Summary: A sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C. We imitate the good qualities in the Apostle Paul because he was an imitator of God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, have you heard the phrase “Monkey see - monkey do”? It is actually funny to watch monkey imitate their trainer. The trainer rubs his belly, the monkey will rub its belly. The trainer throws a stick, the monkey will throw a stick. People clap their hands, monkeys will clap theirs. Monkeys are good at that.
People are too. We enjoy little children imitate their parents, and that’s very good, because that’s how they learn. And this sort of an activity is not limited to children. Grownups like to imitate others too. There is a man I saw at the Golden Corral, who is trying to look like Elvis - hairdo and all! And for three years you made me impersonate Martin Luther on Reformation Sunday. Yes, you did!
And, if we can’t copy someone’s looks or mannerism, we may try to imitate their manner of speech. Couple of years ago Rich Little came to perform at one of the casinos in Laughlin. He made a career out of imitating the voices of famous people - John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogard, numerous Presidents and other politicians. He entertained us well and made us laugh.
Dennis Swanberg, whose Bible study material we used during our Adult VBS last August, learned to imitate the voice of Billy Graham, and used on somebody in the supermarket! What a scream!
How would we learn the art of imitating someone? We would probably stand in front of a mirror a lot, or listen to a tape recorder until we would get it right. Well, I don’t think we would be as good at it as Rich Little, but today’s Scripture lesson gives us an invitation to try.
St. Paul writes to Christians at Philippi, Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. This echoes what he said in 1 Corinthians 4: 16-17 Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending Timothy, … he will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
What did he mean when he said join in imitating me? I don’t think he meant that we copy his hairdo, or imitate the sound of his voice, in order to make people laugh. Rather, he invites us to express our faith by living by the Christ-inspired teaching that he projected. For, just as there are good things to imitate, there are also silly or wrong things that people try to copy.
John writes in his third letter, verse 11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The Apostle Paul also warns us of a contrast to what he said earlier. Please follow the text with me, in your Bibles or on the back of the bulletin. We are in the third chapter of Philippians, the last quarter of the New Testament .. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. You may want to keep a marker there, we will be returning to Philippians several times. Chapter three, verses 18 and 19: For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction. Their god is their belly (oh boy, if this doesn’t get you think about a diet, I don’t know what will), and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
We have to be careful not to do things like that. I worry about young people that they would not be tempted to imitate destructive behavior just to appear cool in front of their peers. Don’t let anyone lead you astray. You know the difference between right and wrong. No one looks cool in front of the judge.
We don’t want to imitate the bad guys, we want to imitate the good guys, so let’s look at the life of St. Paul to see what it is in him worth imitating.
I am sure there are numerous qualities to take note of, but I am also aware of one weakness - he was longwinded! One times he preached long enough to put people to sleep. One man fell out the window. By the grace and power of God, their prayer brought him back to life, but it all could have been avoided in the first place. So, in the time that we have, we will just look at seven qualities that we can imitate.
Perhaps the most obvious one is PERSEVERANCE. Once he got on the right track, Paul would not give up. Not hardship, rejection, danger even to his life, would deter him from following the course. He compared the new life in Christ to running a race. This is what he says in verses 13 and 14 just prior to our reading: Forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.