Genuine Imitation

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached the following sermon
at Christ Episcopal Church in Valdosta, Georgia, on August 12, 2012

Genuine Imitation
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2

There is a story from India[1] of a poor grass cutter who found a beautiful stone in the jungle. He had often heard of people finding valuable diamonds and thought this must be one. He took it to a jeweler and showed it to him with delight. Being a kind and sympathetic man, the jeweler knew that if he bluntly told the grass cutter that his stone was worthless glass, the man would either refuse to believe it or else fall into a state of depression. So instead, the jeweler offered the grass cutter some work in his shop so that he might become better acquainted with precious stones and their value.

Meanwhile, the man kept his stone safely locked away in a strongbox. Several weeks later, the jeweler encouraged the man to bring out his own stone and examine it. As soon as he took it out of the chest and looked at it more closely, he immediately saw that it was worthless. His disappointment was great, but he went to the jeweler and said: “I thank you that you did not destroy my hope but aided me instead to see my mistake on my own. If you will have me, I will stay with you and faithfully serve you, as you are a good and kind master.”

His stone, rather than valuable, was a lesser a stone, a poor substitute. The grass cutter did not know the real thing when he saw it. Sometimes we can’t tell the real thing, but we can tell the fake. No matter what clothes I wear or what vocabulary I use, I will never be able to come across as a gangsta rapper. Wearing the clothes and using the lingo would just make me a poser, not the real thing.

Imposters. Pretenders at best. That’s what the first Christians were thought of by some who lived around them. In fact the very name Christian was a term used to make fun of the people who wanted to be like Jesus. In the earliest days after Jesus death and resurrection, the followers of Jesus described their approach to Judaism as “The Way.” It was The Way for they taught and practiced the way of Jesus. You find this in Acts chapter 9 where it says,

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

The ones Saul sought to persecute were those belonging to The Way. The name change to Christian came in modern-day Turkey. Two chapters later in the Book of Acts we are told “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” What we are not told is that the term meant “Little Christ” and it was used to make fun of those who wanted to be like Jesus Christ. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, so rather than the positive association we have of someone wanting to be Christ like, the term Christian was more like calling a person a “Little Messiah.”

But the Christians took the name on willingly as they saw a desire to be like Jesus as an important part of belonging to The Way. They didn’t consider themselves posers, for their faith was authentic and their desire to be like Jesus was genuine. They knew that they were not the valuable gem stone worth a fortune, but they also understood that they could be transformed over time into something more like the image of God within them.

This is why Paul writes in our epistle reading for this morning saying,

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.

Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus to imitate God, knowing that each of them is God’s beloved child. Paul calls them also to live in the love Jesus showed on the cross.

Now these are lofty ideals that would seem to be out of our reach, but Paul writes this as a conclusion to a section where he has given specific ways to conform your life more to The Way of Jesus. Paul knows this has more to do with actions than words.

Thomas à Kempis put it this way in his 14th century book The Imitation of Christ, “On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.”

This is why Paul writes about specific actions saying that they should put away lying (v. 4:25), angry actions (26-27), stealing (28), and evil talk (29).  Then Paul sums it up in verse 31 writing that they are to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice.

Paul does this in some interesting ways though. Look more closely with me. Paul says,

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

The reason we are not to lie is that we will only be lying to ourselves for as parts of the Body of Christ we are members one of another. Paul would call us instead to speaking the truth in love.

What he writes on anger is just as interesting as he says we can and will be angry. Paul writes,

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

The anger is not bad. Anger is an emotion. Anger is your body giving you a message, telling you something. To tell someone not to get angry would be like telling someone not to feel pain when they stub their toe or hit their shin. But what we are to do is to not let the anger lead to angry actions. For we are to be angry but not to sin in the anger. We are also to not let the sun go down on our anger. So when something makes us angry, we are let that emotion happen, notice it, pay attention to what it is telling us, but then find a way to let go of it that very day rather than nurturing the anger. What do we do the next day? We go out and model God’s love once again.

Paul goes on to tell those who have been thieves to stop stealing and then warns,

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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

The word for evil in the Greek means literally putrid or rotten. We are not to let decaying, rotten words come out of our mouths. This means not to speak words that lead to rot and decay. Instead we are to use words that build others up as this does not grieve the Holy Spirit.

Paul then sums up what a genuine imitation of God looks like in telling Christians to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (32).  I say genuine imitation as we are not called to be someone other than ourselves.

Wearing a cross can be a good thing, but wearing a cross makes you like Christians, rather than like Christ. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s on the surface only. A potentially meaningless change that has nothing to do with being an imitator of God. Paul taught that we are to imitate Jesus in being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. This works no matter what you wear. You don’t have to become some sort of stereotypical Christian to follow Christ. God calls you instead to an authentic faith. Then you will not be an imitator alone, but a genuine imitation. Genuinely yourself and genuinely more Christ like.

The story I began with was right. We can better tell something is a cheap imitation when we compare it to something of real value. But the deeper truth is that the cheap imitation is what you wear on the surface. The real value is within you. I know this because I know that you are made in the image and likeness of God. You are not essentially a lying thief consumed by anger and given to putrid talk. You are essentially kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. That’s how God made you.

The key is to begin to live out that essential nature, that image of God within you. For it doesn’t matter what you believe if you never act on it. Remember Thomas à Kempis word from The Imitation of Christ, “On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.”

How will you live your life differently this week because of your faith in Jesus? It would be easy for it to be no different this week from last. What I wish I could do is issue you all clericals for a week. If you could try going around dressed as a priest with a collar, then you would find yourself marked publically as a Christian. Might it change how you behave? Perhaps not. But think about that when you are tempted to get angry at someone. How might you act if you were dressed as a priest? Should any Christians behave differently?

There is a story Søren Kierkegaard told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear their duck preacher. The duck preacher quacked on eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left telling the preacher what a stirring sermon it was and then they waddled back home. Not a single duck flew. Not even the preacher.

If you come every week to church and hear how to live a more Christ like life, you are getting flying lessons, but if you have been waddling on home unchanged now is a good time to consider what you need to change to be more authentically you. What do you need to change not to be a imposter, a poser, a fake Christian? What do you need to change to become more of a genuine imitation? Ask God and then have the courage to act on what our Lord shows you. Be an imitator of God like the beloved child of God you are.



[1]               From Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929) in A Sadhu’s Wisdom.

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