Behind the challenging and difficult Words of our Lord throughout His Sermon on the Mount — which expose your sin, your selfishness and lack of love, your impatience and hardness of heart — behind those Words, there is the fact that your Father in heaven loves you and deals with you in the way that He calls you and commands you to love and deal with your neighbors in the world.
Which is to say that holiness and perfection are not means to some other end or purpose; they are the character and content of the divine Life. For the one true God is Holy and Perfect in Himself, in the eternal Love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. He is Holiness and Perfection, for He exists and lives in Himself, not in selfishness or isolation, but in a relationship of mutual love.
The perfection and holiness of this one true God proceeds — from within His inner Triune Being of Love — in His free outward action of love toward those whom He has created by His grace for the sake of giving them life with Himself. Thus, the perfect holiness of God is manifested in His Self-giving, to the extent of His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross for the salvation of sinners; in His tender mercy and compassion upon you; in His forgiveness of all your sins and His free gift of life; and in His providential care of all creatures, including even those who are at enmity with Him.
He has not only called you to be His child — something that you could not choose or accomplish for yourself — but He has granted you the new birth of Holy Baptism and made of you a new creation in Christ Jesus. He has named you with His Name and anointed you with His Spirit. He has graciously adopted you to be His own dear child, and He has become your own dear Father.
So it is that you are a son of God in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel. You are a member of His Body and His Bride; the Lord Jesus Christ is your Husband and your Head. You are a Temple of God, and His Holy Spirit dwells in you and with you, resting upon you and abiding within you, as He is in and with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son and the Lord’s Anointed.
Therefore, you are holy, and you shall be perfect, as your Father in heaven is holy and perfect, merciful and just. Not in lonely isolation, nor self-contained within yourself, but in a relationship of faith and love with the Holy Triune God in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, and so also in the Holy Communion of His Church; in love for all His brothers and sisters, who are the many sons of daughters of your own God and Father; and, again, in love for all your neighbors in the world.
This life and love are your holiness and perfection, which you share with God through faith in Christ. Not of yourself, yet truly yours by His grace. It is derivative and always being received from the Lord your God. It is the life and love for which He created you. It is what He freely does for you, according to His own divine holiness: In His mercy and compassion upon you. In His daily forgiveness of all your great and many sins. And in the gifts of Himself and His Life, which He bestows upon you in body and soul, in Christ Jesus, in His Word and Spirit, flesh and blood.
He who gives Himself to you — whom the Father gives to you from heaven, and the Holy Spirit lays upon your heart and mind, body and soul, through the Gospel — He is your holiness and righteousness, your innocence and blessedness. All of this perfected for you in Him, in His own Body of flesh and blood, in His Cross and Passion, in His Resurrection from the dead, and in His Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven. And all of this has become yours through Holy Baptism, which is not a private affair but your incorporation into Christ and His Church.
Your holiness and righteousness as a Christian are found and perfected within the fellowship of the Church, within the fellowship of the means of grace, and proceeding from it. They are found both in the receiving of faith through the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, and in the living of love with one another in real time, boots on the ground, with your words and tangible actions of charity.
Your holiness and righteousness daily flow from and with the forgiveness of sins, and in this life on earth they are always returning to the forgiveness of sins. With such forgiveness there is mercy and compassion, and the giving and receiving of life through the feeding and care of the body.
That life of love, which is received and shared and lived within the Body of Christ, is then also extended to the world outside of the Church in patience and kindness, in mercy and compassion, in the forgiving of sins, and in self-sacrificing service. So does God’s Kingdom come through you, not by way of compromise, but by way of repentance and faith, forgiveness and reconciliation.
To be a child of your God and Father in heaven — to be like Him — is to be holy with His Spirit in His compassion for you and for all people; to be perfect in His mercy and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord; and to be gracious in His steadfast loving-kindness toward you.
What it looks like, therefore, to be and to live as a child of God in Christ, a member of His Body, the Church, in whom the Holy Spirit abides in peace — what it looks like to be holy and perfect, is that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You do not lose your temper; you do not retaliate or seek revenge against those who hurt you or speak ill of you; nor do you harbor bitterness or resentment in your heart and mind against anyone else. You do not hide or withhold your possessions from those in need, but you gladly do good, even to those who sin against you.
You show no partiality, but you are kind and good and merciful and generous with each and all of your neighbors, although the particulars obviously differ according to each unique situation.
