Be Imitators of God

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

 I. Beginnings

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, as the ones called out and adopted by God into the family of God, the body of Christ, therefore ye beloved children of the Most High God, be imitators of God, and live in love, as Christ loved us. Be imitators of God, and live in love as Christ loved us. Instruction which stands at the crux of our scripture lesson this morning. Be imitators of God, and live in love, as Christ loved us.  As the people of God, we have been tasked with and have called to being imitators of God.  To live in a kind of love, where the love that Christ has shown us, that sacrificial, no holds barred, kind of love, that agape, unconditional kind of love, is shared with other.  Now this statement to imitate God, this statement, is not a clarion call to become godlike, or to suffer in the heart of perfectionism, where we seek to be perfect in ways that we will never be nor has God called us to be, or even expect to lord over others in a form of believed superiority or oppressive dictatorship of instruction – this is not of God and we do not have the authority to stand in the place of God, the ruler of the world.  Instead, it is an exhortation to put on the mind of Christ, to love others like God would, to mimic they ways of God within the world that people might see God at work within us. We are to be imitators of God, and we have been given a bit of an instruction is on how to do this, how to conduct ourselves in our scripture this morning, that we might be successful in this.  Be imitators of God, and live in love, as Christ loved us.
            Our scripture this morning is a letter written to the church of Ephesus, a church in the Asia Minor area, by the apostle Paul.  Paul may not have planted this specific church at Ephesus, but he was very much an influential leader within the life of this church.  Quite frankly, Paul was extremely influential in crafting some of the building blocks that contributed to the spread of the Early Christian tradition throughout the world. Paul was seeking to make this church of Ephesus a missionary center for the Asia Minor area.  This means that Paul was seeking for this church of Ephesus to be the hub of receiving the message of Jesus Christ in this Asia Minor area.  People were expected to receive the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and share it with the world as they go out.  This means that in the church of Ephesus, the people had to know the truth, they had to know the gospel so that all could come to receive the message of Jesus Christ for themselves and then be able to share the truth with those who were passing through the area.  So, it was imperative to Paul that they get it. So Paul shares this heavy message to the people at the church of Ephesus. Be imitators of God beloved, understand God and walk in God’s ways. Be imitators of God, Beloved because the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ needs you to. Be imitators of God, and live in love, as Christ loved us.

II. Children Imitate Their Parents

            But what does that mean? What do we need to do? How does one be an imitator of God because surely, surely God does not want us to become gods, nor does God want us to be superior over one another.  But we are called to be imitators of God.  But think about it, most of us grow up in the houses of our parents or grandparents.  They have raised us, and we are influenced by them, much of the way we see the world is shaped by them.  Many of the foundations of our morals have been shaped by them. We have been shown how to take care of ourselves by them.   Our family traditions have been given to us by them. Even some of the household products and supplies that we purchase have been shown to us by our parents, and we buy them because that’s what mama always bought, that’s the trusted brand that daddy always had.  Some of this shaping, some of this molding that crafts us into the being that we are today first begins as we imitate our parents as children.  We see what they do, and we copy it. We hear what they say, and we repeat it.  We imitate our parents and guardians because they know what they are doing, they and we admire them. We trust that they have it all figured out, so when we encounter the world we repeat and imitate their behavior because we trust that they are the best example of how to engage with the world around us. Now our parents may not have had it all figured out, but as children we put or lives in their care, and from our limited perspective we trust that they are experts in how to navigate life and this world.  So we repeat what they say, we imitate their mannerisms, because relationship with them makes our lives better.   As children we are saying that we see and trust our parents and use imitation as an active and tangible proclamation that we are willing to put our lives in the hands of our parents.  If I am going to be someone in this world, then who better to model than my parent, my guardian, the coolest person, and the one who cares for me.

            As I come back from vacation, I am reminded of this imitation as I watched my nephew, my best friend’s son, Jordan move around the house.  He is at that stage where he is a human sponge.  Everything that is said, he digests and repeats. He is being an imitator of his parents and the influential adults in his life.  He is imitating the one he trusts.  As I walk in the door his father says, “Who’s at the door?” “It’s Aunty Rachel.” And for the rest of the evening Jordan is saying “Who is at the door?” “It is Aunty Rachel.” But he also is a very musical child as he sings around the house, singing the gospel songs that he hears in church, and he walks around the house mimicking the actions of his pastor and father from the pulpit.  He is imitating his parents, he is imitating the one’s he trusts, he is imitating the ones who care for him, he is imitating the ones who he has entrusted his life to.  Days later as his mother tells him, “Aunty Rachel’s coming.”  The phrase for the rest of the day is again, “Aunty Rachel’s coming.” He is imitating his parents, he is imitating the one’s he trusts, he is imitating the ones who care for him, he is imitating the ones who he has entrusted his life to.  Even children know concepts that we are trying to wrap our heads around.  Children imitate the ones who care for them, they imitate the one’s who are an authority figure over their lives.  And they do that because they trust them. They do that because at least in that moment they trust their parents as a being to guide their lives, to guide their lifestyle. And as we have all been adopted into the family of God, adopted as children of God, pulled into the family by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are to imitate our heavenly parent, we are to be imitators of God. We are to put on the mind of Christ, share the love of God with the world.  Paul is telling us to be imitators of God. Because when we imitate God it is a sign that we have trusted God to guide our lives, we have given God authority, and asked God to guide our lifestyle.

