You know it is a great sermon if you are still thinking about it days after Sunday brunch. My Pastor preached on Christ’s perfection last Sunday. Perfection, he defined, is “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” Perfection can also be, “the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible.”
While I certainly will not lay claim to perfection, I will say I have systems in place covering virtually all aspects of my life to keep it as free from flaws or defects as possible. Regular readers of my blog know of my pernicious need to crush out every ounce of efficiency, productivity, and activity every day and in 15-minute increments.
And there is the conundrum. Human perfection, as far as this human goes, leads to righteous indignation, righteous outrage, culminating in self-righteousness. I have unflagging standards for excellence, perfection, that I create, keep selectively, and demand of others entirely. Mercifully, about the time I start putting on pharisee airs, the good Lord sees fit to remind me of my systemic imperfections. And down I go. Grace.
Heartbreakingly, I see the effects of human righteousness around me. Human righteousness is effective because it is falsely powerful. Self-righteousness, the resultant of righteous indignation and righteous outrage, that sense superiority, fulminates a rush of power or exclusivity against the lesser competent and inflames like-minded Pharisees.
Self-righteousness destroys the spirit like sugar does the body. Both sugar and power are addictive. After the initial rush, unremitting sugar intake rots the body: toes necrotize and need amputation or plaque starts covering the brain and leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Self-righteousness also leads to wrinkles. Have you ever met a righteous someone who did not have their brow furrowed? I think not.
Rather than uplifting the spirit, human righteousness warps the spirit. Human righteousness isolates, divides, suffocates. In a group setting, self-righteous leaders bring dysfunction, not collaboration.
And now you know why I find Christ so mystifying, so offensive, so irritating. He could handle righteous outrage and indignation without ever sliding into self-righteousness. Christ’s followers went with him for the Good News. The sick, the heartbroken, the social pariahs desperately needed verbal kindness, generous action, life-giving hope.
Christ supplanted self-righteousness with righteous kindness, righteous joy, and righteous generosity. How does one measure these behaviors? What are the standards for such actions?
For one thing, Christ’s righteousness is messy. In my experience, Christ’s righteousness changes the pronoun from “I” to “we,” and anytime people are involved, it gets messy. Self-righteousness takes credit. Christ’s righteousness gives credit. It brings people together, crosses chasms, and enlivens. If we are standing upright for one another, we are not bent over with crinkled faces, scoffing and mocking in derision.
If I am going to get righteousness wrinkles, let them be smile lines around my eyes and mouth. If there is acknowledgment of others’ success, let it be with lavish generosity. If help is needed, let it be done with brazen kindness.
I think, just for today, I will let go of my systems, hierarchies, and processes. In the grand scheme of things, what is one day for living with flagrant imperfection, grinning wildly at my uncorseted day: joy, kindness, generosity.
No, it is not lost on me that I just made a list for my day’s process. Small steps toward imperfection, my friends.
Righteous living is deliberate living.