It all comes down to loving your neighbor, doing no harm but all manner of good. In faith before God, from whom you have all good things by grace, you love your neighbor as Christ loves you.
You serve and care for your neighbor, as you yourself desire and need to be cared for and served. Not tit for tat, “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” but for Jesus’ sake, in the holiness of God. You simply do whatever good you can without counting the cost or keeping score, knowing that your real reward is your life in Christ Jesus, which is safely hidden with your Father in heaven.
With what sort of materials, then, are you building on this one Foundation of the Lord’s Church, the house and home of His family? With gold and silver, with precious stones and fine jewels? Or with sticks and stubble, straw and hay, which are easily blown away and burned up?
Are you building up the Body of Christ in faith and love? Or do you tear down and destroy the Temple of God with harsh and hurtful thoughts, words, and deeds?
That which abides and remains forever is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, and the preaching of His Gospel. For He Himself is divine and holy Love, and He Himself is the Righteousness of God, Personal and in the Flesh. So does His love become personal and specific in your faithful loving service to others, within your own station in life, according to the Ten Commandments.
Therefore, live in love and manifest the mercies of God in concrete and specific ways, wherever the Lord has positioned you in life. Do not horde for yourself what God has graciously given into your possession and stewardship, but share it freely with your poor and needy neighbor. Do not be aloof and distant from those around you, but be a very present help in trouble. Be generous, and do not worry or fear that you will end up with nothing, or that you will be deprived of your own needs; for Christ is yours, and you are His, and all good things are yours in Him forever.
And even now, beloved of the Lord, where you have not been holy and righteous; where you have rather been short-tempered and impatient, rude and quarrelsome; where you have caused hurt and harm, and have withheld the help you could have given to others; where you have taken instead of giving; where you have been negligent or indifferent toward your neighbors; and where you have not loved but hated your enemies and have failed to pray and intercede for them — Repent, and live now as a Christian, as a child of God, as a member of Christ’s holy Bride, the Church.
For the Lord your God — who gives life to all people, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread, even without your prayer, also to all the wicked — He is holy and righteous; He is perfect in mercy and compassion; and He is indeed your God and Father in Christ Jesus. He daily and richly forgives you all your sins by His grace. He raises you up from death to life, day by day, and His mercy upon you is new every morning. He has cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in all your going out and coming in, henceforth unto the life everlasting, He washes your dirty feet with His Word of Holy Absolution.
He leaves behind a grain offering and a drink offering — the pure wheat of His Field, the good grapes of His Vineyard — that you might have Bread to eat, and so live; and that you might have Wine to drink, and so celebrate with great joy and gladness.
With these good gifts, much greater still, your Father in heaven gives you the Spiritual Food and Drink of Christ’s own holy Body and His precious Blood: To nourish and sustain you. To clothe and cover and consecrate you. To guard and protect you from all harm and danger, from sin and death and every evil of body and soul. And to save you from your enemy, the old wicked foe.
You thus belong to the Body of Christ, because Christ feeds you with His Body. You abide in Him, because He abides in and with you in this Holy Sacrament. So it is that you are a living stone in the Temple of the living God — and you are holy, as your God and Father in heaven is holy — because the very Son of God, Christ Jesus, dwells in you with His life-giving Holy Spirit.
Take to heart how He loves you, so perfectly and so completely, with His own Body and Life.
Though you have been a stranger to Him and at odds with Him, listen to the way that He welcomes you and greets you as your beloved Brother and your dear Friend, with grace, mercy, and peace.
Consider that He has given Himself for you: His eye for your eye, His teeth for your teeth; His right cheek and His left, His hands and feet and side; His Body of flesh and blood; His soul and Spirit on the Cross, even unto death.
He has not gone one mile or two, but the whole distance for you.
Have no fear, therefore, but rest yourself here in His perfect Peace and in His holy hospitality.
Does He not give you the shirt off His back? Does He not cover your nakedness and shame with Himself, His honor, and His majesty? And does He not clothe you with His own righteousness?
He does not destroy you, but He builds you up in His Love, adorning you with that which is far more precious, more lasting, and more lovely than silver, gold, or jewels, even anointing you with the Holy Spirit and beautifying you from head to foot, inside and out, with His own holy Blood.
This grace of God in Jesus Christ — His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and His free gift of life and salvation — this is His holiness, with which you are now sanctified; His righteousness, in which you are perfected before God, and shall be perfected in the resurrection of your body at the last; and this is His Glory, by which you are glorified in body and soul, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.