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Imitators of God

  • November 4, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for 4 November 2018 (All Saints Sunday Year B REV)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Ephesians 4.25-5.2; Psalm 24; Mark 12.28-34

Title:               Imitators of God

Give us your Spirit of wisdom and revelation, O God, that we may have the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to live in love in the same way that our Savior Christ has loved us. Amen.

“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” (Eph 5.1-2).

My dear friends: will you offer your lives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice by striving each day to imitate God?

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we continue our journey through the Letter to the Ephesians. And we find ourselves today in the midst of a moral exhortation, with practical instructions for those called to be the saints of God.

Each one of these verses is worthy of a lengthy meditation, and I whole-heartedly encourage you take these words home with you and chew on them, ruminate on them, and inwardly to digest them.

These impassioned calls to honesty and integrity, to kindness and forgiveness – they reach their climax as the writer points these saints to the Cross.

“Forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4.32).

This entire new way of life is built on that solid foundation of what God has done for us in Christ. In Christ, God HAS forgiven you, and set you free from falsehood and anger and all that belongs to that old way of life.

And all of us say, Alleluia! Thank you, Lord!

But, then, at the conclusion, we are confronted with words, with an idea, that is so beyond the realm of our normal lives that it comes across as preposterous – as so audacious that we might as well blow it off as ridiculously impossible.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Seriously, be an imitator of God? How in the world can I possibly imitate God?

I cannot even keep my teeth clean! And, if I am honest, I am not all that successful at keeping my thoughts free from bitterness and anger and slander, as our text admonishes us today.

I go to that gym around the corner which is called the “Judgment Free Zone” and I find myself judging people the whole time I’m in there! I know, I know…I try not to, but it is a constant struggle!

Seriously, how can I be an imitator of God?

Well, if that seems way too overwhelming, then I think the message of today’s Gospel offers a good counter-balance. Something a bit more accessible.

Here we find the classic statement from the mouth of Jesus that is known as the Summary of the Law. Better known as the Summary of Torah.

It is profound, but it is simple and clear: “Love God with all your being, and love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself” (Mark 12.30-31).

This simple teaching is the warm fire at the heart of the Good News around which the saints of God have gathered for thousands of years.

Perhaps the imitation of God is nothing else than putting this into practice: to live in love toward God and neighbor in all that we do or say.

That sounds simple enough, right? Maybe – or maybe not. Because life is not that simple.

You see, there is something in our lives that is about to happen. Here. In two days. On Tuesday. It’s called Election Day.

There are some of you here today who are going to be thrilled by what happens in these Elections. And there are others of you who will be distraught and despondent. And it is even possible – though unlikely! – that one or two of you do not care at all.

May I offer one suggestion to all of you: if your perspective happens to prevail in this particular election, do not gloat. And do not get too excited. In two years there will be another important election and things will likely change. The pendulum will swing back again, as it always does.

In last week’s reading from Ephesians, we heard this admonition: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4.14).

Our elections may not be concerned with doctrine in a strict sense, but the admonition applies all the same. We must not allow ourselves to be tossed and blown around by whatever new idea comes down the pike.

The saints of God have never cared too much about such things. They know what really matters, and they know the simple message at the core of our lives: love God and love neighbor.

After all, we have been marked and sealed for the day of redemption! Our eyes are on a far bigger prize than winning any temporary political office.

What is it that we are really after? What is our goal?  To be imitators of God.

One commentary I was reading on this passage stated, in a quite understated way, that “this is a pivotal exhortation.” You could say that again! Be imitators of God!

And consider this exhortation in light of that list immediately preceding it.

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph 4.31-32).

Be imitators of God in THIS way! Because God is not bitter, God is not angry, God never slanders anyone, God has no malice toward any living thing.

But God IS kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Imitate God in THIS way, by pointing your life and your words in THIS direction.

Is this aspirational? Of course it is.

Is this difficult? You bet.

Is this impossible? No, it is not.

Is this easier for some than for others? You bet.

But it is not out of reach for anyone who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. And that means YOU!

Now, on this day that we remember our place among all the saints of God, in that great cloud of witnesses, I am going to give you some homework.

Am I allowed to do that? Is that okay? Well, I’m going to do it anyway. Here is your homework: write your own obituary.

Don’t freak out! I do not care how many years you have spent on this earth so far. None of us is immune to death and no one knows when our final hour will arrive.

So, all of you, go home and write your own obituary.

A simple Google search will bring up two dozen pages with step-by-step instructions for how to write your own obituary. It is not difficult, though a standard obituary is typically quite brief.

And there are other additional things you can write for the end of your life – like a legacy letter to be read by your loved ones after your death, or something called an ethical will which explains your reasoning behind the decisions that you made in your will.

But your homework is just to write a simple obituary. And as you do it, ask yourself this question: what is the story being told here? Is it the story of a saint of God? Can you add this statement to your obituary?

“Mark, Al, Kelly, Maureen…tried each day to love God and to love her neighbor as she loved herself.” Can you honestly add that to the story of your life? And would it make sense to those who read it?

To be entirely honest with you, even though I think often about the end of life and the reality of my death, I must confess to you that I do not think very much about the afterlife.

Honestly, I don’t. Perhaps I should. And maybe I will one day. I do believe that there will be judgment of some kind, in some form, and all of us will be judged by God.

But no matter what happens after death, whatever awaits us, even if I am entirely wrong about a judgment to come, even if the Church is wrong and there is nothing after we die – no matter what awaits us there, I would still rather live THIS way than any other that I can imagine.

“Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4.25).

I would still rather speak the truth to my neighbor, and live in the awareness that all of our lives in bound together in layers of meaning far beyond what my little brain can perceive. Because this way of Jesus, this path of loving God and loving neighbor, this is a fundamentally good way to live.

So what do you say, my friends? Will you offer your life as a fragrant offering and sacrifice by striving each day to imitate God and to live in love?

May it be so. Amen.

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