“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
St. Paul’s letter that we heard today begins with this simple guidance for the Christian life. Be imitators of God, as beloved children.
I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “Children learn what they live.” In 1954, Dr. Dorothy Nolte, an educator and counselor, wrote this inspirational poem that was published and printed in many formats, including posters, refrigerator magnets, and was even distributed by a formula manufacturer.
It notes that children learn certain traits by the way they were treated, and children learn by imitating their parents.
I gained some good, and some not so good, habits from my parents along the way, and I bet you did, too.
Watching my father, and how he treated others, had a profound influence on me. He was always respectful to everyone, and he was extraordinarily patient, even though I tried his patience many times in my youth.
I watched him be very generous with his time, talents, and treasure at church, and I saw him care for others in tangible ways. He gave away so much to help with the widows of his friends and partners. He helped children through the YMCA. I learned to be generous from him.
On the other hand, he was very critical of me as a young boy, and it seemed I could never do anything to please him. I came to understand that trait came from the way his mother treated him.
My mother always treated me with acceptance, which in turn taught me to love and care for others. I had a way of latching onto those who needed the most care, perhaps because I thought I could heal them.
Our heavenly Father wants to treat us with acceptance, with compassion, and with love. We can learn this from the way Jesus treated the people he encountered during his earthly journey.
Last week we heard how Jesus treated the Samaritan woman at the well. He was kind to her, despite the enmity between Samaritans and Jews, and although he knew her marital history, he did not condemn her. Instead he offered her the Living Water of Salvation.
This week we heard about how Jesus had compassion on the blind beggar at the pool of Siloam. The disciples wondered about which had sinned, his parents or him.
That must have been the prevailing understanding of the day. How many people had walked by that man and given him nothing, while judging him and his parents for sinning.
Jesus uses the situation to do a good work, a work of healing, giving the man his sight. Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus lives what he learns from his Father, and if we imitate God the Father, through God the Son, we will live what we learn. Jesus even tells us that we will do greater things through the power of God the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul goes on to remind us that in order to live as Christians, there are things we must avoid. In this instance, it is fornication, impurity of any kind, and greed that will disinherit one from the Kingdom of God.
He goes on to say, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them.”
Sadly we have heard many empty words from those who would deceive us. There are those who preach a gospel of simple inclusivity, and try to convince us that this bad behavior is actually good, and that we are bigots. I think not. I think St. Paul’s words are clear, and they would rather live in the darkness.
We are reminded that Jesus was loving and accepting to everyone, especially those who were in need of the Savior; however, he did not accept any bad behavior. When he saved the woman who was about to be stoned to death, he told her, “Go and sin no more.”
This season of Lent has given me a chance to be penitent for my sins, too. I pray that I would go and sin no more, but I have a feeling that I will. Thankfully, where there is sin, grace abounds, St. Paul reminds us. To receive that grace we must repent of our sins with penitent hearts.
We must leave bad behavior behind, and try to be imitators of God that we might inherit the kingdom of heaven. We do that by listening to Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, and contemplating the works he did.
We also do that by partaking of his most precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In fact, this is the most important thing we do, as it allows Christ to fill us, shape us, and strengthen us. In this we become the Eucharist we celebrate.
We can allow the Spirit of Christ to shape and form us more and more into a true likeness of our Father, because we are his children, and will inherit the kingdom of heaven prepared for us. Amen.