Imitating those who follow Jesus
A couple of weeks ago Andrew spoke about how that means that we are to respond to Jesus call and follow him. It is a radical call. It does not depend on our goodness or ability – but completely on the love of God.
Today we look at another dimension of what it means to be a disciple. We are called to become imitators: imitators of Jesus and imitators of other followers of Jesus.
I guess most of us have dream idols. I wish I could be like them: a mega-pastor with a mega-church, sports star, commentator, astronaut, MasterChef, celebrity. It is not really that we want to be like them, but we would love to have their success, wealth, skill, influence and star status.
But even if we don’t have the dream idols, the reality is that we do all have role models. We learn by watching and imitating. Small children watch their parents. There was one mum in our church when I was in Ipswich. She was a delight. She was so gentle. And on one occasion one of her children spilt some drink – and the child said, and I could hear her mum in this: ‘Oh Bother!’ I suppose it is better than the child at the early years drop in, who was driving a play car and shuoted, 'Get out of my way, idiot!' at some other child. And children imitate slightly older children (it is why we are paranoid about the friends who our children make). And as we grow older, it is the pattern of the Padawan and Jedi. It is what we do in a new setting, a new job, a new place. We watch, we learn, we imitate. On Thursday in cathedral for ascension day – they were doing all the ritual. I hadn't a clue what was going on or what I was meant to do: I sat down when I was meant to stand up, stood up when I was meant to sit down, turned round when I was meant to stand still .. SoI did what everyone does: I watched and I imitated. (I appreciate that is how it is for many people who come for the first time to church).
We imitate people. And that is just as true of faith. Paul, speaking of the Christians in Thessalonica commends them because ‘they became imitators of us and of the Lord’ (v6)
And that call to imitate is a call which is repeated through the New Testament
James urges us to follow the example of the Old Testament prophets: ‘As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.’ (James 5.10)
Jesus washes his disciple’s feet and then says, ‘I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ (John 13.5)
Peter writes to those Christians who are suffering because of their faith: ‘For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps’ (1 Peter 2.21)
And Paul, on several occasions, urges those he writes to to imitate him.
He urges them, like him, to become nothing so that Christ might become everything:
1 Cor 4.16, ‘I appeal to you, be imitators of me … When reviled we bless; when persecuted we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly’
1 Cor 11.1, ‘I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’
He urges them to imitate him in pressing on in the Christian faith, not becoming complacent or giving up: ‘Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us’. (Philippians 3.17)
He urges them to work hard out of love for others: ‘For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you .. so that we might not burden any of you. .. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate’ (2 Thess 3.7).
And the writer to the Hebrew Christians, Christians of Jewish descent, writes to them, ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’ (Hebrews 13.7)
So as Christians we are called to look at other Christians, to see how they are living as they follow Jesus, and to imitate what is good.
And that is why I would encourage you to meet with a Christian brother or sister who is further on in the faith and learn from them. Meet, talk, discuss a passage of the bible that you have read recently that you don’t understand, talk through a difficult situation, pray with them or ask them to pray for and with you.
Perhaps you already do so. Perhaps there is someone who you have started to build a relationship with. And that can be so helpful in our Christian walk. Maybe this is something that you don’t do but you would like to do. If you do know someone, then ask them if they would like to meet up for a coffee. And if there isn’t, but it is still something that you would like to do, have a quiet word with me and we’ll see if we can find someone who can help you. There are many people here who would love to have that opportunity to meet with you.
Of course they are not perfect, and they are not the oracle of all wisdom, but if they really are mature in faith then they will know that they are not perfect, that they do not know all things. But they will also know that even though they are nothing, Jesus is everything, and that everything they have comes from the love and the forgiveness of God.
And now we come to the really scary bit.
You see we are not only meant to look to others and imitate them.
We are also called to be examples ourselves.
Paul writes to Timothy and encourages him to be an example: ‘Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.’ (1 Tim 4.12)
And here in 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes to this new church.
He thanks God for them – for their faith, their love and their hope. He is confident that they have been chosen by God. Why? Because when they heard the message about Jesus, it came with the power of the Holy Spirit. They knew it was true. And Paul writes, ‘We know God has chosen you .. just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord’.
And he goes on to say how they became an example right across the region: 'So you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia' (1 Thess 1.7).
They became an example of a people who welcomed those who brought the word of God - and in welcoming the messenger, they welcomed that message (v9).
They became an example of a people who changed the way that they were living.
‘They report … how you turned to God from idols to serve a true and living God’ (1 Thess 1.9). In other words, here were men and women who were an example of people who stopped living for control, approval, comfort or power; they stopped living for money, or sex, or status, or the body (we live in a world which glorifies the young body and which represses the old body). And instead they began to live for and serve God. They began to spend time learning from God’s word, together with God’s people, looking for those examples of Christ likeness to follow and seeking to show the love of God.
And they became an example of a people who lived in hope, that even though there will be wrath, Jesus will rescue us from that time.
Yesterday I visited one of the ladies who worships with us every week. She has been taken into A&E and told that nothing can be confirmed till they have done more tests, but that the news is not very good. She showed me the copy of 'The imitation of Christ', which she is trying to read,when the pain allows her. Then she said to me, ‘I’m really not afraid to die. It will be the beginning of a completely new life for me’.
That is the sort of example that we are called to be.
That is the sort of example that we are called to imitate.
That is the sort of example that we are called to imitate.
We are, you are, meant to be an example of someone who imitates someone else who imitates Jesus, so that others will look to you and imitate you.
That does not mean that you are to set yourself up as a model of morality or success or of someone who has got it sorted. If we do that, then we are putting onto ourselves and others a burden that we or they cannot possibly bear, and we will either become obnoxiously smug and judgemental, or we will fall, or we will do both.
The example that we are called to be is the example of people who live as people who know that they are nothing, but that Jesus is everything. We are to be a model of people who are messed up, sinful, weak and failures, but who live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and died for us.
I recently came across a quote from Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). She got this. She said she was praying when God spoke to her. He said, ‘There are only two things that you need to know. You are she who is not. I am He who is’. It is that sort of attitude that is so precious: We have done nothing to deserve the love or mercy of God. And yet he, in his love, has given us everything.
And so as disciples of Jesus we are called to be an example of people who are beginning to live by the Spirit, people who have begun to turn our back on the things that this world offers and people who live for the things that God offers: righteousness, justice, peace and joy.