August 12, 2018 [Pentecost 12]    Ephesians 4:30-5:2    J.D.Roekle

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

Imitate God

 

Dear Friends in Christ, 

          One of the most widely known impersonators today is Frank Caliendo.  You have perhaps seen him in connection with an NFL telecast.  He imitates various football personalities such as Terry Bradshaw, John Gruden, or John Madden.  It is impressive how ‘spot on’ he is with his impersonations. 

          How is it that someone like Frank Caliendo can be such a good impersonator?  When you think about it, he really has to know two people well:  both the person he is imitating and himself.  In order to imitate another person, he has to know that person’s voice and idiosyncrasies.  He would need to watch and study that person in order to pull off a successful imitation.  But he would also have to know himself.  That too would be crucial, because he also has to know his own limitations.  While he is able to imitate a host of famous people, he wouldn’t be successful at impersonating everyone. 

          While you and I may not be able to do impersonations very well, we do imitations.  From little on that’s the case.  In our Scripture text, Paul encourages us to be imitators of God.  In order to do that, we also need to know two things:  we need to know who we are imitating, namely, God and we need to know ourselves. 

          Imitating God is a tall order.  After all, these words of Paul stress to us two great characteristics about God: that he is loving and forgiving.  These two things are closely connected.  One leads to the other.    

          First of all, start with the loving aspect of God:   “Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

          We know that God is love. We also know to what extent God loves us.  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son

          We also know what an awesome love this is, in spite of who we are.  We are a part of the world that had broken its perfect relationship with God soon after creation week.  We are the rebels and enemies of God.  We, by nature, along with the rest of the world hate God and want nothing to do with him. 

          What is our natural reaction toward someone who shows such hatred for us?  At the very least, we probably dislike the person in return.  And, in most cases, we don’t want anything to do with that person. 

          Not so with God.  Remember that God loves us in spite of who we are by nature, and God loved us so much that he sent his Son.  Not only did God the Father love us so, God the Son also loved us beyond our wildest dreams. 

          Christ Jesus became a “fragrant offering”.  In other words, he gave himself up willingly out of love for us.  And what he did for us was well pleasing in God’s sight.  His perfect life as Scripture describes was just what God wanted.  “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased” is repeated by God as he looks down on his Son.

          Finally, Christ’s ultimate love for us was shown to us in the fact that he became a sacrifice.  In love, Jesus went willingly to the altar of the cross and spilled his blood there for you and for me. 

          Well, what does that mean for you, for me, for the world?  Listen to Paul’s exhortation to see what this great love led to:  “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” 

          Pay special attention to the last half of that verse:  forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Christ’s loving sacrifice meant that our loving God forgives you and me!  He no longer holds your sins against you or mine against me.  We have been freed from the shackles of hell.  Even more, heavens gates are wide open. 

                 We know God.  We know what God has done.  He loves us and forgives us even though there is no goodness or worthiness in us by nature. 

Now we are called on to imitate God.  That’s not an easy task.  And just in case we have some grand ideas of being able to do that very well, we are reminded by Paul of how we fail in doing it:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” 

Think about that list.  Who of us hasn’t been bitter about something that has hurt us?  Perhaps we still are upset about it and fostering a grudge against someone.  Maybe it even leads to other things on Paul’s list:  rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice. 

You get the picture.  We are already starting behind the 8 ball.  We are sinners.  As sinners we fail miserably at imitating our perfect, loving, forgiving God. 

So what do we do?  Remember that being good impersonators means we not only know who we are impersonating, but we also need to know ourselves. 

          We have already established that we are indeed sinners.  We often go against the will of God.  But when Paul gives the encouragement to Be Imitators of God here, he is doing it to saints, to people who believe in Christ Jesus and his sacrifice for all sins. 

          The words of Scripture bring that fact home in a couple different ways.  We are dearly loved children.  Is there any more beautiful illustration of our relationship to God than this!   Children are so dear and precious to a mom or a dad.  We are the heavenly Father’s most precious children.  You and I can both say:  “I am a child of God.”  That means that God loves us and has provided us with our eternal home. 

          And God made us his children by providing us with his Holy Spirit, “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  When things were given a seal in Bible times, it was a sign of ownership.  It is similar to branding cattle today; it signifies that the cattle belongs to a particular owner. 

          The Holy Spirit in our hearts is God’s proof that he owns us.  That seal was imprinted on most of our hearts way back at our baptisms as infants.  God’s ownership of our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit is strengthened as we hear the Gospel and as we receive the precious body and blood of our Savior. 

          In order to fully understand who we are as children of God, we need to remember how long God intends to keep us his own.  Our text tells us that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit, for the day of redemption

          This is a clear reference to the Last Day, when Christ will return, and will make our redemption complete.  It is then that sin, death and the devil will be completely banished from our sight, and it is then that all saints throughout history will be united in heaven to live there without end. 

                    So, now we have even a clearer picture of who we are.  We are God’s own creations, reserved for him throughout eternity.  With the power that comes from God alone, and motivated by his love and forgiveness for us, we are told to IMITATE GOD. 

          Just think of what an important responsibility that is for us. We need to take it seriously, because others are watching us.     A man got a job mixing feed for animals.  When he came home from work, his 2 and 3 year old boys would look at him, smile, and say, "Boy, dad, you sure are dusty!"  He would reply, "Yes, I sure am dusty." Then he would get cleaned up.  He didn’t think much of it, until the one day when he was washing his car, and his oldest son started doing something very strange.  He was picking up the gravel and stones that were in the driveway and rubbing them into his pants. He asked him, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I want to be dusty like you dad!"

          We have to careful to remember this in all we say and do: what are we passing on to those around us?  What kind of imitators of God are we?  What do others see when they see us? 

          Even though the Holy Spirit has equipped us to imitate God, there is no doubt that we will fail at times in following God’s example.  When we do, however, remember that God still loves you and me, and God still forgives you and me.  Having that reassurance leads us to want to imitate God by loving and forgiving one another!  Amen.