Scripture: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
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. – Ephesians 5:1-2
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and often that’s quite true. I remember when I first started in ministry here at Grace, I was freshly ordained and my eldest daughter regularly attended. For awhile, every Sunday evening when we went to dinner at my mum’s place, my daughter would find set of coasters and begin distributing them out to everyone in the room saying ‘the body of Christ’.
The time she had spent in church watching me as a new deacon and then priest, had engrained within her mind – she loved and still loves communion – and so she imitated me, she loved receiving the bread and the wine and now in her play she was imitating it. It was adorable and warmed my heart to see her imitate me – I mean she didn’t necessarily understand what she was doing, and she didn’t do it correctly necessarily but it was nonetheless adorable, and something I will never forget.
It is natural for children to imitate their parents – parents are people we look up to, they shape and form us. Children seek direction and guidance and often parents are the one to give us that. But even the best kids, the smartest, hardest working kids can’t usually imitate their parents completely – and if we’re honest as parents we probably don’t want them to imitate everything we do and are!
Kids aren’t the only ones who imitate, whether it is fashion, lifestyle or beliefs – all of us in one way or another imitate others, imitate our parents, imitate people we respect and even celebrities. And just like children the results of our imitation often fall short of the mark – you need only look at the endless terrible imitations of music videos on Youtube to realize that we aren’t often great imitators of our fellow humans.
Considering that we fail in our imitations of other people, it would seem rather impossible, cruel even, to be asked to become imitators of God – and yet that is exactly what we heard this morning in our reading from Ephesians. At the conclusion the passage we heard Paul writes “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.”
While this is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of scripture it is also a rather difficult one, because we are all well aware of our shortcomings, of inability to love God and neighbour as ourselves; we are all aware of the ways that selfishness creeps into our actions and motivations, we are all well aware of the ways we are spiritually near-sighted and serve a myriad of other gods.
Paul gives us a glimpse into what this looks like in the verses before our passage today. In Ephesians 4:18-9 Paul exhorts the Ephesian church to not be as they were before, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. Losing all sensitivity and abandoning themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”
In other words, once people become spiritually near-sighted, they lose their self-control, they give into the sin and brokenness of the world and look away from God, look away from the life that God intends for them. While we might try to tell ourselves on the outside that we are good people, we also know that we make a lot of mistakes, we are selfish, we don’t look out for our neighbours and we don’t allow God to be Lord of our lives.
Considering this, how can Paul ask his readers, ask us, ask you and me who are spiritually near-sighted to become imitators of God. In fact, Paul calling us to be imitators of Christ would be completely ludicrous and cruel if it weren’t for what he had written earlier. Because we can’t imitate God on our own, and a call to do so would completely discourage us.
However, earlier in Ephesians Paul speaks about re-creation and conversion, and in that context his call to imitate God makes sense. Because after all in our reading today we hear about how God in Christ has forgiven his adopted sons and daughters.
Our imitation of God is like writing a thank you note to someone who has given us a generous birthday or wedding gift – after all we should be thankful for the way that God has loved us just as Christ loved us, as Paul writes at the end of our passage this morning.
If we stretch the thank you card analogy a little further, the reality is that no only does God receive our thank you cards, he also gives us those thank you cards. God has equipped us for a life full of love, he has equipped us to respond to him and seek the good in our lives and in the lives of others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God is constantly converting you and me, converting us from our old unselfish ways, from our unloving ways to new loving ways.
Paul likens our conversions to changing clothes – just as we change our dirty or grubby clothes after a workout or after working in the garden, we are called to change our spiritual clothing, to take off the ‘dirty clothing’ of our sin and brokenness and put on the life of Christ, put on the clothing of loving and godliness.
However, just like the way that we sometimes like to stay in our comfortable dirty clothes, we need to recognize the dirty spiritually clothing we wear, and God helps us both to see the stained lives and clothing we wear but also he helps us to put on the clean clothing the righteous living and fulfilling lives.
God created us in his image, he gave us the clean and righteous clothing but we in our brokenness have muddied that image with our sin and disobedience – but God is gracious, God restores his image in us, he gives us the opportunity to put on new clean clothes, he gives us the opportunity to live a righteous and loving life. He equips us, he makes it possible for us to imitate God, he makes it possible for us to live righteous lives.
In our reading Paul mentions that we have been sealed b the Holy Spirit – this points that we have been adopted as children of God but also points to the fact that he has given us the ability to imitate him.
But do we know what to imitate? Do we know what it means to be imitators of God? The best way that we learn about God and his character is by watching Jesus, by studying him, by reading God’s word, by encountering him in the stranger and the oppressed.
As disciples, we learn from Jesus as we read the gospels and we learn about his kindness to those who others have mistreated. We learn about how Jesus is compassionate, how he loves the people on the margins, people who are unloved by others. Not only have we given the ultimate example of living others, but we’ve also been given the ultimate example of forgiveness.
In Jesus, we have been shown what it means to forgive. Most of the time we can find it hard to forgive someone even the smallest grievances – we hold grudges, we get offended and upset. But in Jesus, we witness him forgiving the very people who crucified him. Unfortunately, we don’t get to watch Jesus is action, so instead we pray; instead we read our Bibles to learn more about him; we come together to worship and learn more from our fellow Christians as we meditate on God, as we meditate on his Son Jesus and on the Holy Spirit.
Even the most devout and committed disciples of Christians can’t live up to Jesus, can’t live up the very life of God – you and I can’t live up to the standard of being perfect like God our Heavenly Father is perfect. Paul and all the saints understood that they weren’t perfect, that they struggled with the imitating God.
The Good News for us is that our salvation does not rest in our imitation of God, it does not rest in how righteous our lives are – but instead rests in his Grace. By the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to give thanks to God – we are able to best live our lives which honour God, which are full of love and kindness and goodness.
Not only does God give us Jesus and the Holy Spirit but he also gives us the church, He gives us his Word and the Sacraments to feast upon. He invites us to his table, he invites us to take in his life, to eat the bread of life, to drink the wine which is the blood of Christ, poured out for us.
Each week as we gather together, as we worship God, as we hear his Word, as we take in his body and blood in the Eucharist we are given the opportunity to learn what it means to imitate God, to see what it means to live a righteous life, to have the life of Jesus grow and flourish within us as we support one another in the life of following Jesus.
May we learn from one another, may we learn from God’s word and may we be filled with God’s very life today and forevermore. Let us be imitators of God, for he has given us the means to do so. Let us pray!