Proper 18 Pent 13C September 4, 2022, St. John, New Orleans
When we visited Ephesus Turkey this summer many of the gift shops had large signs that said, “genuine fake watches.”
They knew their products weren't the real thing, but they were proud to sell them, nonetheless.
Because they looked so much like the real thing, they thought people would buy them
so as to impress others that they had such a fine timepiece.
There is a difference between imitation and fraud.
It has been said, “imitation is the best form of flattery.”
it's how the cool kids set fashion trends in school
and why less expensive cars tend to be styled after the more expensive trendsetters.
And imitation purposely is not the thing it is modeled after but seeks to evoke its qualities in one way or another.
Fakes, or frauds, on the other hand, seek to pass themselves off as the original.
The whole point of the fake is to steal from the original,
rather than extend the originals value to a new audience.
Imitation is also how we learn.
When you were little, you learn to walk and talk, largely, through imitation.
Small steps and little words were attempted over and over again.
And, eventually, you not only learned to walk and talk, but you mastered them both.
You did the same thing at your job.
Sure, sometimes schooling is required to acquire certain knowledge,
but experience and imitation is what imparts skill.
In fact, imitation for a while is usually required to move on in life.
You don't graduate from architecture school and on the first day design A skyscraper.
You don't read a book or watch a YouTube video about open heart surgery and then go operate on your loved ones.
And neither are we a fully mature and operational Christian as soon as we are baptized or confirmed in that baptism.
Like everything else in life, we learn it by imitation.
And as Christians, the one we ultimately imitate is Jesus.
In our first reading today, the Israelites are freed from their slavery in Egypt.
And they are now under the care and protection of Yahweh.
But they don't really know what that means.
So, they relied upon imitating their old behavior and habits
as evidenced by their creating a golden calf to pray to
when they were worried about Moses being gone for so long
upon a mountain that seemed to be on fire.
So, God gave them the 10 commandments.
And what we hear today is God's expectation for them to live as his people,
as well as an incentive to motivate them to make these changes in their lives.
And chief among them is, “loving the Lord your God.”
because without love, obedience will not last.
and without love, the reward will never be enough.
And so, at this juncture, the people of Israel have a choice to make.
“Am I going to imitate Moses and the elders by loving God and following these new commandments,
or am I going to fake my obedience so that I get to continue to live in this community and be protected and provided for by God himself?”
There is a strong human argument for faking faith.
At this point, Israel is still guarded by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
It's clear that all within the camp are safe because this God has worked miraculous things to bring them here.
Moreover, mana and quail, though not exciting foodstuffs, are sustaining them, and will for 40 years.
And so, for many, obedience came from fear, rather than faith and trusting in God.
Either the fear of leaving the safety of this great camp of perhaps a million people or more,
or fear that they may be struck down if they did not comply or if they just desire to leave the community.
However, imitating the commandments of God brings promises
The Promise of God’s favor,
a promised land to call home,
and the promise of becoming a great nation
Promises, promises, promises.
But, for a bunch of ex-slaves, it sounds pretty amazing, if not too good to be true
And for most, the promise is all they need to continue with the imitation of God’s servant Moses
Or at least roll with that until it becomes clear that something else is better?
Perhaps you have similar concerns as a Christian today?
“Am I part of the church as an imitator,
or as a fake, or an impostor?
Do I follow Jesus and his ways which lead me to worship him,
or do I worship so that others think I follow Jesus and his ways?”
the imitator of Jesus constantly seeks to look like the original, knowing they never will be like the original.
But the fraudulent Christian only does what is necessary
to remain in the fellowship and
in order to get what they need from it.
The imitator of Christ asks, “how can I serve?”
while the fraud asks, “why am I not being served?”
The truth is, few of us are purely one way or the other.
At times we live in concert with our baptismal gifts of the Holy Spirit and imitate Christ very well.
And at other times our actions are purely selfish, draped in the trappings of faith, so that we can get what we want.
