Perfect Imperfection

Year A
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

In T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats… one of the dozen or so cats he describes… is The Rum Tum Tugger… who’s a terrible bore… he’s always on the wrong side of every door… and as soon as he’s home… he wants to go out… and when you let him out… he wants back in… our cat Simon is like him… 

Simon’s not an outdoor cat… the apartments where we live don’t allow it… but he is able to go out onto a small… second story deck… and he has this morning routine… after his first-breakfast… he likes to go outside… for just a few minutes… even if there’s a little snow… and make sure the world is safe for catmocracy… and then he sits patiently at the door waiting to be let in…and I let him in… and before too long… he’s ready to do it all over again…

I like our apartment home…  in my opinion… it’s neither too big nor too small… it’s big enough for Joel and me to have our own space… but it’s too small… for example… for us to host one of December’s progressive dinners… and before the pandemic began… there were many days when I would leave home… and start out at church… and make several stops… and visit several people… and it would feel good to get back home… home is a reassuring… inviting… place of refuge… “home” is one of the favorites I’ve saved in my iPhone map program… so that no matter where I am in Grand Rapids… I can always take the fastest route… or the shortest route…  to get there… to get home…

This chapter of John’s Gospel… takes place on the night of the Last Supper… and begins what’s called The Farewell Discourse… Jesus is saying goodbye… for now… the previous chapter… chapter 13… ends kind of abruptly… with Jesus telling Simon Peter… Where I am going… you can’t go now… but you’ll be able to afterward… and in today’s reading… Jesus clarifies… I’m going to prepare a place for you… because in my Father’s house… there are many mansions… there’s room for everyone… and I’ll come back… and take you to myself… so that where I am… you’ll also be… so please… don’t let your hearts be troubled…

These days… I’m not always sure how to keep my heart from feeling troubled… and with some of the uncertainty we’re facing… I feel a bit like an emotional Rum Tum Tugger… going back and forth… having mixed feelings… and now that I’ve been staying at home… to help flatten the curve… and stay uninfected… so that Joel remains uninfected… and so that the vulnerable residents he serves at Samaritas remain uninfected too… now that I’ve been staying at home for about eight weeks… except for a few trips to church and the grocery store… now that I’ve been staying at home… even though I really do appreciate its comforts…. and that the electricity and internet haven’t gone out… now that I’ve been staying at home… it’s getting a little bit tiring… it feels a bit constricting… and while… I’ve come to appreciate just how blessed so many of us are… and how much relationships matter… I really want to get out… I want to experience some of the new-normal… the new Promised Land that the Holy Spirit is leading us into… but not at the expense of someone else’s health…

And I think about those people who may be alone at home and lonely… I think about those whose experience of home keeps them from feeling at home… I think about those who are at home but who may be facing domestic violence… I think about those who are at home but who may not be accepted for who they are… but I take some comfort in something I heard Richard Rohr say this week… he said that  perfection… is the inclusion of… and forgiveness of… imperfection

And that helps the perfectionist in me… because in my mind… I just want to totally eliminate imperfection… stomp on it… and throw it away… I just want to rid the world of every kind of imperfection… but it seems as though there’s a kind of primordial chaos that won’t go away… some of you may remember me saying that about thirty years ago… when my daughter was an infant and a housefly landed on her face… I wanted to destroy every fly in all of creation… but that would have made me Judge of Creation… wouldn’t it… and who am I to judge… who am I to determine what’s imperfect… how do I know that that fly didn’t land on her face… to teach me this lesson about judgment…

There’s an African word… Ubuntu… and it means… I am because we are… it says… there is no life without community… and there is no community without the active participation of all… it reminds me of what’s written in 1 Corinthians… that there is one body with many members… and all the members make up one body… one community… but there’s more than one kind of community… there’s the beloved community… one that’s more like an inclusive family and less like an exclusive club… and one that’s more like a mob…

In our reading from Acts… Stephen… who was brought before the Council on false charges… has just given a summary of salvation history… from Abraham… through Isaac and Jacob… and the patriarchs… and Moses… and David… and Solomon…  and Stephen has just accused the priest and those gathered… of receiving the Law but not keeping it… of opposing the Holy Spirit… and of killing the prophets who foretold Jesus’ coming… and when they heard these things… they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen… they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him… and there were witnesses who laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul… and they may not have chosen to be stone-throwers… but neither did they choose to stop the stone throwers… and by not stopping them… they implicitly supported them…

Andre Johnson… associate professor of rhetoric at the University of Memphis… writes… life is full of decisions big and small… and we can’t avoid making them… the decision to stand and do nothing… but watch and hold coats… is itself a decision… and when we sit on the fence… walk the tightrope… try to play the middle… or hide behind not making a decision… we make a decision… to watch and hold coats…

Too many of us and our communities are awash in a sea of immediate and perhaps excessive self-gratification… and like those who stoned Stephen… we don’t like it when someone points out how we miss God’s mark for us… but as a global community… we must find a way to make decisions for… and invest in… the future… and change whatever laws we must… to protect those decisions… even when… like a stonemason on a medieval cathedral… we know we will never live nearly long enough to see our work completed…  and we must also… speak truth to power…

We all know that the moral arc of the universe is long… but it bends towards justice… and I pray this pandemic helps us see justice as God sees it… and helps us understand that everyone who is called outcast… marginalized… sinner… freak… refugee… queer… untouchable… pariah… asylum seeker… reject… everyone is part of the body of Christ… is part of the beloved community… and they are perfect because they are included and forgiven… Jesus prepares a place for everyone… even those… who anyone else views… as a fly…

And if we fail to accomplish all we desire… Andre… writes… when deliverance does not come on this side of eternity… the Good News is that we can commit our spirit into the hands of the one who has already prepared a place for us… the one who stands with us in the stoning pits of life… the one who is ready to redeem and forgive us… even if we are guilty of throwing stones and watching coats

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family; though he relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and is finishing the final year of a practicum to become a Spiritual Director.