Tag Archives: Living God-like

Imitators of God

A Sermon for 12 August 2018

A reading of Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  Before launching into this reading, it might be helpful to remember that Ephesians is an epistle of the New Testament.  It is attributed to the Apostle Paul, who once was Saul.  But as far as we know, Ephesians is what scholars believe to be a circular letter.  The style, language, and meanings are uncharacteristic of the other letters that we know the Apostle Paul wrote to certain church communities.  Additionally, in the opening of the letter, the earliest manuscripts we have of Ephesians don’t mention Ephesus at all.  There’s not some known church crisis outlined and refuted in this letter.  All of which points to the conclusion that the epistle of Ephesians is just a good wholesome letter of encouragement to everyday Christians – probably circulated to several worshipping congregations in Asia Minor.  Perhaps Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul towards the end of his life.  Like a wise old saint, near the close of his days, who passes on his collective wisdom to others on the journey.  If not directly from Paul’s pen, then likely Ephesians comes from someone taught by Paul who similarly sought to encourage other Christians (The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV, 1994, NT p. 272).  Which is all to say that Ephesians is for us all – everywhere.  On any old day.  . . .  With this in mind, listen now for God’s word to us in a reading of Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NRSV).

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.  28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.  29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.  30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.  31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Last weekend I was at the home of my childhood with my parents and surrounded by my sisters.  It was great fun!  Growing up, summers always were the best.  With time to just hang out.  Relax together outside at the beach near our house, in the water, or just wandering through the woods.  As my sisters and I got older, we were alone together a lot.  And it was then – especially in the summer when we didn’t have much else to do but mom’s chore list.  It was then that we eventually turned to provoking each other.  If you’re a sibling or have reared children or grandchildren, then you might know what I mean.  One childhood taunt I dreaded most was when my sister would copy me.  Ever experience it?  If you really wanted to get under the skin of your sister or your brother you’d just start repeating every word they said.  Scrunching your face like they scrunched their face when they protested for it to stop.  Stomping like they did.  Mimicking the whinny tone in their voice.  Relentless – especially when unsupervised ‘cuz then there was no parent to tattle to.  You were totally at your sibling’s mercy!  . . .  I don’t know why children do it – it’s totally immature, yet so incredibly effective.  It can be done without making a peep.  From all the way across the room even once mom has banished you to separate corners.  Still, your sister – or brother – could get 100% under your skin by imitating you!

Imitation’s not always a bad thing.  In fact, it’s also a pretty effect way to grow.  When not done of the purpose of driving your brother or sister absolutely nuts, imitation can lead to mastery.  Think about all the things toddlers begin to do because they see the person in front of them doing it.  Clap your hands with a smile before a little one and they’re bound to start clapping too.  Show a youngster the steps of mastering things like shoe tying or letter writing.  Soon they’ll be at it on their own.  As we age, we go through an entire period of growth called adolescents when it seems imitation will have no end.  Teens wearing the same cloths as their friends just to fit in.  Girls wanting to pierce their ears ‘cuz everyone else is doing it too.  Boys telling silly jokes because the boy who seems to get all the attention tells silly jokes too.  The way to self-assurance developmentally leads through imitation.  As adults observing, our hope is teenagers pick the right ones to imitate!  Avoiding the examples all around of bullying and disrespect and irresponsibility.  Hopefully imitating peers and role models whose values are in line with the way we want them to grow.

I’m not sure the age of those who heard the epistle of Ephesians when it was being circulated around the Mediterranean.  If the letter really was written near the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, then it’s highly likely that those who heard it were at most a few decades in to being committed followers of the Way – disciples of Jesus who early Christians came to believe was the Christ.  The One of God come to deliver the people.  We can debate all day exactly what they needed deliverance from, but it’s clear that some who heard of Jesus were captivated by his teaching.  They were astounded by the way his disciples vowed compassionate care of one another.  They were impressed by the community’s broad inclusion of Jew and Gentile alike.  It would take the established church years to develop the theological doctrines we take for granted today.  In the meantime, those who wanted to be a part of Christ’s movement came to learn just how they were to be in the world each day.

