August 9 2015 Reflection

11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 9, 2015)
‘IMITATORS OF CHRIST

By Rev Toby Keva

 

BIBLE READINGS
Psalm 34

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

REFLECTION

When I was a kid, I remember hearing the story about a frog who has a desire to be the moon. But the frog realises that it is only a small creature and nothing like the giant moon. So it inhales as much air as it can, trying to inflate itself to be as big as the moon. But even though it has filled its body with much air, the moon is still bigger. But, it doesn’t give up and tries to inflate itself even bigger and bigger and bigger until it finally explodes and kills itself! The moral of the story is that we shall not think too highly of ourselves, otherwise we will end up like the frog.

Strangely, our passage today, from the letter to the Ephesians, asks us to have a desire to be like God. We are called to be “imitators of God (5: 1 - NRSV)”. But how can that be? How can mortals and sinners like us be like God who is perfect and holy? Are we not going to end up like the frog?

Indeed, no one is perfect, not even the early Christians. No, we shall not have a romantic view of the early Church. They were as broken as we are today. If they had not been as broken as we are, then the author of the letter to the Ephesians would have not given them the advice in his letter. Real tensions occurred in the life of the early Church, just like they often occur in the life of the Church today, requiring attention from its leaders.

St Augustine of Hippo, a Father of the Church, is believed to have said that the church is not a hotel for saints, but a school for sinners. The church is indeed a community full of broken people, like anywhere else. So, if we are a broken people living in a broken world, why should we try to imitate God in our lives?

Friends, we may be broken, but we are not to let our brokenness define who we are. We are to challenge our brokenness and strive for better selves. We will never be perfect and holy like God, but as long as we aim for that perfection and holiness, we are moving in the right direction. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,

  “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, nothealth but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We arenot now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet   finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the rightroad. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”[1]

Indeed, we can never eradicate all of our emotions, including the bad ones. Emotions, including the negative ones, are what make us humans. To get rid off emotions, including the negative ones, will make us less human. I have heard reports that people with brain injury may lose some of their bad tempers (they may be less aggressive that they used to). But, at the same time, many have also lost their positive traits, like their capacity to feel empathy towards others.

So the key is not to get rid of our negative emotions, but to manage them. “Don’t give evil a chance (4: 27),” wrote the author of the letter to the Ephesians. “If you are angry, don’t let your anger lead you to sin. (4: 26).” “Be honest (4: 25), but do not use harmful words (4: 29). Use only words that are helpful; words that build up and do good to those who hear (4: 29).”

Indeed, the building up of the body of Christ shall be the main goal of whatever we do or say. In other words, everything shall be based in love because love always hopes for and seeks the best in others. God too bases everything that God says and does on love. To be imitators of God and Christ, therefore, is to have love at the centre of our life; to have love as the guiding principle of our life (5: 2).

Indeed, today’s reading from Ephesians may sound a bit like the Ten Commandments. Here, we are given a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. But just like at the heart of the Ten Commandments is the call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12: 28-31); at the heart of today’s passage is the invitation to imitate God whose whole existence and purpose is based on love (5:1-2).

Jeff Matthews of Indiana, USA, went into prison in 1990. Over the years, he faced many difficult situation there. Yet, whenever trouble arose, he tried to apply Christian principles to find a peaceful solution. One principle that he tried to apply was the principle of walking in love.

He had the opportunity to put this principle into action when a fellow inmate started harassing him and ridiculing his faith. The harassment went for months.

One day, when this inmate started harassing him and ridiculing his faith again, he felt that he had to say something to this man. So Jeff calmly interrupted the man while he was still speaking and said, “My friend, nothing you ever say to me or do to me will stop me from loving you.” The inmate stood speechless as Jeff walked away.

A few days later, they met again in the hall. Much to Jeff's surprise, the man said to him, “Jeff, I haven't slept since you told me you loved me the other day.... You're a real Christian. Please forgive me for the way I've treated you." This time, it was Jeff’s turn to be speechless and ever since, the man never said unkind words to Jeff anymore.[2]

The psalmist of Psalm 34 also invited his readers to reorient their lives to God. “Find out for yourself how good the Lord is (v. 8).” He didn’t deny life difficulties. Yet, he invited his readers to put their hope in God and live a life that is worthy of being God’s people. “Turn away from evil and do good; strive for peace with all your heart (v. 14).”

Indeed, for the psalmist, the presence of God permeates all of our existence.[3] “The Lord watches over the righteous and listens to their cries (v. 15)." “The Lord is near to those who are discouraged (v. 18)." For him, God has always realigned God-self to us; it is our turn to realign our selves to God.

The key word is the Hebrew word ira, which is translated as fear in New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (v. 9). The word is probably more appropriately translated as having awe or reverence. The Good News Translation translates the word as honour. Our life should be a life that gives honour to God. Just like the letter to the Ephesians reminded us that our life is a reflection of who God is, we shall live a life that gives honour to God, our parent.

Friends, imitating God is not the same with trying to be God or thinking of ourselves as God. That is blasphemy. If we do so, we will end up like the frog, in the beginning of this reflection, who tries to be the moon. We are not God; we are God’s children. As such, we have to live a life that reflects God, our parent.

Indeed, being children of God does not mean that we share God’s biological DNA (as if God had a body). Such was the belief of ancient Romans when they claimed that Caesar was the Son of God! But Christian faith never holds such belief. We are God’s children not because God is our biological parent, but because we share God’s characters in our life. And the most fundamental of all the characters is love.

Amen.

[1] “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles”, transl. Charles M. Jacobs, in Luther’s Works, Volume 34 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), 24 on Brian Peterson, Commentary on Ephesians 4:25-5:2, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 9, 2015)

[2] Jeff Matthews, Walk in Love, in the The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide (August 6, 2010)

[3] Paul O. Myhre, Commentary on Psalm 34:1-8, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 12, 2012)