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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Be Imitators of God

Be Imitators of God

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

I found a really cool app for my tablet yesterday that I wished I had found during the long dry spell we went through recently.  I would like you to take a listen to this:  (play rain sounds)  The tab was enabled to imitate the sound of rain with some pretty good outcomes.  I found the sounds relaxing and soothing.  Although it was raining at the time, I didn’t have to wait for rain to enjoy the sounds.

We humans and most animals are good at imitating.  Young animals especially must be able to imitate their parents in order to learn basic, life preserving skills. Our young children begin to imitate us almost as soon as they are born.  They imitate us to learn how to talk, walk, feed and dress themselves.  But they also imitate us to learn higher level skills of problem solving, social skills, and mental calculations to name of few.  We learn to play, work and survive through imitating those who know how to do things best.  It is easier to imitate those we can see and hear.  But we also imitate things we probably would be better not imitating.  Just look at some the things our children imitate from us, things that we would rather they don’t imitate.  We grow up hopefully learning the right things through imitation. 

Paul makes an interesting statement when he says to imitate God.  We certainly cannot imitate all the things that God does, like create a universe, although we do get creative in many little attempts at things.  We cannot imitate astounding miracles, although there are those who know some healing arts, such as doctors and nurses and pharmacists.  So what is there about God that we can imitate effectively?  If we look at the nature of God we can derive some pretty important clues about what of God we need to imitate. 

Paul names some characteristic qualities of our behavior based on the character of God.  He says “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  The New Testament picture of God is a picture of a God of love, mercy and forgiveness.  We have a little harder time reconciling that picture of God with some of God’s behavior in the Old Testament or First Testament.  That sometimes is the vengeful, seemingly vindictive God that we don’t like to read about, the God who says to wipe out entire groups of people in order for the Isrealites to claim their promised land.  This same God seems demanding and unforgiving at times.  Those are the things of God that we are not being asked to imitate, although many have used those behaviors to justify atrocities against others.  We will not and cannot understand entirely God’s purposes during those times.  We can only understand the outcomes of such rigid ways of shaping and forming a people.  God shaped a people until the time was right for the birth of one who would make all that unnecessary, one who would show us a different ways of living with each other and all of creation. 

What Paul calls us to imitate is our God who shows compassion, love and mercy and who forgives and saves.  Paul calls us to imitate our God who desires above all else that we live as we were intended to live, at one with Him and with each other, our God who calls us to live with His love at the heart of our very being. 

Those are pretty lofty words, pretty idealistic and very difficult to live by.  We know that God’s love is enormous, and wonder how we can imitate such a great love, especially when we so often want to do just the opposite.  Well, God has given us a great tool to help us live the life He would like us to live.  Our greatest concrete example of how to live life and what to imitate is seen in Jesus, his actions, his words, and glimpses of his emotions and attitudes toward others.  The popular question that has been around for a little while now is “what would Jesus do?”  but I think before we can answer that question we must ask, “What did Jesus do?”  Fortunately several people did write down accounts of Jesus’ doings and sayings while he traveled around the countryside teaching and healing.  We know that Jesus was a healer, that he had compassion, that he had righteous anger, that he cried, and that he knew God intimately. 

In our communion ritual we list those things that he did: he fed the hungry, he ate with sinners, he healed the sick because he had compassion and he loved and cared for God’s people.  He cried over Jerusalem and her rebellious ways.  He would not keep the children away, and he moved people to understand themselves as in need of forgiveness and salvation.  If we want a clue about how to imitate God, then we must look to Jesus and the things he did and we can speculate on why he did them.  His love for humanity was so great that he was willing to go through the agony of the cross, to give his very life for all of us. 

Some would think we cannot be like Jesus, that it’s impossible for us to imitate him completely.  But I believe it is possible, very difficult, but not impossible.  As Christians we are always in the process of becoming.  Paul gives us a few clues as to what type of behavior helps us be like Jesus.  He says, “Put away falsehood…speak the truth…don’t sin when we are angry…don’t let the devil have room…quit stealing and work honestly…give up bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander and malice…and above all, forgive.  We can all do those things, although there are times when we find ourselves acting first and thinking later.  It was a new way of living that Jesus called those early Christians to.  And very early on new Christians failed in many ways.  That is why Paul was writing this letter to that Ephesian church.  Does that mean the early church failed all together, no!   It means that this new life was a work in progress.  And just like those early Christians we are works in progress.  Transformation is not a one time thing and we are there.  When we accept Christ we are changed, but we are not complete.  Becoming a good
Christian takes time and effort.  We are always in the process of growing. 

Developing right relationship with God and with others is at the heart of the gospel message, at the heart of our imitation of God.  As the love of God grows in us through the working of the Spirit, we get better and better at imitating God.  But we cannot know and imitate God fully until we know ourselves as loved by God.  And one of the best ways to know God more fully is to look at the life of Jesus through scripture, and to communicate with God through prayer and meditation.  When we look at the stories of Jesus in the gospels we can focus on the people he healed and ask the question, “Why would Jesus do that?”  Why did Jesus heal the blind man, or the bent over woman, or feed the 5000?  And the greatest question we can ask is, why did Jesus willingly die on the cross?  When we ask those types of questions we can quickly come to the realization that Jesus did those things out of compassion and love.  And he wanted others to see the nature of God, a nature consumed with compassion and love. 

We cannot imitate Jesus until we have looked at and explored what he did.  He knew God’s love better than anyone and it is out of that love that he operated in his ministry on earth.  It is out of that love that he still reaches people and transforms them through his Spirit. 

Yesterday, Joe and I and Penny went to a wedding in Detroit.  It was a beautiful wedding.  In fact Joe got one of his wishes, he heard the word “obey” in the bride’s wedding vows.  But other things happened during the ceremony.  A young child began to get fussy.  His fussiness escalated until he was a real disruption to the ceremony.  The mother was becoming distraught herself, so the people in the pew passed the child down the aisle until someone on the end took the child out of the sanctuary and calmed him down.  It was an act of community, a caring act that not only cared for the child but cared for mother and others sitting there as well. 

What did Jesus do during his ministry?  He took the children of God and cared for them, healed them, fed them, shared his life and knowledge with them.  He knew the love of God and had compassion.  Can we do any less as children of God?  This world is filled with too much anger and violence and deceit, too much foul language, and verbal attacks, too much craziness and violent expressions of that craziness.  Where is the antidote?  Where is the counterpart to all that sin?  As Jesus followers, it is within each of us.  As we come to know Jesus more and better through looking at what he did, questioning why, and experiencing God’s love for ourselves, we become capable of imitating God in ways that make a difference in the lives of those around us. 

In the adult Sunday School class this year we will be exploring the New Testament, looking at the life of Jesus first, delving into the meanings of his actions and hopefully discovering more fully the extent of God’s love.  A good study bible will give you new insights into the gospels, a good discussion will open new possibilities in God’s word.  But it takes effort to grow in faith, to become good imitators of God.  Let’s make this a year of discovering just how great God’s love is and how we can imitate that love.

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