The Rev. Benton Quest
Something that I have noticed in the world is that we really have a hang up about getting everything “right.” I am not talking about “Right” as in Republican, but “right” as in correct. I mean, let’s face it, we have to get things right in our world or we get sued. Am I wrong? Braking systems don’t work right, boom! We sue! Medications don’t work right and suddenly there are commercials for class-action law suits EVERYWHERE! We seem to live in a world where perfection is the standard that is set and nothing short of perfection will be tolerated.
And, I have to admit, when it comes to things like the breaking system on my car, or the side-effects of the drugs I take, or the air worthiness of the planes I fly on, I don’t want a whole lot of mistakes there! But I think this whole focus on perfection has not necessarily served us well. I heard something on the radio the other morning that I think sums up our situation. In our world today, so often The Perfect is the enemy of The Good.
You may have heard that phrase before, but have you really thought about it? So often when we search for the “perfect,” we loose all the wonderfully good things that we may have passed by. Granted, there are things that we want to be perfect, or at least as close to perfect as we can get. Like I said, I kind of like it when my car stops. But does everything in our world have to be perfect? I think we carry this perfection to the point where it gets in our way. We strive so much for The Perfect that we may find ourselves trapped doing nothing.
I just finished a piece of stained glass. I was not pleased with it. It was a difficult pattern and some things just did not go together the way I wanted them to. I fussed and fumed about it. I came really close to throwing the thing off the balcony. But others who saw it, liked it. And the person who was buying it like it. And the person who received it as a gift REALLY liked it. No, it was not perfect, but that didn’t matter. It was what the person wanted and it was what was needed in the situation. If I would have waited until it was perfect, a piece of glass would not have been made, and a gift would not have been given, an anniversary would not have been celebrated.
In our faith life, I think we can get caught in the same kind of dilemmas; we can get so worried about being the PERFECT Christian or being the Perfect Episcopalian. We try our darndest to do the right things, to get the rite right, to be perfect. Or we do the opposite; we figure that since perfection is not possible, we should never try at all. Since no matter how hard we try we are going to come up short, we may figure that we might as well not try at all. And the truth about both of these reactions, striving for perfection or slipping into apathy, is that they point out how messed up this idea of having to have everything Perfect really is and how far from reality we can wander when we don’t keep a foot in reality and don’t keep looking around us.
Last week, we talked about how God can use us all; even those that society may call unclean or abominations. And we discussed how God can work with us to help form us into creations that have the potential of being so much more than we ever expected. But as I was saying, in our world we expect perfection from ourselves and others right away. The problem with this is if you have EVER tried to learn anything new, there is a lot of trial and error, there are a lot of mistakes made, until you even get anything CLOSE to perfection. We know this, we know that there will be mistakes; we know that we are going to fall and that we are going to drop the ball. And even though we know this, somehow we have difficulty giving ourselves and others the gift of patience and forgiveness.
Now one thing that I don’t like to make is “PROCLAMATIONS ON HIGH” from the pulpit, but this is one proclamation that I can make with no hesitation: God knows we are not going to be perfect and God is OK with that! And how can I be so sure about this? Well, we have proof right in today’s gospel reading.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus is telling his followers to go out into the world and preach the Good News. Now, Jesus tells the disciples what to do when they come into a home and how to treat the people who are present. This is good stuff to remember for being a good guest. (We think about being a good host, but there is also something to being a good guest!) But Jesus explains to the disciples how they are to treat the people whom they encounter and how to graciously accept hospitality.
Now, if Jesus was expecting the disciples to be perfect, this would be the end of the lesson: We would meet people and share the message and they would invite us in and all would be well with the world. If we were expected to be perfect, there would be no need for a contingency plan because all of Christ’s followers would be spreading the message perfectly. But that is not what happens in the gospel reading. Jesus DOES give the disciples a contingency plan. Jesus gives the disciples a plan for what to do if the members of the household do not hear the Gospel message. In simple words, Jesus gives the disciples a plan in case they fail.
Jesus knows that the disciples will, in fact, at some point, fail. But the fact that they will fail does not mean that they are not sent out into the world. Even knowing that they will fail, Jesus still sends them out to spread the news. Just because the disciples will not be batting 100% does not mean they are pulled out of the game. Jesus does expect the disciples to be out in the world and to work to bring the Good News to the people, but Jesus is also a realist, he knows that not everyone will be open to the message and knows that not every attempt to spread the message will be perfect.
I was frustrated a while ago about things just not going well in life. I was bellowing about not being a good enough priest and not being able to spread the message and on and on. Basically, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and hoping that God would hear and make everything better. It was at this time that a friend of mine told me something that gave me a bit of a shake: He said, “You know Ben, even Jesus didn’t hit 100%.” He said, “When you think about it, Jesus didn’t get the message through to both of the criminals at the crucifixion. He spoke the message to both but only one heard and believed. So you are expecting to be PERFECT when Jesus was only 50% from the cross!” WOW! I had forgotten about that! Even when the SON OF GOD brought the message to the people, not everyone heard it or understood it! To the eyes of the world, even Jesus had failed!
If our Savior, the Son of God, the one we follow, did not get it “perfect” by the world’s standards, then that should tell us something about the world’s expectations. If, according to the world Christ did not hit 100%, then why are we all so scared of not hitting 100%? Christ knows there will be times when our attempts will fall short, but we are to try anyway! Christ knows that our attempts my look to the world like a total failure, but Christ sends us out there anyway! We may not feel ready for the challenge, but Christ sends us out into the world to bring the Good News to those who will hear, and in some cases to plant the word in those who are not yet ready to hear. Just like the disciples in Biblical times, Christ prepares us and then sends us. And as we are out in the world, Christ begs us to spread the word, but Christ also reminds us to be gentle with ourselves when things do not appear to go as planned.
I think we fear change because with change comes the fear of possible failure. And, frankly, failure is not a comfortable thing. If we don’t go out and try, we will not fail, but we also will not make any new discoveries! Teflon was discovered through what was, at first, thought to be a failed experiment! Humanity can, at times, look like a failed experiment. And Christ knows that we all have our short comings, we discussed that last week! But we are called to move beyond our fears and our anxieties and trust in the God who made us, who calls us, who saves us! We are called to take the love and forgiveness we find at the table and spread it to all we encounter! We are called to bring the message to the world! And it is guaranteed that not everyone will respond when we share that love, but that is not ours to worry about. Our Lord shared his life even when he knew it would be rejected. All he asks of us is for us to share our hearts.