Progress not perfection
Apart from Jesus, can you think of any biblical character free of flaw? It would have been easy for editors to delete the dirt, spin the story, pretty up descriptions in order to idealize the great cloud of witnesses. That didn’t happen. So in holy writ we read unsavory details about heroes of the faith like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his mother Rebekah, Moses, David, to name a few.
That’s especially true of Peter, lead disciple, the rock on which the church would be built. One heck of a rock. Yesterday, we encountered him in church, in the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus appears on a mountain in glory accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Peter, known for his ability to open mouth and insert foot, suggests they fix the moment in time, maybe build a visitors’ center or theme park atop the mountain. That idea is a non-starter, as a voice from heaven breaks in, speaking of belovedness and grace. The disciples head down the mountain.
Time after time, Peter seems to miss the point. From the moment he was called out of incompetence as a fisherman (Jesus had to tell him what side of the boat to cast his net) to the time when he tried to manage Jesus’ messaging so that it wasn’t such a downer (Jesus rebuked Peter in the harshest terms: Get behind me Satan) to the time when Peter denied Jesus (Was that any different from Judas’ betrayal?), the portrait of Peter is not always pretty, and far from perfect.
And that, my friends, is good news.
In two days, on the other side of a whole bunch of pancakes and other favorite food groups (Did someone say bacon?), we enter the season of Lent, a season marked by self-examination, repentance, self-denial, fasting. It’s a season to place ourselves in this great cloud of witnesses, who have this in common: They all messed up. They are all like us. Nevertheless, God worked in them and through them anyway. Just as God will work in and through us, maybe even on this Monday morning.
Our spiritual growth is a process of going deeper in life with God, so that day by day, we seek to see Christ more clearly, follow more nearly, love more dearly. In the process, we will stumble. The spiritual journey will be marked by bumps in the road, turbulence in the flight, setbacks as we step forward. It will include lapses, failures, mistakes, sins. Oddly, it is often in those moments that our need for God will become most clear.
All of which should make us a little more gentle with ourselves, laden with perfectionist tendencies. All of which should make us a little more gentle with each other. All of which should make us a little more gentle with the church, that flawed institution, that sacred mystery that for some peculiar reason, God has chosen to be his hands and feet in the world. All of which should make us a bit more grateful that grace abounds. All of which should call us to continue on the way, even if we’ve messed up, even if we feel weak or broken or flawed or unqualified.
As you begin observance of Lent this week, however you observe the season (a good thing to think about before Wednesday rolls around), follow the journey of Jesus to Holy Week, maybe, probably, perhaps inevitably stumbling as you go.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church,
that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.-From the Book of Common PrayerRing the bells that still can ringForget your perfect offeringThere is a crack in everythingThat’s how the light gets in.-Leonard Cohen
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