“Practice makes perfect” or so the saying goes. On the other hand, “nobody’s perfect.” One auto manufacturer advertises “the drive for perfection” while we often respond to a situation or suggestion by saying “that’s perfect.”
Perfection – a pure and untarnished state of something – can be an elusive goal. Perfectionists drive the rest of us crazy because no matter what we’ve done, it may not be good enough unless it’s perfect.
Theologically, perfection becomes even more problematic (particularly for Wesleyan Methodists). We affirm that perfection can only be found in God. Everything – and everyone – else has blemish or spot. Yet, we also believe that we are moving toward perfection and, in fact, that belief is the source of two questions asked of United Methodist clergy at the time of ordination. “Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to attain it in this life?”
So, what’s that about? What does Christian perfection mean? For us, it means being perfect in love – loving as God loves, totally, unselfishly, with a spirit of serving others. Such love, Mr. Wesley taught, can be attained (though not likely consistently maintained) in this life. He taught that it is the goal of discipleship and it is nurtured by the means of grace. In other words, by practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, Bible study, fasting, caring for the poor, and Holy Communion, we more and more learn what perfect love looks like, practice it more and more until finally we love in a perfect way. In other words, “practice makes perfect.”
Mr. Wesley got such an idea from the little letter of 1 John, among other places. It was a favorite of his and the source of much of his preaching. During this Easter season we have been working our way through this brief epistle and this Sunday we come to a passage that is at the heart of understanding Christian perfection: 1 John 4:7-21. We will think a bit about what all this means and what Charles Wesley meant when he wrote “pure and spotless let us be.”
I hope to see you Sunday as we for the team practice. We’ll pray. We’ll open the Book. We’ll gather at the table. We’ll receive an offering for the relief of the those in need. In other words, we’ll practice until we get it right. Until we’re perfect.
Grace and peace.