Why is it that any of us do what we do? Why do we bother? What is the point?
No doubt all of us have our own motivations but as I reflected on the passages this week I was reminded that the reason I continue to do what I do because of the way I have understood my experiences of God’s presence.
For me this could be described as barely the glimpse of movement in the corner of my eye let alone a view of God’s retreating form as Moses was privileged with from the cleft in the rock in which God had placed him. Nevertheless, my encounter of God has led me to a faith which speaks of a God who has created all things and who having seen that we human beings have a predilection to stuff things up came among us in Jesus and said I forgive you, I love you and I want to encourage you to continue to seek life in all its fullness.
I do not do what I do naively assuming that we will get things right as human beings or that the church is a place that is devoid of difficulties. Rather, it is in response to a God who says to us, ‘even though you fail I will be beside you and I will you lead you home’. It is promise of a better world. This is the promise of Jesus prayer your kingdom your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Whilst we do not live the realities of the coming kingdom perfectly as followers of Jesus, as his disciples, we are invited by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in anticipation of what is promised and to make it as visible and as real as we can so that others might encounter the God that has come to us with such great love and grace.
As we consider Paul’s letter to the first followers of Jesus in Thessalonica it would be easy to be lured into considering this as a purely historical document but its words are a living word to us and his words written to them echo down through the changes of time and space to demand our attention as well: be imitators of Jesus and of his servants!
Paul had experienced Jesus presence in a real and tangible way on the Damascus road and he had given his life to sharing the news of God’s goodness and love found in Jesus with others. In his letter Paul gives thanks for the people at Thessalonica and their work and then he seeks to encourage them by encouraging them to be imitators of him and ultimately of Jesus.
In encouraging them to do this Paul is encouraging them to do something which I believe comes naturally to all of us – to be mimics of other people. This is something that we do all the time even as we seek to exert our individuality and distinct personalities: we are copy cats!
For many years I thought my brother and I were very different as people. We have a different body shape; he had brown hair I was a blonde; he spent 4 years leaving away from home through high school. Yet, I know that when we are together and we sit and we talk, people around us comment how similar we are. Our mannerisms, our turn phrase, our sense of humour and many of our interests collide. Why?
Well, I suspect, even with all the genetic predispositions we both mimic our parents and have learnt how to live and express ourselves by copying them.
Being a chip off the old block is more common than not. Even when we rebel against our family of origin we carry so much of what we have learnt in that context into the rest of our lives.
Being imitators of other people comes naturally to all of us whether we are conscious of it or not. So it is that Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do what comes naturally be imitators of him and of Jesus: be aware of whose example they are following and be intentional about their mimicking.
The same encouragement is true for us.
You are here this morning because somewhere in your life you have experienced a glimpse of God, possibly no more than a sense that God has passed by just as God passed by Moses, but in that fleeting glimpse, or in those deeper encounters that some of you may have had, God’s love has become real for you.
This revelation of God’s love and goodness is a gift given to you for the sake of others. It is a gift that has been given to you so that through your imitation of Jesus and of the followers of Jesus others might come to experience and encounter God too.
As imitators of Christ and of Paul and of all those who have gone before us we are invited to be the church, which is not simply a Sunday morning event nor an institution, but a living community of people encouraging one another in faith and reaching out with God’s love to the whole world.
Imitations of Christ for one another and for the sake of the world!
Living in anticipation of the coming fullness of God’s reign, as imperfectly as we do, we are charged with the wonderful possibilities and privilege that others might come to know God through us.
It reminds me of the old song “They will know we are Christian by our love”.
Being the church, not simply coming to church, is about following Jesus everywhere we go and every moment of our lives – seeking to be imitators of Jesus.
When I was called to this congregation one of the things that drew me here was a commitment that the people here wanted to continue to share God’s love with others and invite others to be part of the journey of faith that we are on. You said you wanted the church to grow.
As the minister here I believe my role is to encourage all of us to participate in making this happen. When a new person walks into this building on a Sunday morning it will more likely be your reception of them that will encourage them to come back than it will be our choice of music, the style of worship or the quality of the preaching. Yes, all these other things contribute but time and again it has been shown that a person will join a place that is welcoming and helps them belong.
More than that, your behaviour during the week, your words and actions, are constantly an example for others to see something of God’s love which you have encountered. This is not to say we should wander around Bible bashing yet all of us should be able to give some account of our decisions and our actions to others as being inspired by our faith.
Each one of us who claims to follow Jesus is an ambassador for Jesus and for the promises of God revealed in him. Our ability to imitate or mimic Jesus and those Christians who have an inspirational faith means that all of us are teaching others about God.
This is important both for those beyond our community and those growing within our community. Consider for instance the children in our midst; your every word and action is teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus. For better or worse what each one of you does here may be the witness that helps or hinders the faith of others.
When we as adults and those who may be more mature in our faith share our faith stories with one another we help each other to better imitate the life God intends for us, the coming kingdom, and become a better example of God’s love and promises for all people. It is our job to do this together and it is our responsibility to help one another do it to be imitators of Christ!
Why? To return to the beginning of the sermon because you and I have encountered God’s love. God’s love shapes your life just as is does mine. God’s love gives you and me hope. God’s love gives you and I meaning and purpose. God’s love is a gift that we have been given to share.
As we receive the good news so let us live it as imitators of Jesus, of Paul and of one another and so celebrate God’s gift to the world – the promise and hope of a coming Kingdom.