Wholly Holy

* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on August 9, 2015 *

Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.

Text: Hebrews 2:10-18


Please pray with me:

Make us holy, as you are holy, God.
Make us whole.
Make us complete, in you.


Church, I have a confession that I need to make to y’all this morning. I know that some of you will find it strange that in my second-to-last Sunday that I’d be baring my soul, but I really feel like I just need to tell y’all.

I…am a perfectionist.

Yep, that’s right, I’m self-critical, I have a penchant for getting lost in details, I am a perfectionist.
And I’ve been like this for all 30 of my 30 years of existence. As Our Lady of Gaga would say, “Baby, I was born this way.”

I become mired in the details. Every minutia. Every speck and spot. It’s exhausting.
They say “the devil’s in the details.” And for me, that’s totally true. I can’t even say that I believe in an anthropomorphic evil being, and yet, the details are where my demons lie.

As a kid, I had a really short-lived hobby. I got really into building card houses. Quite literally, it didn’t last very long.
Architectural planning. Engineering. Artistic design. It hit all the right notes for me as a young kid.
And yet, a structure was rarely “perfect.” You can see how it quickly became unhealthy for me, the perfectionist. And so after about an hour, I gave it up. I told you it was short-lived…

In recent years, I’ve gained some self-awareness, begun to recognize when my perfectionism is running too strong. It became really apparent to me in seminary. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I’m just never going to be super-happy with this 20-page paper, and I just need to get it done, get it complete.

It becomes less about the nit-picky details, and more about the whole. Less about being great, and more about being done, whole, complete.

I don’t know why this is a hard lesson for me. My thought process goes something like, if I just spend enough time on something, if I could just do enough, then things would be great, perfect.

But it’s not that way, is it? No matter how hard we try, how many hours we put in, how much we want it, there will always be something that isn’t quite right, something keeping it from being…perfect.

Today we hear that perfection is God’s work, and here in Hebrews, when the writer uses the word, “perfect,” it means completeness. Salvation is perfected through Christ’s suffering. Our salvation is complete because of Christ’s crucifixion, and resurrection. And to our modern Western minds and ears, we have a proclivity for thinking that it’s about us, right? Like the rich young man to Jesus, “Tell me, Teacher, what must I do to get salvation? Tell me what I have to do.”

But here’s the thing, it’s not about us. Being made complete, perfect, in God has nothing to do with us and has everything to do with God.

Which is really freeing and really terrifying all at the same time. Because on the one hand, it’s the one thing in our lives that we don’t have to do anything but receive the benefits of. It’s the one thing that doesn’t get put on the to-do list, because God knows, you’ve got enough things to do to keep you busy from now until eternity. Dear people, you are saved. It is by the gift of grace. It is because of the cross.

And, on the other hand, it’s really terrifying, because what if what I just said is true? If what I said about being saved by grace through Christ is true, then people of God, we’ve got to live like it. And that’s a scary proposition, I think. I have to trust, I have to have faith, that that’s true, and live like it.house-of-cards-jan-piller

Which means that my life is spent less on climbing ladders and building structures and securities that will collapse with the slightest of breezes, and spent more on seeking justice for those for whom the ladder is nonexistent and who have no structure or security.

Because if, like the writer of Hebrews claims, Christ has freed us who all our lives were enslaved by the fear of death, then we have a holy obligation to recognize and live into and participate in that reality right here, right now.

I was reading a commentary on these verses this week and the author wrote, “I was struck by the use of the word ‘pioneer’ in verse 10.” He goes on, “I thought about using ‘Pioneer Jesus’ during the prayers of intercession, but then I thought that maybe the prayers might not be the best place to try out new material.” I would add that I’m not sure that the image of Jesus in a furry raccoon hat and carrying a musket is exactly the kind of mental picture I want you taking away with you this morning. But rather, think of a pioneer in this way, think of a trailblazer, one who goes before, one who makes a path, one who shows the way.

Which, frankly, is what I need. I need to be shown the way. I need someone to go before me. Because if I’m left to my own devices, I’m guaranteed to mess it up. I’m a perfectionist, but I’m also human. Our world is broken, dear friends. We fail every day in taking care of the good creation God has entrusted to us. We fail every day in making sure that our neighbors have food in their stomachs and a soft place to lay their heads. We fail every day in preventing our precious children from being taken from us in senseless acts of violence.
Zachary Hammond. Christian Taylor. Rekiah Boyd. Do I really need to go on…?

Thank God it’s not up to me, because try as I might, all my best designs and plans and attempts are thin and fragile and will come crashing down under the faintest wind.

See, if our salvation is perfected through the one who shows us what the way is, then our calling as Christians is to follow that way as well. It’s a path, a process. Our own Blessed Martin Luther wrote, “This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but the process of becoming righteous; not health, but getting well; not being, but becoming; not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”

Just as the world is actively being redeemed by the one who is drawing all things unto Godself, so too are we being made holy by the one who is holy. And this sanctification, this process of becoming holy, is one that has begun, but is, as of now, incomplete. It’s this completeness, this perfection, that we hope for, that we long for, that we wait for, and yes, that we work for. But the kingdom of God will not come about through our own doing, as much as we want it to. But just like that 20-page paper, that doesn’t mean that I get a pass for not doing it.

It’s a collaborative effort. See, we need God, we say we know that much. But as St. Teresa of Ávila said, “Yours are the hands through which Christ blesses the world.” Sanctification, perfection, is God’s work, but if Christ has shown us what it is to be whole and holy and complete, our calling then as Christians is to be involved in the work of building bridges and houses that won’t crumble with every passing breeze, but instead, with God’s help, to build structures of holiness that will withstand the violent winds of this world.


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