God's Emerging Masterpiece
When he was gone, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
There is a story about a man who had a huge rock in his front yard, about the size of a Volkswagen car. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking. A neighbour asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of an elephant?" The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"
When Jesus gave this commandment to love one another, he wanted his disciples to keep working on who they were, simply because they were his disciples. They did not have to do this to be saved. The disciple’s love for each other was not a condition of the work that Jesus was about to do on the cross, but because of what he was about to do for them, they, in turn, were to love one another. His love for them was certainly a big part of his suffering and death.
When asked why his movie was called the passion, Mel Gibson answered “Because it takes a passionate love to go through what he did for us.”
If we think in terms of our original story about the elephant, what has God done for us, who start out as lumps of rock?
Firstly, we have just celebrated Easter, we are still in the Easter season. Because of the suffering and death of Christ, and the miracle of Easter, God doesn’t see us as lumps of rock any more. He sees the elephant inside.
He sees us as righteous and loving, because he sees Jesus’ righteousness and love. So we are declared righteous, and loving and sinless. We are declared to be the finished sculpture, even though you and I are still the lumps of rock.
The theological term for this is justification. You are declared to be just, to be right before God, even though you are not, because you are given Christ’s righteousness.
So, God sees the lump of rock, and calls it a finished elephant. Perfect in every way.
This happens in your life in an instant, when God gives you faith to accept the work of Jesus. You are baptised, you hear the word of God. You come to faith. Bang. You are declared righteous. Instantly. Justification.
But something else goes on in us that takes a lifetime. Even though God sees you, you lumps of rock, and looks within and sees the sculpture underneath, the perfect elephant, you are still lumps of rock! He doesn’t want to leave you there, but to make you into what he sees is inside. You need to have all those things that don’t look like the elephant chipped away.
You and I need to have all those sins that we know we commit, our hatred and our nastiness and our sexual immorality chipped away day by day for all of our lives. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and it is called sanctification. Another big church word, but all it means is to make holy, make righteous.
Justification: Jesus declares us holy. He sees the elephant for Christ’s sake and declares that we are perfect. It is immediate.
Sanctification: the Spirit makes us holy. He chips away at what isn’t the elephant. It takes our whole lives.
The Spirit takes us and chips away at the lumpy bits and the imperfections by daily drowning our old selves in our baptism. As we daily admit to God that we don’t look like a very good elephant, and we ask him to forgive us, to make us more and more what we should be. This is what we are talking about in the part of our confession and absolution where we say that we will strive daily to lead a holy life.
If God sees us as a perfect sculpture, then surely we will want to be worthy of that gift, and try more and more to be made into one.
That is why we are given certain laws or ways of living. By keeping the ten commandments, we try to eliminate those things in our life that don’t look like they belong to someone who God sees as perfect, as the finished sculpture.
Killing and stealing and committing adultery don’t belong with the righteousness of Christ that we wear. To put it another way, they are the lumps of rock, they are not part of the elephant. They need to be chipped away, slowly but surely.
What about love? Jesus gave us a new commandment that didn’t say what we should not do, like most of the commandments, but what we should do. Love one another.
Is there anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love? If there is, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away!
If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tender heartedness.
Let others see the elephant that is underneath it all, and marvel at the perfection that the Holy Spirit can make out of just a hunk of uncooperative stone.
You know, in our story, if 5 people were to look at the same big rock, I am sure that they would have all seen 5 different things, and given the chance, they would have tried to sculpt it into five different things.
If we don’t know who to listen to, we will fall into the trap of trying to let many different voices tell us what we should be, and after they all have attempted to sculpt us into something different, we will be ruined.
There are many such people in our world, who have been ground down smaller and smaller, as they try to become something they were not created to be. In the end, they become like fine sand, and are blown away on the wind.
There is only one who knows what we were originally created to be, who sees us as that perfect creation, and then is able to make us into it. Who else but God knows what the best you there can be looks like? No-one.
He is the only one who can see the elephant.
Okay, we might have taken this analogy of the elephant sculpture far enough, but one final thought. An elephant, according to popular thought, never forgets.
But we do. When it comes to this new commandment of Jesus, we forget time and time again. We say nasty things about each other behind someone’s back. We hurt, and we do not always explain our neighbours actions in the kindest possible way, as the eighth commandment tells us to.
We hate and we accuse, and the more we do it, the more we fall into the habit of it, the less we are like the elephant, and the more we forget who we are supposed to be. The more we forget the words of our Lord.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus loves us enough to give us his righteousness, and to make us more and more righteous every day.
Can you see the righteousness in those around you?
Can you see the elephant?
Look for it. It is there, slowly coming into shape.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."