One source tells of early baptismal liturgies that ritualized the expected behavior.  G. Porter Taylor writes:  “in the first liturgies of the church, the baptismal candidates faced the west and renounced the forces of darkness”  (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 326).  We see remnants of this in baptismal vows of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The first vow in the covenant of Baptism reads:  “Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?” (Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018, p. 409).  “I renounce them,” the baptismal candidate is to proclaim (Ibid.).  In the PCUSA, after professing the One to whom the candidate for baptism will turn, they are asked:  “Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love?”  “I will, with God’s help,” PCUSA baptismal candidates respond! (Ibid.).  In those first baptismal liturgies, after turning to the west to renounce the forces of darkness; baptismal candidates “then turned to the east at sunrise and proclaimed their allegiance to the light of the world” (G. Porter Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 326).  Taylor goes on to write:  “They literally stripped off their old clothing and put on the new garments of being adopted by Christ as children of God after they were baptized.  They were then brought into the community of faith.  In baptism the old self is killed off, and the new self is raised” (Ibid.).  From that moment on, the baptized live as those aligned to the Light of the World!

“Imitate God,” Ephesians 5:1 declares.  “And live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).  Imitate God.  . . .  Lest we fail to know what that means, the writer of Ephesians fleshed it out with description after description.  The world may be full of those who want to lie.  Those who imitate God speak the truth.  The world may be full of those who get angry and immediately lose their temper.  Those who imitate God get angry.  We recognize anger and every other emotion as the signal they are from our own body-mind.  Then we act free from sin – not stewing in disgruntlement lest those forces we renounced in baptism have a chance to take hold.  The world might be full of those who labor for their own ends.  Imitators of God labor honestly so as to have something to share with those in need.  Ephesians reminds that the world may be full of those who let all sorts of drivel come forth from their mouth.  Those who imitate God use words to build up others so that grace abounds.  Bitterness, wrath, wrangling anger, slander together with malice may surround us daily in our streets and from our cities.  But those who imitate God practice kindness – in big and small ways.  Imitators of God are tenderhearted – no matter how callous everyone else might get.  Those who imitate God forgive; for we know it’s only so long until we’ll need the same forgiveness.

Imitators of God are beloved children.  A fragrant gift to the world around.  Not always perfect, but still striving for the goal.  We seek to imitate the One we know in full through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.  In our life together.  In our lives at home.  In our lives wherever we go in the world.  Let us live love, as Christ has loved us.  Let us imitate God.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Our Crosses

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

A sermon for 1 March 2015 – Second Sunday During the Season of Lent

Click here to read scripture first: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+8:31-38

It’s Lent, so I guess public confession is good.  Here goes. Someone really hurt my feelings last week. Don’t worry – it wasn’t anyone connected to the church!  It was something someone else I know said to me, about me, last week. And it hurt. My ego got bumped. I got mad.   . . .  Am I the only one this ever happens to?   . . .  For at least the first two days, I wanted to call up my best friends and trash talk. Tell them all about it. Point fingers at the person who said what they said. Get them on my side about it all just so I would be justified.   . . .  Seriously: am I the only one stuff like this ever happens to?   I don’t think so, though I realize some of us are further along on the continuum regarding such things.

Recently I heard a beloved, deep-on-the-journey spiritual leader talk about it on national television. The interviewer asked him something about him living each day in the flow or absolute love of God. And he confessed that though he writes and talks eloquently about the absolute love of God – the Ground of our very being, sometimes he’s there. But not always. And some weeks not even every day. This is someone who has devoted his life to daily silence, scripture reading, study, communal living, and prayer. He’s sought after worldwide for in-person lectures. His printed works sell millions and his visual and audio recordings are bringing life to Christians all across the globe. And still, after nearly fifty years of the practice, he claims his own ego still gets bumped. People say things or do things that rub him wrong and before he knows it, he feels that pain. Now, thanks to his daily, life-long practices, he admits such annoyances come and go fairly quickly for him now – even things like getting cut off in traffic. Anyone get all worked up about that? But he doesn’t have that urge to call up BFFs to tell them all about it. And he doesn’t stew either –as the less verbal among us tend to do, right? Just soaking in our juices. Fuming about what so and so did or said that really got our goat.

