Imitating God

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 19
August 8, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: The life of faith is not just a matter of awe and reverence for God and Jesus and the Holy Trinity; nor is it only a matter of having the correct answers to theological questions. The life of faith, Paul tells us, calls us to do the hard work of imitating God.

This passage tells us how to believe in Jesus.

"Believing in Jesus" entails more than simply having opinions about his divinity or his true nature, or having answers - however carefully considered - to great theological questions. Believing in Jesus means taking his very life upon ourselves, rising up out of our own little selves and allowing his greater self to come alive within us. Believing in Jesus entails becoming a church ; in other words, one body, with a common goal and a common vision, comprised nonetheless of unique individuals, each with a unique contribution to make.

What we are receiving this week, from the apostle Paul, is a glimpse of what this kind of "believing in Jesus" looks like. Exhortations to this kind of fleshed-out belief - in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit - are scattered throughout the scriptures. "What does the Lord require of us?" the prophet Micah asks. The Lord requires, that same prophet answers, that we "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God."1

What does the Lord require of us? Jesus ' answer to that question is that we "believe in the one whom God has sent."2 What does the Lord require of us? What is true discipleship? What does it mean to "believe in Jesus"?

Imitators of God

In today's reading, the apostle Paul gives one congregation of the early church his answer to these very questions. Paul's answer is quite jarring. He tells us that we are to be nothing less than imitators of God !

Be imitators of God! These are our marching orders as a church, as a body of individuals who call ourselves after the name of Jesus. Be imitators of God! The life of faith is not about putting God or Jesus on a pedestal and stopping there, keeping them safely at a distance as unapproachable objects of reverence that really make no demands on us. We are called to be imitators of God, imitators of Jesus. We are called to do nothing less than to bring God down to our level - or rather, to understand and to affirm that God, in Jesus Christ, has come down to our level to show us how to live our human lives.

Be imitators of God! Now how do we go about doing that? How in the world can we, mere mortals, be imitators of God - the Creator and Ruler of the universe? Paul is telling that little church at Ephesus - and us - that imitating God is not some unapproachable, mystical fantasy. Paul is showing us that being imitators of God consists of nothing more than an act of will, or rather a number of acts of will. If "Step One" is to believe in the one whom God has sent, then "Step Two" is ... to be imitators of God !

How? How can we be "imitators of God"? By choosing to do certain things, choosing to live in a certain way, choosing to conduct ourselves according to certain concrete, discernable measures. "Put away all falsehood," Paul says a couple of sentences earlier. "Speak the truth to our neighbors." These are acts of will; these are behaviors we can choose to act out and to live out.


Put away falsehood, and speak the truth to one another. No more white lies; no more saying things we don't really believe just to make our neighbors feel good - these neighbors we have to live with day by day, and who might get honest with us if we start being honest with them . Speak the truth, Paul says. The truth . Not just whatever we happen to be thinking or feeling at the time, but the truth - and only truth that is useful for building up; we are not being called here simply to unload on one another whenever we feel like it.

What would our life as a church be like if we all decided resolutely to speak the truth to one another? That would mean all of us, speaking the truth as we saw it, no matter how high or how low on the totem pole we might be. Each and every one of us, speaking what's on our heart, being completely honest with one another about what we see as good and useful for the building up of the church.

Be imitators of God, Paul says. And imitating God begins with truth-telling. And it goes on from there. "Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander ...." What would our lives look like, what would our church look like, if we followed these instructions to the letter? What would our lives be like if we resolutely committed ourselves to tell the truth to one another? And no bitterness , no wrath , no anger , no wrangling ....

Handling anger

Now wait a minute! No wrangling ?? Can you imagine a church without wrangling ? Can you imagine a church in which people resolutely put aside wrangling over this issue or that issue? Is such a thing possible? What would our life as a church be like, what would our life as a people be like, if we declared, from this moment forward, a permanent moratorium on wrangling? What would our lives be like if we forgave as Christ forgives?

Part and parcel of truth-telling is our handling of anger. Put away all anger, he says; "do not let the sun go down on your anger," he says in an earlier verse. This is deceptively difficult for many of us who are conditioned always and everywhere to be "nice." If you are angry, Paul is saying, don't just blow up in somebody's face. But neither are we to bottle our anger up, keep it to ourselves, nurse it so that our "anger" becomes a perversely prized little possession that we carry around with us and take out when we think no one is looking. "Do not let the sun go down on your anger," Paul says. In other words, if you are angry with someone, a brother or a sister, go to that person before the sun goes down and have it out with them. If you are angry, don't nurse it; deal with it before the day ends. And when you go to your brother or sister with your anger, don't be surprised if they come back with a little anger of their own.

Christ died for people like us

What we begin to see from all this is that the life of faith, the life of belief in Jesus, is not simply a matter of holding to theological opinions - dare I say wrangling over theological opinions? Nor does belief in Jesus consist of putting Jesus and God up on a pedestal and "worshiping" them as unapproachable objects of reverence and awe. Belief in Jesus consists of work. Hard work done by and among less-than-perfect people. The church at Ephesus - to cite one example safely removed from us - was not a pretty little community of pleasant people making nice to each other. It was a community composed of some reformed and not-yet reformed thieves. It was a community of people given, sometimes, to wrath, to anger, to bitterness, to wrangling - yes indeed it was. Paul would not have been writing about these things had there not been anything to write about.

Do we have any such people among us now? Do any among us harbor some anger, some bitterness, some wrath - maybe even, if we're honest, a little malice ? If so ... we're normal. Are we bitter, some of us? Are we angry? Are we nursing some grudges, against society, against our families, maybe even against the church? Maybe even against God ? If this is the case, if there are among us some who are angry, bitter, even malicious, we are normal. We are in the right place. The church was made for such as us. Christ died for people like us. Jesus sacrificed a life he could have lived any way he wanted to live it for us, so that we could see that there is truly a way out, a way through, a way past pettiness, bitterness, maliciousness - a way past death itself.

So, what must we do to perform the works of God?

Believe. Believe in the one whom God has sent. Believe in Jesus. Don't wrangle over opinions about him; believe in him. Don't put him up on a pedestal and "worship" him in a way that keeps him at arm's length. Don't claim for him a "reverence" and "awe" that really makes no demands whatsoever. Believe in him. Follow him.

Let us, from this day forward, be nothing less than imitators of God , kindhearted truth-tellers, devoted solely and absolutely and only to what is useful for building up.