            I can remember growing up that I would give anything to imitate my father.  I wanted to be a pastor like him, I would walk around the house in his shoes, I would enjoy going with him to work at the Peninsula Delaware United Methodist Conference center.  He was my hero, I admired him, I trusted him with my life. I knew that he was the one that would protect me, he was the one who would help me guide my life, he was the one that I could trust beyond measure.  Mind you, I had the same admiration and trust in my mother as we traveled on the road together, as we played on the living room floor, and read together before going to bed.  I knew she could protect me, I knew she would help guide my life, I knew she was the one I could trust beyond belief.  So, in my young mind, my thought process was if I had to do anything, if I had to shape myself to be anyone, I would want it to be like my parents.  Because I understood that they protect me, and I trust them with my life.  So, I imitate some of their ways, I copy some of the things they do, I repeat some of their phrases, and I see the world in a similar fashion as them.  I have become an imitator of my parents and many children do the same, because as children we trust our parents and we know they will protect us.  So, as we put our lives in the hand of God, we must lean into God, and become imitators of God.  Because we know God will care for us and we trust God beyond anyone else.  We know God will protect us. So, as children imitate their parents, let us imitate our God.

            But let’s be honest, even the world knows that we begin to imitate our parents even when we don’t want to.  You all know those funny progressive insurance commercials when the man is trying to help people from becoming their parents.  He tries to keep them from starting random conversations in the hardware store, having unnecessary throw pillows on the couch, from speaking on the speaker phone in public, and from judging people with blue hair.  I laugh at these commercials because some of these things I do, and I know I am becoming like my parents, I know that I have already internalized some of their ways that I am imitating them on a daily basis.  But what we see in these commercials is that we have become so influenced by our parents that we begin to take on their characteristics without even thinking about it.  Our parents are so much a part of us and in us that we pick up their good and not so good behaviors sometimes because they are in us and a part of us.  As we give our lives to God, our heavenly parent, the one who has adopted us into the family of God in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God should become a part of us, God should live within us. God should influence us so much that we begin to imitate the ways of God as we go out into the world.  And our scripture gives us a little bit of a guidebook on how to do it.

 III. God Gives Us Instruction 

Scripture first tells us to live in love. Love is encompassed in the being of God, so one cannot function in love if they do not know God, because God is the truest expression of love that exists.  So, if we plan to imitate God we must first function in love.  So, we look to Christ for the example, God made flesh in this earth.  We are to love like Christ loved, which means we are to sit and see those who have been rejected by society, we are to see them as people and not just their circumstance.  We are to pray for healing for those that are sick that they may be healed in Christ.  We are to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and be with those that are hurting, listening to their current circumstances.  This is love. But the purest depiction of love is that Jesus Christ was beaten, bruised, and broken for our sins. He became a bloody mess for a very embarrassing death, as he was put on display for the world to see. He then restored us to new life in his resurrection. Jesus offered up his life that we might find new life, that we might be transformed, that we might be fulfilled, that we might have the opportunity to intimately connect with God. We look to Christ and show our love by willing to sacrifice ourselves for one another that others might flourish in God’s love.  Be imitators of God and live in love, love like Christ.

Scripture then tells us to speak truth to our neighbors.  God has never lied to any one of us, and as we imitate God we should also stand in that truth.  This means not gossiping about one another because we can only speak from a place of truth.  This means being honest about who we are and what we share.  This means not being deceitful but to be transparent in ways that bring life.  We are who God has created us to be, and we must speak in truth, live in truth, and act out our truth.  We are to be imitators of God and speak truth to our neighbors.

            Scripture says be angry, but do not let the sun go down on your anger.  We know from the story of the people of Israel that God at times became angry with the people of Israel for the things that we do.  So, as we imitate God, it is clear that anger is not an emotion that is off the table.  However, we are supposed to work through our anger, resolve our issues.  We should be honest about our feelings and seek reconciliation. We are supposed to forgive and resolve any complications. Now resolving our anger does not mean that we let people go without consequence.  Everything we do has a consequence, even our bad behavior sometimes has horrible consequences.  So, as we resolve our anger sometimes there are things that we must do that make all of us uncomfortable.  But we are to no let the sun go down on our anger.  Get it resolved and let your anger go.  Be imitators of God and do not let the sun go down on your anger.

            Scripture tells us no to let evil come out of our mouth, but to speak with grace.  We are to speak peace and love in the world.  That means words of hatred, negativity, violence, and division should not be spoken.  The words that perpetuate systemic evils of racism, sexism, classism, hatred, violence, prejudice, and judgement.  So, we must speak words of love, joy, prosperous hope, peace, and gladness.  And even if people have harmed or spoken ill of us, we should speak words of grace and love.  Because even though we did not deserve the love that Christ gave in the cross.  God found us in grace and reached out to us, claiming us as God’s own.  And God justified us in grace.  So, if we seek to act like God in any way, we will have to act in God’s grace.  God extended grace upon us, so we to must extend grace to others.  Be imitators of God and do not let evil come out of our mouths, but speak with grace.

            In God’s grace we are children of God, bought with a price and extended forgiveness and new life in Christ Jesus.  We are children of God. We are Children of God.  And just like that child that imitates their parent or those adults that imitate their parents as they slowly become another version of their parents, let God live in us so much that we begin to imitate God.  Imitate God in ways that live in love

Imitate God in ways that extend truth

Imitate God in ways that resolve anger

Imitate God in ways that speak grace and not evil.

But most importantly live in a way where God lives in you and you become an imitator of all that God can bring and offer. Be the hands and feet of God within the world. Be imitators of God.