One way of acting is life affirming and good, while the other is evil
and, if continued, will buy us death.
Because the latter way doesn't repent and seek forgiveness and, therefore, rejects the promise of baptism.
Each of us are challenged each day to make a choice between following the way of God or following our own desires.
Several years ago, it was popular to wear a bracelet with the letters WWJD as if doing that would save a person.
It stood for, “what would Jesus do?”
and for many, it was all about being nice to others, and having a servant heart.
So that, in the end, God would see all the good you had done, just like Jesus, and admit you to heaven.
But the good works and miracles of Jesus are meaningless if he weren't also the perfect Lamb of God.
You see, in order for Jesus to be able to forgive and save sinners he had to remain perfectly obedient to God.
And to date, he is the only one to succeed in that effort, and that's why we follow and imitate him.
Jesus didn't necessarily want to go to the cross and he didn't have to.
He could have avoided it altogether.
But he knew that it was God's will for him to die to save sinners.
And so, it was God's love for us, when weighed against shunning the cross,
that won out in Jesus mind.
Being God himself, he knew the father's love for us.
And out of love for the father, J
esus obeyed the father so that we could be saved.
When Jesus invites us to pick up our cross and follow him it isn't necessarily an invitation to join him in suffering.
Yes, there is often a cost of discipleship when the world seems to punish, or at least harass, those who follow Jesus.
However, if we are walking behind Jesus with a cross on our back, we are not yet being crucified.
We are still able to walk in his footsteps, and with all that weight on us we will stumble and fall.
But we are still following our Savior’s lead.
No, the cross we carry is but a reflection of all the things that would kill us were we not imitators of Jesus.
Whether it's greed, lust, idolatry, or self-interest,
each of these continue to function as monkeys on our backs, attempting to bring us down.
And they have the power to do so if it were not for the one we follow, Jesus!
And knowing that, the burden of our sins is no longer shameful because it will not overcome us.
Because we know that it has already been up on the cross of Jesus and he defeated it.
That burden of temptation is but a shadow, reminding us of the one that already slayed it in on the cross
So that as we look to Jesus whom we follow,
we boldly and confidently pass them over to him
as we repent of them, and ask his forgiveness, and promise to obey going forward.
So, how do we imitate Jesus in a way that brings us closer and closer to reflecting him in the world?
First, we get to know as much about him as we can through the word.
Paul told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
and the psalmist (26:8) says, “Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.”
so, reading and studying the word and worshiping regularly in his house are both important.
Secondly, Jesus would always pray, especially after a particularly strenuous or busy day.
He would go off by himself to a quiet place most of the time.
But on Maundy Thursday, as he awaited Judas’ betrayal, he asked the disciples to go with him and pray alongside him.
Another way we can imitate Jesus is staying focused on God, his will, and his purposes through everyday living.
Little things like jewelry and artwork remind us of Jesus.
Music and songs help us to keep him in our heart and our mind.
And daily habits such as regular prayers at meals and bedtime are great ways to remind us to continue imitating Jesus.
And, lastly, compassion and service on behalf of others is a key trait of Jesus we should imitate.
Compassion requires us to set aside our preconceived judgments of those who are in need,
and to truly serve them requires one to place others first, and to place God above all things.
And realizing that serving others is one of the best ways to serve God.
Our readings today give us plenty of the law if you want to read it that way. But if you look again, you see the gospel.
Goodness and life to those who love God in Deuteronomy
freedom and fellowship in Philemon for those who forgive one another.
And a life worth living into eternity for those who prioritize Jesus in the gospel of Luke.
And the perspective you take depends upon whether you are an imitator or a fake or a fraud.
The imitator sees the endless possibilities for growth and promise that come from following Jesus.
While the fraud fears being discovered and losing out on their place or their power or their reputation.
So, I pray then, that we might all be imitators of Christ, and not fake Christians,
so that we may actually reap our eternal reward
and so that our lives might imitate Christ sufficiently that it points others to him.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.