In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery and mockery. No one likes to be ribbed by someone accurately imitating them. It’s an effective way to show a person their errors. Even when you are completely blind to them and won’t admit that it is an accurate imitation of you. But when everyone laughs and says how “you” it is, you have a choice: continue to live in angry denial of your own faults and foibles or admit them and maybe even do something about them. And nothing is worse than having your own child imitate your own bad example. Thereby to come face to face, with yourself as the source of that bad behaviour in them. Or, almost as revealing is when you realize the words coming out of your mouth are those words your mom said that you swore you’d never say.
For imitation is how you learn. Not only in childhood, but in adulthood. That’s why mentors, fathers, people to look up to are so important. You pattern yourself after those you admire. Whether you even realize it their example rubs off on you. So pay careful attention to those whom you admire. (Phil. 3:17) Figure out why, or what about them you admire. Because you will end up imitating them for good or ill. For even if you admire good things about a person, if you apply it wrongly to your own life and circumstances it can be a disaster.
Even you who think you are too old, too set in your ways, that the die is cast and will not change at this point because you’ve been stamped with an image like a coin (Matt. 22:20) and you can’t be changed. Well, guess what, you are not made of iron. Nor even nickel or copper. With enough use even coins get their edges worn off. And we humans are made of much softer stuff. We are always malleable. Changeable. And not usually for the better. Bad habits sprout up in you like weeds. Good habits, good behaviours and patterns of thinking take constant nurture and attention.
That’s why St. Paul says, “Imitate me. I have striven to live in the callings Christ has called me to. Imitate me. Live in this pattern I have set for you. A pattern of reading God’s Word, studying it, praying regularly, turning to the Lord in struggle, turning to Him in temptation, turning to Him in repentance when you’ve fallen to temptation. That’s a good pattern. That’s a good example to imitate.” (Phil. 3:17)
Because you will imitate something. You may even realize what you imitate, for good or evil, be it a parent, a family member, a favourite character on TV, a sports hero. Be mindful of your own behaviour because your behaviour impacts others. Not only by the evil you perpetrate on others, but by the weak, worldly patterns you live in. (Phil. 3:19) You will teach and normalize and encourage them in those around you. So that you become complicit in others’ sins by your own example.
Meanwhile, you can also bless others not merely by the good you do to them, but by the example you set. The patterns you live out. The patterns you help set and encourage in them. Because the whole world lives in worldly ways of thinking. (Phil. 3:19) Their lives set to the beat of world’s drums. And the world these days is no friend to one who would live as Christ. So pay attention to your leaders. (Phil. 3:17) This is why we want godly, respectable pastors. (1 Tim. 3:2-7) Not respectable as in they “mind their Ps & Qs”. The little niceties. But rather those who mind carefully what the Lord has said. Who pay attention to His Word. Who are sensitive to what is good and right and just according to Him who made the universe.
For the world these days has set up many people to imitate. With flashing images on screens, icons on posters and magazine covers, celebrated personas in bright lights of the silver screen. We are told constantly on talk shows how wonderful this person, or that is, but do you really want to model your life after them? They are all flash and no substance. If anything that Hollywood gossip magazines should teach us it is to STOP looking at these people. Stop idolizing them. Stop making images of them that stare at. For whatever your eye is fixed on you will become like. Which is why you are so like your parents, whether you want to be or not. For you watched them all your formative years. How could you not have picked up things from them? Let alone the fact, that you have their DNA?
And the examples you chase after matter. For most live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Phil. 3:18) Worshipping their own appetites. That’s why our culture has praised and lifted up as its highest ideal the self, your autonomy, your ability to choose. But what it means in practice is that more than ever we’ve become slaves of our bellies. Slaves of our own appetites. Of our desires. So that our “god” is our belly. (Phil. 3:19) And we are fools, led around by the nose sniffing out whatever we think will titilate us most next. Always restless. Always hungry. That’s why we’re so prickly as I said last week. We worship ourselves. Our thoughts are fixated on this world. Not on the one to come. So we look to our stuff, our house, our wealth. What we can pass on to our children. But guess what, when you downsize, do your kids actually need all you have? Have any of you tried to give your fine china away? Do your kids need it? Do they even want it? When you pass on all your accumulated worldly wealth to your kids, will they actually need it? Or will they simply take 5 more trips to Mexico or Disneyland than they would have if they hadn’t gotten it? What if you were actually to tithe a portion of your estate to the church so that Jesus could continue to be preached to your kids once you are gone?
Give to Caesar and this world his due. (Matt. 22:21a) Give to him what is his. You owe taxes because how else does the world around us function except if we pay what we owe? (Rom. 13:6-7) Give what is called for, but live for God. Give to God what is His. (Matt. 22:21b) Trust not in princes for their is no salvation in kingdoms of this world. (Ps. 146:3) Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight to preserve that which is good and right in our country. That we shouldn’t stand up against the wrongs we see around us as our world careens out of control as we all collectively worship our bellies, fixated on the things this world has to offer. But give to God that which is His: you. Your love. Your trust. Your hopes and dreams. Your money. For all of you belongs to Him. It is right to honour the governing authorities since God set them up and puts them in place to maintain order. (Rom. 13:1-2) So that when you have good, honest, functional, godly government give thanks! (1 Tim. 2:1-2) Praise God. Support it with your taxes, honest labour, and prayers. But always look to God. (Matt. 22:21) For you were claimed by Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. In that moment He issued your citizenship papers for heaven. (Phil. 3:20; Col. 2:12) Heaven is your home. (2 Cor. 5:1) Not here. We are strangers and pilgrims here, just passing through. (Heb. 11:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:11-12) We want to leave this place better than we found it. For the sake of our kids and those around you. And that happens by imitating the godly leaders God gives: faithful pastors, parents, and the like. But heaven is your home.
And though you can never imitate your Lord for His ways are perfect and yours fall short, one day, He will make you to be like Him (Phil. 3:21) when He transforms your lowly body to be like His glorious body by that power which enables Him to subordinate all things to Himself. The power of His word by which He spoke all things into existence. (Gen. 1; Col. 1:16-17) by which He declares you forgiven. He does it to you inwardly by faith now. In that day He will transform you from the inside out, so that your mind, body, and soul all agree. For you and I will be like Him. Transformed and imitating Him in every good and holy thing where we shall live with Him forever in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
In the name of +Jesus, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock