Hebrews 10:11-14

November 15, 2015


You’ve probably heard the story. A perfect man meets the perfect woman. After a perfect courtship, they have a perfect wedding. Their life together is, of course, perfect.

One year, just before Easter, they see a beautiful rabbit hopping along the highway. It is the Easter Bunny bringing colored eggs to all the boys and girls.

While they are thinking to themselves that it is such a perfect event, to encounter the Easter Bunny on such a perfect day, a terrible tornado comes and smashes into this perfect couple and the Easter Bunny as well. Only one of the three–the perfect man, the perfect woman and the Easter Bunny as well–only one of them survived. Who was the survivor?

According to the story, it could only be the perfect woman! Everyone knows the Easter Bunny and the perfect man exist only in fiction.

Hey, it’s not my story. I’m just reporting what I heard. To even the score, author Mel Green says there are some fundamental differences between the sexes:

A woman worries about the future until she gets a husband.

A man never worries about the future until he gets a wife.

To be happy with a man you must understand him a lot and love him a little.

To be happy with a woman you must love her a lot and not try to understand her at all.

Any married man should forget his mistakes–there is no use in two people remembering the same thing.

Men wake up looking the same as they did when they went to bed.

Women somehow deteriorate during the night.

A woman has the last word in any argument. Anything a man says after that is the beginning of a new argument.

There are two times when a man doesn’t understand the woman–before marriage and after marriage.

Let’s talk for a few moments about the perfect man … And the perfect woman. While we’re at it, let’s talk about perfect children and perfect parents. We could even talk about perfect pastors and perfect congregations. Let’s start here:

When you’re talking about human beings, perfection is not possible.

One man argues there has been one perfect man–his wife’s first husband. Well, she might talk about him as if he were perfect, but she knows he was not.

Gandhi said of his own human struggles, “I have three enemies. First, the British who are really simple to influence. Then, the Indian people who are harder. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We find we have little influence with ourselves, too. That’s why perfection eludes us.

Paul seems to have been one of the more important followers of Christ who ever lived and yet he wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep doing.”

Hey, Paul would feel at home in our world. He was not a perfect man–even if he was the most influential Christian who ever lived–and we’re not perfect people.

A few years ago, author Frank McCourt was working as a creative writing teacher at a New York high school. He faced the daily struggle of getting kids to choose a subject and write creatively about it. What would it take to ignite his students’ enthusiasm?

Finally he found his inspiration from a forged excuse note a student turned in. Authentic excuse notes, meaning those written by the students’ parents, were according to McCourt, boring, short, and factual. That’s how McCourt could always tell when a student wrote his own excuse note and forged his parents’ signatures. Those notes were more detailed and more creative.

So McCourt gave his students a new assignment: write an excuse note from Adam or Eve to God. The students dug into their new assignment with focus, enthusiasm, and creativity. Soon, they branched out into excuse notes from other famous people in history: Judas, Al Capone, Attila the Hun.

The students’ writing improved so much that the school principal and superintendent took notice and praised McCourt.     If we were as good at living our lives as we were making excuses for our lives, we would be able to accomplish an amazing amount of good.

Perfection is an illusion. Even for the best of us.

The sad thing is that our imperfection has in itself become an excuse for shoddy living.

What do we say about ourselves when we’ve done wrong? “Well, I’m only human,” as if that alone explains our transgression. It doesn’t! We live in a time when people flaunt their imperfection’s, as if those imperfections were in themselves a reason to be proud.

Anyone here ever watch Jerry Springer? It would’ve made you ashamed to be a human. And that’s the tenor of our times. Some people blame it on technology. As we get more and more wired, we give up some of our privacy.

A family in Sweden has set up a Web cam in their refrigerator so that people all over the world can see what they eat.

One consequence of this lessening privacy is that people are discovering that their eccentricities are shared by others. As people’s private lives are laid bare in Internet chat rooms and television talk shows, we are redefining what it means to be “normal.” Habits that once caused us shame are now paraded before a national, or international, audience on TV and the Internet. People who have struggled with understanding this issue suggest that the idea that “Anything goes,” will become even more evident in our culture as we become more acclimated to new technologies. Discretion and modesty will become antiquated values.

We’re only human. Forget that excuse. Human beings are capable of many extraordinary things. In fact, some human beings are able to discipline themselves into living as responsible people. Not perfect, but responsible. Noble. Self-sacrificing. Faithful. Even Christ-like. By saying we are “only human,” we have a way of trying to justify what should be remedied.

A plague was ravaging a tiny village in the outermost bush of a remote African province. A lonely missionary, a doctor who had given his life to fighting this plague, had gone into this province with the only cure available. It was made from plants indigenous to the region and could quite easily be reproduced by the villagers themselves just by taking some of the leaves and mixing it with some herbs and spices.

When he went in, the missionary found that there wasn’t a single person in the village who was free of the disease. They all had it and were dying at an alarming rate.

Characteristic of the disease was a rash on the back of the neck. All he had to do was treat the rash with the medication and the people would be healed … but he couldn’t get anybody to let him give them the medication. Despite the fact that people were dying … nobody realized they were sick. They all had the same rash. There wasn’t anything unusual about it. Since everybody had the same markings on their necks, they just assumed it was normal and nobody realized any difference. Nobody realized it was killing them.

That can be a powerful metaphor for our society today. We either have a ready excuse for our imperfection, or we have grown to accept our flaws, our weaknesses, our sins for so long that we are not even aware they exist.

Fortunately, there is hope for us. It is found in our lesson from the Epistle:

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest, referring to Christ, had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

That’s an interesting phrase: “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” The writer is referring, of course, to those who believe in Christ. That’s us. We have been made perfect.

Perfection in Christ is not something we achieve but a gift we receive.

In God’s eyes, because of what Christ has done for us, it is as if we had never in our lives done anything that was not absolutely perfect. Our spouses may not see us as perfect, our friends may not see us as perfect, people we have wronged certainly will not see us as perfect, but Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, says the writer of Hebrews, has given us a perfection that we cannot achieve on our own.

On October 16, 1987, the world finally exhaled after holding its breath for 58 hours when Robert O’Donnell, a paramedic in Midland, Texas freed 18-month-old Jessica McClure from the 22 foot deep, 8 inch wide hole she fell into. It was finally over: baby Jessica was safe.

But really, it wasn’t over for Jessica, it was just a beginning.

She was alive, but the ordeal left her with some medical issues that required 13 reconstructive surgeries. She had to have 60% of her right foot amputated, and she still bears some scars from the incident, one of them on her forehead.

How do you think Baby Jessica has responded to her scars, now that she’s not a baby anymore? When she was 11 years old, she told the Ladies Home Journal, “I’m proud of the scars. I have them because I survived.”

A few years later, she appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and said her scars “remind her of how much God loves her.”

Christ’s scars remind us how much God loves us. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has given us a perfection that we cannot achieve on our own. But it also does something else–it helps us become better than we are.

Morris Nidenthal is on the faculty at the University of Chicago. He says that Jesus accepted people just the way they were, but he never left people just the way they were because he loved them. Jesus always made them better. Listen again to these important words, “he has made perfect forever those who were being made holy.” Christ is at work in us making us holy. Christ accepted us just as we were. But Christ does not stop there. Christ makes us better.

Writer Max Lucado says that, at one time in his life he was a closet slob. He just couldn’t comprehend the logic of neatness. Why make up a bed if you’re going to sleep in it again tonight? Why put the lid on the toothpaste tube if you’re going to take it off again in the morning? He was compulsive about being messy.

Then he got married. His wife was patient. She said she didn’t mind his habits … if he didn’t mind sleeping outside. Since he did mind sleeping outside, he began to change. He said he enrolled in a 12 step program for slobs. I can see it now, can’t you? “Hi, my name is Max and I am a slob …” A physical therapist helped him rediscover the muscles used for hanging up shirts and placing toilet paper on the holder. His nose was reintroduced to the smell of Pine Sol. By the time his in-laws arrived for a visit, he was a new man.

But then came the moment of truth. His wife went out of town for a week. At first he reverted to the old man. He figured he could be a slob for six days and clean up on the seventh. But something strange happened, a curious discomfort. He couldn’t relax with dirty dishes in the sink. He actually put his bath towel back on the rack.

What happened to him? Simple. He had been exposed to a higher standard. That’s what Jesus does to us when he comes into our life. Though he does not hold our imperfection against us, still he does not leave us just as we are. He is at work in our lives making us what we ought to be.

Perfection is possible. We know that. We cannot excuse ourselves of responsibility, however, by saying that we are only human. With God’s help, human beings are capable of extraordinary things. Christ made us perfect before God by his sacrifice on the cross. Now he is daily making us into his image by his grace working within us. We’re not perfect yet, but all of us, regardless of our past, are on our way.