It’s the first thing that comes to mind from Jesus’ words of the gospel of Mark. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). It would be easy to keep such words way back then in history. Thinking about Peter, James, and John literally having to give up the regular ways of their lives to follow Jesus around Galilee before finally heading to Jerusalem. But the message isn’t just for those long ago. It’s for every last one of us. Today. In the real stuff of our lives.

If you were at Wednesday night to see it, or watched the link of the video we email blasted (click here to watch it:   https://vimeo.com/116071300) that was by the Barna Group about their findings regarding the unchurched, then you might remember that one of the major hurdles to Christianity today is that the unchurched, or church-less as they were calling them, cannot see any distinctive difference between how they are living their lives and how most of us church people are living ours. Ouch! The research showed that other than us being in worship sometimes on Sundays, for the most part, the daily lives and choices of most American Christians do not look all that different from the daily lives and choices of the church-less. Chilling, isn’t it? Because the One we claim to follow was pretty clear that we are not to be living the same as everyone else. In a world of rampant consumerism, self-absorbed self-interest, and escalating violence; we should stand out. It should be seen that we give of at least a portion of our time, talents, and money not for our own pleasure but for the benefit of others. It should be seen that we curb our appetites for more, more, more. It should be seen that, if nowhere else in this world, at least among us Christians forgiveness is genuinely practiced – love for all no matter what is the norm. All those good fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). It should be seen that we’re not about us and them but about one, beloved human family. One, united creation actually, that all is sacred unto God.   . . .  As an example to demonstrate his point, the Barna researcher spoke of an ancient practice of God’s people that can be incredibly relevant for today: keeping Sabbath. True rest as a creature in our amazing Creator without all our techno-gadgets. The point being that if others see us able to use, but not be addicted to our screens, like actually NOT all being on our smartphones as we sit at a meal in a restaurant. You’ve seen that, right? Dad taking a work call. Mom searching the web for something, and little Christian children playing whatever app they’re playing when the server comes to take their order. Sabbath just one day a week – or one hour if the consideration of one full day causes you an immediate sense of panic. Stopping from life like that, to rest in the natural beauty of this world. Truly connecting with one another face-to-face and even with our God; well, that would be one way to be an authentic witness today of denying ourselves to follow after the principles of another.

Our crosses might not look like the bloody devices of torture used by Rome to put to death anyone seeking to incite the people against their ways. Our crosses might look like practicing daily meditation so that we’re not as attached to the bumps and bruises of our egos. Steeping ourselves in the words and actions of Christ that the ways we interact with others blare with mercy and kindness and grace. The sacrifice of our own hidden agendas are seen by our colleagues out there in the world and even in here in the church. Not being doormats for everyone else to walk all over. Being our best selves in God by losing how we always want it to be for the sake of God’s grander vision to grow.

You know, the one who says to follow didn’t have to show up here in this world and live the kind of life he did. Jesus could have gone about his little carpenter life – eking out a living for the benefit of his own family. Keeping his unique worldview and talents to himself. He could have had year after year of his life used up just by getting by each day – trying merely to make it from sunup to sundown accomplishing the duties laid upon him by his business and family and friends. Or by making and taking more for himself, even at the expense of others. But he didn’t, did he? Which is why we know anything about him at all – this man who was truly one of us and yet truly of God as well. He turned to the Spirit. He gave space enough for God’s truth to grow in him. He enjoyed others – cherishing them, not trying to figure out how they could benefit himself. He quieted his own wants – probably by the times he daily stole off to be alone in prayer with God – until his only want was summed up in that amazing prayer in the garden: “Thy will be done, O God. Thy will.” That’s the way he was God with us. Showing us how to be Godlike in the world today.   . . .  With all the clamor and concern about how to live well these days, why do we look anywhere else but to the life of Jesus, the Christ?

“Those who want to save their own life,” he said, “will lose it.” But those who lose their life – giving up their own selves each day, like him? Those already know real Life! The point of it all.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)