Studio portrait of School of Information Studies faculty member Richard Smiraglia.

Holy and Perfect

I have been praying a lot lately. More than usual. Now,I know you have never seen me before, and you don’t know what sort of person I am, and especially you do not know what sort of priest I am. So just to move this along, let me say I am a pretty typical Episcopalian. My faith is strong and secure. Like most Episcopalians, I almost never talk about it, except of course when I preach.

But I pray regularly. As a young man, I learned to pray while I ran. Back in the day, I ran 4 miles a day. It was quite a prayer-time in those days. Now, I pray on the stationary cycle (I have arthritic knees, no more running). There is something about getting into the monotony of physical activity that frees my soul to talk with God; or better yet, just to listen for God. And these days, God and I have a lot to talk about. I bet you do too.

When God spoke to Moses, the first thing God said, was “you have to be holy ,because I am holy, and you are mine.” It does not make a lot of sense to us,does it? What is “holy”? How could we be “holy?” Well,it is one of those great mysteries God gives us. Of course, “holy” is anything that is God’s. And if we are God’s then we must be holy. We do not have a choice. You, do not have a choice, but to be holy, because you are a child of God.

Still,that does not tell us exactly what it means. In the times in which this scripture was written, there were some very important traditions. One was, if you were someone’s child, you had to adopt that person’s whole being. Not physically of course. But, if your dad was a carpenter who built cradles for free for people expecting babies, then you had to do something free for someone, because it was how you lived into the image of your father.

It is a pretty good model for the concept of children of God. How many of us create? How many of us breathe life into the world? We do not think of our role as citizens of Earth in that way. But, that is what God does. God creates. God breathes life into the world. So then, the constant question for us is, how do we live into the gift God has given us by making us God’s children? Yes, we are to create. Yes, we are to breathe life into the world. But how?

We heard that long passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was kind of unpleasant. I like “mean Jesus.” I think we learn more from him. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth really was a revolutionary radical, bringing change which also brought chaos. In these passages we see a series of absurd statements. They are deliberately absurd. It was a way Jesus used to get people’s attention. The most important passage in the whole thing is this: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Jesus means, you have to step outside of your comfort zone if you want to create, if you want to breathe new life into the world you inhabit.

Often we see these things as sorts of impossibilities. Sure you could move to South Sudan or Yemen and be creative and loving. But that is not what Jesus means. Jesus means, in the world you now inhabit, how can you be creative and breathe new life into it, as a child of God?

I like to preach about the supermarket. Like I-94, I think the Wisconsin supermarket is among the best analogies we have for the trials of Jesus’ day. In the supermarket, and on I-94, everybody is more important than everybody else. Especially, they all, are more important than I am. That much is clear. In both places, only the most important special people get to be in front. Only the most important special people get to buy the best stuff, get in line faster, get out sooner.

The other day I wanted a green pepper. I am Italian, which you can tell from my surname, I make great spaghetti, I needed some green pepper in my red sauce. Well, I waited and waited and waited, while the guy in front of me picked up, squeezed and put back down almost every green pepper, about 50 of them, seriously. I kept thinking, you know, I am not buying any of those—and I didn’t. But everybody after me did. And everybody after me bought a pepper squeezed and maimed by that important chief guy.

Little thing isn’t it, don’t squeeze the peppers, don’t touch all of the stuff. But it is a hugely creative step to make every other person’s food fresher and cleaner. This is breathing life into your world. All it takes, is paying attention to the people around you, especially the ones you do not like much. They got up this morning, and got ready for the day thinking the same thing you did, that maybe today would be the day.

Paul wrote, “all belong to [the people of God], who belong to Christ, who belongs to God.” You see, we are all in this together, you and me and God. It is up to us to figure out how to get this world we live in to look more like God’s kingdom. The best way to get everybody else—let’s be clear, you and I are perfect, it is only the other ones who are sinners—(…) the best way to get everybody else to be “perfect” is to be perfect yourself.

You are holy, because God is holy, and you are God’s. And holy is perfect.

But holy and perfect are not enough. To find the salvation, the great Good News of our God, the kingdom that already is here among us, we have to be willing to look beyond our comfort zones. We have to appreciate what it means to be the holy children of God. It is a responsibility. It is a charge, to love even those we cannot bear. It is tough, I know. It is one of those reasons I keep praying. Especially in these troubling days, prayer is critical. Pray always my friends. Remember, that in God’s eyes you are holy because you are God’s.

And remember, that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing.