“If Jesus lived in the south, he would have said something like, ‘All y’all be perfect, as my father in heaven is perfect.”
One of the things I love about being in community and attending church with professional academics and theologians is that even our children’s moments occasionally talk about Greek. You, girls, don’t realize how special this is, nor how unique it is that many of the adults who move in and out of your daily life hold doctorates in their fields, your dad included.
On Sunday, one of our dear friends, whom you call “Mr. Roger,” offered the children’s moment. Mr. Roger’s children’s moments always begin with a small paper sack that he shakes a little bit and asks you kids to guess what it is in it.
This week, it was rocks. But not just any rocks.
These three rocks had been picked up by Mr. Roger from a river in the mountains of Chile. These rocks were nearly perfectly round. Rounder than eggs. They were beautiful.
Roger talked about how these rocks probably broke off of the mountains thousands of years ago, and that they used to be rough and jaggy. But over time, rubbing up against the other rocks, they got smoother and smoother and rounder and rounder.
At this point, I was pretty sure I knew where this mini sermon was going because who hasn’t heard it before? You know, iron sharpens iron, or something like it. How great community is because it makes us into better people. Yada yada yada.
Except that isn’t what Roger said.
The verse Roger wanted to talk to you about was Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.” Roger said that the implied “you” in that sentence (“YOU be perfect”) is actually a plural in Greek, that what Jesus is really saying there is “You all” be perfect, or “Y’all.”
And that maybe we should even say, “All y’all be perfect.”
Roger unpacked the verse for you like this:
Maybe the only way we become perfect, the only way we are even on the road to being perfect, is when we are rubbing up against one another, getting our sharp edges made smooth. Maybe it’s impossible to do it alone.
And maybe we can’t even begin to be the person of God Jesus is talking about unless we first become the people of God.
Um, girls, for the record, this is not the message I like to hear.
I talk a lot about community and how important it is; it’s kind of my schtick. People expect it of me. In our church and group of friends, it’s basically like, “Hey, we need to talk about community (or outreach, or hospitality, or loving people, or life together), so I guess let’s ask Elizabeth to talk about that.”
But the truth is, I find community very, very hard.
I don’t like this notion that maybe part of my job in the whole scheme of things, the whole be-perfect-like-God-is-perfect calling of Christians, is to help sand down other people’s rough edges, and I definitely don’t want to think my rough edges need to be sanded down. I’m pretty good at sanding myself, thankyouverymuch.
But there it is, in Mr. Roger’s translation of the verse:
All y’all be perfect.
As my father in heaven is perfect.
That’s a high bar even just to aim at, let alone work toward.
Notice there’s no “if you feel like it,” no “if it’s easy,” no “if church makes you feel good, that’s extra great for you then,” no “but if you want to leave your church, that’s okay, too.”
I’m serious, girls. These are tough words.
But then again, the words of the cross are.
And the words of the cross are the words we most need to hear during this season of Lent.