II Corinthians 4:5-15
Rev. Susan Stull-Carr
“FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERINGS”
Each of us has an internal narrative about our life. We use this narrative as a way to see the world and explain it to ourselves. For many of us, somewhere along the way, somewhere in our life, there is a strand, or perhaps many which we carry, stories of fears, shame, humiliation, blame, hurt, wounding and much more. We know that we are far from perfect. And yet, if your lives are anything like mine has been, there is this tremendous desire, especially early in our lives, to do things perfectly. Well, we think, I won’t carry that ugliness from my relationship with my father into other relationships and then, we do. We think, I’ll be different, I’ll get all A’s and excel at many things. We think, my parents weren’t too successful, but I’ll show the world, and make a name for myself. The taskmaster perfection, is ever-present. It drives our culture of diets, and body shaping and athletics, self-help groups, in-crowds, the right neighborhoods and right houses, the good grades and even parents buying college educations. Everyone wants to ‘look good!’ Have it all together! It even is alive and well in church. If I follow the rules, if I am a good person, things will work out well for me.
We know that the Pharisees and Saducees and religious people of Jesus’ day loved being viewed as perfect and they proved it by keeping their rules and laws. The best among them paid scrupulous attention to making sure every jot and tittle was crossed and every i dotted. In fact, the good ones among them could keep all 621 of them. Every day they ran around and made sure they were perfect. And they made sure that everyone else at least tried to get it perfect. And if for some reason, you couldn’t keep it together, they were highly happy to let you know about it. I have people like that in my life – do you? People who are highly happy to let me know that I haven’t quite met the mark, people that remind me of my inadequacies, my imperfections. Not of course, intentionally, but in their tone or that downward glance over the tops of their glasses, it’s there. Not only are we not perfect, but certainly are actions and motives are rarely on point.
We can feel the judgments in the sideways glances this morning, as we watch Mary of Bethany anoint Jesus extravagantly with oil. She was there wiping his feet with her hair. Could there have been a more egregious show of affection? We know that Lazarus has just been raised by Jesus, according to John’s gospel and it his sister Mary that is offering this anointing. For a woman like Mary, from what we read, most likely a woman without a husband, this act of devotion was completely out-of-place. It was unthinkable for a good Jewish single woman to act in such a frivolous, intimate way with a man who was not her husband. And then we can hear the rebuke for her ‘mistake’ coming out of Judas’ mouth. Her simple kindness, her act of thanksgiving is turned into something ugly. “Why are you doing that? That kind of money could have been used for the poor.” Not that he was worried about the money says John, since he was a thief and often kept a little out of the coffers for himself.
Every day, for most of us, our imperfections stare back at us from our mirrors, and if they don’t offend, then someone during the day will be sure to remind us. You are not perfect. My mom and I started reading Louise Penny mysteries a while back and in one of her books, she used this quote by Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”. It spoke to me so beautifully about this concept. “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in.
I had felt this for a long. I was cracked. I wasn’t perfect. There were many moments which caused me to know this more deeply about myself. And we all know cracked and broken things have no real purpose. They are throw-aways in a culture that values perfection. But Cohen offers another perspective. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. And not only that, but without the crack, the light cannot get in. Nor can anything come out. As long as we are striving to be perfect, we are unable to connect with anything or anyone, not even ourselves.
This is why I love so much Paul’s image here. We have a treasure – we have a gift for the world when Christ dwells in us, but in order for the light to have come in, we will have had to be broken. We have this treasure in a fragile, clay jar. And a cracked one at that.
During Lent, and our honest self-examinations, we will have happened upon the sad truth that we are far from perfect. Jesus has laid down impossibly high standards – don’t judge, love your enemies, be willing to be the least, live your whole life with passion towards God, leave behind your dead, give away all your money to the poor. We are never going to get to that place of our own accord, by our own will. We are never going to measure up. We will never be perfect.
But that’ why grace is so important. Jesus isn’t asking us to achieve perfection in LOVE, but rather learning that LOVE is the practice. And since we can never achieve enough perfection to stand in God’s presence, which is absolute Holy Light, before which no sin can stand, we are in need of God’s grace. And that grace, like the poured out anointing falls upon us, and declares, by God grace and through faith, you are enough. In Christ, grace achieves what we cannot. We are made right with God and with one another.
There is a process in Chinese art, called Kintsugi, where when a piece of pottery is broken, at the borders where the break has happened, they will restore the crack with lacquer and paint with gold. Now, the cracks have been restored, and the piece becomes both functional and beautiful once again. Interesting, as I read about kintsugi, I discovered it comes from the Zen ideal of “wabi sabi” – a concept of embracing imperfection. Sounds like a perfectly imperfect spiritual discipline to me!
To embrace our imperfections as the very thing that God will use is not easy work. We heard it today, in the song the band played, “Broken Things” by Matthew West. Listen again to the words as Mike reads them, “The pages of history they tell me it’s true, that it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use. It’s the rebels and prodigals; it’s the humble and weak, all the misfit heroes You chose, tell me there’s hope for sinners like me. Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of the King, I wish I could bring so much more, but if it’s true You use broken things, then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”
So forget your perfect offerings and just put yourself out there, cracks and all! Amen.