Perfect Imperfection: A Love Story

Bryan Spoon, Seminarian

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

Todays’ reading from 1 John 4 is an absolutely beautiful passage about love.  Today I’d like to try something a little different.  I’d like to share a love story.  I’d like to invite you to picture someone in your mind’s eye who you deeply love.  Perhaps it is your mother, or father, or husband or wife.  We all have many people we love, so maybe it’s a bit hard to pick just one person.  If it’s hard to pick just one, maybe just picture yourself.  I invite you to picture someone, or yourself in your mind’s eye.  Feel free to close your eyes.  I’d like you to look at the person’s face.  See their eyes.  See their mouth; their eye brows, their hair.  Take a moment to soak in the picture of this person and all the love you have for them.  Even notice the imperfections.  If you are picturing your spouse, obviously there are no imperfections!  Take a moment to ask yourself, is there anyone else in all the world that looks just like this person?  Even an identical twin would have to say no.  Each human person is intricately and beautifully made.  Each human is approximately 75 trillion cells.  Every day I marvel at how beautiful each one of us is.  Every one of us is different.  It’s such a fact of life it is almost forgotten.  I think it is one of the most visible signs we have of God’s love for each and every one of us.

And yes, even our imperfections.  What does perfection really mean anyway??  In the Bible, the Hebrew term for peace is shalom.  But shalom also means wholeness, or to be complete.  The Greek term for perfection also means complete, whole, or wanting nothing.  So much of the concept of beauty in today’s culture is wrapped around photo-shopped images that are unattainable.  To be whole, to be perfect, to be complete is the gift that God has given each of us.  The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God and that we are the Imago Dei.

I’d like to take a short segue to illustrate this point.

Has anyone been to the Statue of Liberty?  I was there years ago.  I took the tour where you can go up to the pedestal.  From the pedestal you can walk up a spiral staircase until you get to the very top of the statue.  It’s a little bit strange to be inside of her head.  From the inside, from the vantage of the stairs, the various metal sheets can be made out.  Each panel is bolted to the next.  Every smaller piece works together to make this huge tapestry of her gown.  When you finally get to the top of the statue, you’re in her crown.  If you’ve been there, or seen pictures, you might remember how there is a series of windows across the crown on her head.  From there it is an incredible view out onto New York.  It is a breathtaking site.  It’s kind of strange though.  Looking out of her crown so high up, you can also see her arm extending out.  It’s almost as if seeing out of her eyes.  It can almost give you the feeling that you are somehow just as large as she is.  In a sense, each one of us is like a Statue of Liberty.

Yes, this might sound like a crazy idea.  But does it sound any different than 1 Cor 6:19, “Do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit?”  Scripture reminds us that we are a temple of the Holy Spirit.  Honestly I forget sometimes.  There are days that I don’t necessarily feel like a Holy Temple.  This broken, aching mess?  A Temple of the Holy Spirit?  Now that’s a good joke.

To consider our own bodies as something as grand and magnificent as the Statue of Liberty might make us feel uneasy.   But is this fear born of pride or is it born of fear from accepting God’s love story?

1 John 4 tells us that perfect love casts out all fear.  But fear can be a good thing.  It helps prevent us from making mistakes.  Walk next to the edge of a cliff and there will likely be some fear involved.  Fear will keep us from being prideful; like thinking some crazy idea that each one of us is more beautiful and intricate than the Statue of Liberty.

The word for fear that is used in 1 John 4 is phobos, which means dread or terror.  Our scripture today tells us that fear has to do with punishment.  This is a different fear than making mistakes or a fear of being prideful.  The word for punishment in Greek is kolasis, which means torment.  This is torment in the sense of extreme mental or physical pain.

From the knowledge I have gained from the medical setting, I understand reasonably well the way fear works in my mind. In the fear response my amygdala fires adrenaline to my adrenal glands.  In fear, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland send hormones to the adrenal glands to release stress hormones.  My blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, and glucose is dumped into my system.  In fear we get ready for fight or flight.

Until we’re able to engage the fears of our life, those very things will have power over us.  Our physiology, or the way our Holy Temple works has much to tell us about love and fear.  When we choose love over fear, blood-flow to our frontal cortex of our brain increases.  The parietal lobes of our brains change as we begin to see God all around us in the world. The thalamus grows larger as our perception of reality changes. The effects of love on the brain have been shown in studies to be vastly more powerful than drugs.  In a most basic sense, love does indeed abide in us when we cast out fear. Love rewires us.  Our temples of the Holy Spirit change drastically in love.

There are so many things in and around us that draw us away from God’s love story it is ridiculous.  Over-consumption, addictions, cultures of violence, indifference, and silence toward people who are suffering.  This is the fear, pain and torment that our scripture is talking about.

With all that is wrong in the world, it might seem a little daunting that we can be effective.  Scripture says that perfect love casts out fear.  Scripture tells us that fear has not reached perfection in love.

Our consolation is that perfection is not to be all things.  Perfection does not mean that each one of us has to stand in the place of God.  Perfection means to have wholeness, to be complete, or wanting nothing.

If you look up perfection in the dictionary is will give a completely different definition.  The dictionary definition of perfection is to be completely free from any faults or defects.  The dictionary calls perfection as having every desirable quality and characteristic.

Our gospel tells us that Jesus is the true vine, and his Father is the vine-grower.  We don’t have to worry about being the vine, we only have to concern ourselves with bearing fruit.  We don’t have to be everything, nor the dictionary definition of perfection.  Only from the vine of Christ are we are called to bear fruit; like the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, or other fruits like hospitality, reverence, or forgiveness.

Hospitality is different from forgiveness, just as reverence is different from patience.  No single fruit of the spirit contains every single desired characteristic.

None of us can either claim perfection in every virtue or fruit of the Spirit.  There are some of us that come pretty close, but I doubt any one of us would claim that we’ve reached perfection in every category.

In the Bible God has well over 200 names.  Some theologians tell us that God has an infinite number of names.  Jehovah, He, She, Holy Wisdom, Adonay, El-Shaddai, Christ, Elohim, Wonderful Counselor, and on and on.  Not any single name of God gives us the totality of what God is.

Like there is diversity in the fruits of the Spirit, so too is there diversity in God’s names.  Each one of them shows a different picture of God.  This brings me back to how we are created in the image of God.  Each of us is infinitely unique.  Each of us is infinitely complex.  This is one way I am convinced of God’s love for us.

Every day I take time just to marvel at how different people are.  When I see people walking down the street, or in the check out line of the grocery store, I just marvel that they are an infinitely unique creation of God. It’s a wonderful way to practice our baptismal vows of seeing the dignity, worth and Christ in everyone.

Our gospel today invites us to abide in God’s love story.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.

There is a quote by Marianne Williamson that I truly love.  The quote is, that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”  To embrace our wholeness is a life of freedom.  To be honest about our imperfections, makes us fierce with reality.  Having the courage to accept our wholeness, despite our imperfections allows us to abide in God’s love.

To see ourselves, uniquely beautiful and intricately made, takes courage.  It is a courage to embrace that our imperfections are what make us perfect.  We are temples that God loves so deeply that he has made each and every one of us unique. There is no one else like you.  There is no one else like me.

May we abide in the knowledge that we are all part of God’s love story.  Each of us is written into God’s book of life.  May we help others realize this beautiful gift so that they too can abide in God.  And may our perfect love casts out all fear.