September 26, 2021 ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
Here’s a familiar story that will make you smile ~ because it so true, its sad and funny at the same time. You see, there was a woman who was pulled over by the police for aggressive driving. She had not done anything illegal. But she was tailgating, not letting people merge ahead of her, and simply driving in an unkind aggressive manner. A police officer had been observing her driving, and pulled her over. When she asked why, pointing out that she had not broken any laws, the police officer told her that he noticed several Christian bumper stickers on the back of her car, and assumed that the car had been stolen, since the driver was clearly not driving in a Christian manner.
“Be imitators of God,” Paul writes, “as beloved children.” How often do we wake up in the morning and remind ourselves, “I am going to imitate God today. I am going to reflect the God in whose image I was created.”?
Children learn almost everything by imitation. Babies mirror their parents’ facial expressions and repeat the sounds that adults make, getting better and better at it until the sounds become words. Young children copy their parents’ speech patterns, even when their parents wish they wouldn’t. As they grow, they imitate the adults around them in more complex ways, often picking up some combination of their parents’ habits, values, communication styles, and behaviors. The imitation sometimes grows even stronger during adulthood. Most of us have said to ourselves at one point or another that, “I sound just like my mother!” or “I did that just like my father!”
The letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we are children, not only of our parents, but of God. And just like children imitate their parents, sometimes intentionally and sometimes completely without noticing it, when we are in relationship with God, we begin to mirror God. As we grow and mature in our faith, we increasingly embody the values and practices of God, so the person we see in the mirror shows God to those we meet.
We are Christians. We are baptized children of God. We should be acting like it. We should be imitating God. When one comes before God and the congregation for baptism, that person and/or their parents and sponsors are pointedly asked: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Our prime example to imitate in upholding that vow: Jesus of Nazareth ~ Messiah ~ Savior. Paul espouses: Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us… Kindness and Love in word and action reflect the true spirit of God. The whole book of Ephesians, especially the passage we shared today, is all about helping us understand what the values and practices of God are, so we can both recognize them in ourselves as signs of our growth, and, gain a clear picture of exactly what it is that we’re supposed to be imitating – what it would mean to see God in the mirror.
All of Ephesians assumes that while there is only one God, God is not alone. The whole idea of the Trinity is that God exists in community, and that relationship is part of the essential being of God. So, part of what it is to be the reflection of God is to live in community. All of these attributes of imitators of God that are listed here are things that happen in community. We imitate God by being in community, and we imitate God by how we ACT in community. The most significant ways we can imitate God are those that involve how we treat each other.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Think of how radical it is that we believe God to be kind, compassionate, forgiving! After all, those hearing of the God of the New Covenant, had previously heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose reputation was not as positive. Yet, our God saw the potential good in humanity and sent Jesus to us, who showed us the full extent of God’s love for creation. Reflecting God through Christ’s example means that we choose not to assume the worst of intentions, or hold people’s wrongs against them. Those imitating God assume generally good intentions and give people room to make mistakes from which all will learn and grow. They remember that they have received grace and forgiveness from God and from other people, and they share that grace and forgiveness with others.
So, how many of these values and practices do you see in your own life? How have you grown further into these qualities over time, and where do you still have room for growth? None of us are ever going to be perfect or fully embody God, but as beloved children of God, we are to a greater or lesser degree imitators of God. How much of God do you see in your mirror?
I love the verse from Romans 5 which states that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Did you hear that? God’s love has been poured into your hearts and my heart through the gift of the Holy Spirit. With God’s love in our hearts, we have the capacity to imitate God, God’s values and practices, and God’s love and compassion, which, through words and actions will build up those around us.
So, tomorrow, when you wake up remind yourself: “I am going to imitate God today. I am going to reflect the God in whose image I was created.”