Finding Your Christian Self

Good news!  I stayed on two feet during my sermon.

I’m trying to relax the afternoon away – hope you are having a great one!

Audio is here.

Philippians 2:1-13

Finding Your Christian Self

This morning’s scripture comes to us in the form of a letter. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi.

I was leaving the Middle School Youth Group meeting last night when I turned to Bruce.

{Me} Hey Bruce, do you know what Paul’s job was besides being an apostle?
{Bruce} No Sarah, what was Paul’s job?
{Me} He was a baker! You know, because he to go to “fill-a-pie” …

So in all seriousness, Philippi was a city in eastern Macedonia; the present municipality of Filippoi is located in East Macedonia near the ancient ruins of Phillipi in Greece.

The Book of Philippians is dated approximately between the years 60 and 62. The Philippians actually sent a messenger, a man by the name of Epaphroditus, to Paul, who returned with this letter to read to the community.

As an aside, the Book of Philippians, Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, is peculiar because of Paul’s relationship to the Philippians. Paul obviously spent much of his life writing, preaching and community building and rarely accepted payment for what did (he actually supported himself by making tents in Corinth).

Paul did, however, make an exception for the Philippians; he took gifts from that community. So some scholars believe that this letter may have been a response to a gift that Epaphroditus brought to Paul from the Philippians.

All of this is to say that Paul had a very special relationship with the Philippians. He genuinely cared for them and this letter comes from a place of love, a place of gratitude and a place of thanksgiving.

This letter is affectionate, it is an expression of the deep friendship that Paul shared and wished to share with the Philippians and it is filled with a call for unity throughout the city. Paul urged the Philippians to be humble with one another and to always, always remember that all of the works that they did were really God working through them. This letter acts as a reminder that sometimes it is not material gifts that are necessarily the most important; rather it is essential as Christians to embody God’s love for others to see and to be touched by.

Paul reminds the church that to be a believer does not mean to be idle, rather it means to be active. In this particular passage, Paul urged the Philippians to imitate Christ: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” Paul said.

Actively imitate Christ – that is what it truly means to be a Christian.

Imitation is a tricky thing. It is not a far cry from emulation or mimicking, which have never seemed like genuine traits in a person to me. Surely, that was not was Paul was talking about, was it? Here is the thing: I do not think that it was.

In my research for this morning’s sermon I came across a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Carol Kerr at the Blue Point Congregational Church in Scarborough, Maine. Kerr is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and is currently a counselor for Psychological and Spiritual Growth in Portland, Maine. Kerr said the following about this passage and about imitation:

We are creatures of conformity. We are inherently imitators of people around us. Imitation is how we learn at every level. We learn to speak by imitating. … Some things we imitate are innocent enough. But, some things are not. … For better or for worse, we are what we imitate. Although we like to pretend to be unique individuals and nonconformists, the reality is about 99% of what we do is imitating someone. Monkey see, monkey do. Each of us is a mosaic of influences resembling many people in our past and present. The question is not whether you will imitate someone but who you will imitate. … Who do you copy? Who do you aspire to be like and to imitate? Most people at some time in their lives aspire to be rich, like a John D. Rockefeller. … Some people will imitate their favorite sports hero. … Women like to imitate beautiful Hollywood stars. There is a new line of lipstick in the store whose colors are named after the stars that wore them.

Kerr goes on to say:

We are here this morning because we are looking for someone to imitate and the best one we can think of is Jesus. … But, how do you imitate the son of God? We all have seen the bumper sticker “WWJD?” Which stands for “What would Jesus do?” How do you answer that question for yourself and in your particular situation. Do what Jesus would do, but what would Jesus do? Do you wear a toga and sandals? Do you grow a beard? Do you observe the Jewish holidays such as Passover, and worship in a Jewish temple as Jesus did? Some people have actually tried these very things. But, they seem to be missing the point. … How do you imitate Jesus. WWJD? What would Jesus do? Even if we are ready and willing, it seems the bar is set impossibly high. We might as well go back to celebrities with pink lipstick.*

So – in response to Kerr’s remarks: What is it going to be? Celebrities with pink lipstick? Togas and sandals? Or are we called to do something much greater than all of that? Are we called to really imitate Christ? Christ, who – as Paul said – was in the form of God but did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited; Christ, who took the form of a slave; and Christ, who walked in human form, humbled himself and was obedient even to his death on a cross.

Let’s face it: Kerr is right – Jesus did set the bar pretty high. But that does not mean that we cannot try. In fact, the Christian faith is foundationally rooted in individuals, like you and me, choosing to live a life like the one that Christ led. Christianity would not exist as it does today if it were not for over 2,000 years of individuals waking up every day and trying to imitate Christ in their lives.

I can think of a few people that I personally think have done a good job trying throughout their lives, some of whom were very much in the public eye – Mother Teresa obviously comes quickly to mind – and some who I know in my own life. I think of Miguel Giron, the director of the mission that I support in Honduras, who is the face of hope to the impoverished village of Teupasenti and my friends from seminary, who pushed me to do better, to be better, who pray with me and who pray for me. I am inspired by all of those people – and many more – to try harder to be an imitation of Christ in my own life.

Who do you think of? Who inspires you?

But here is where I urge you to be careful. Imitating Christ and being inspired by those who do does not mean losing yourself. You can strive to imitate Christ and you can be inspired by the people that you think really embody the type of person that Christ called us to be. But do not lose sight of who you are. Do not lose sight of the gifts – the unique gifts – that you, as an individual, bring into ministry and bring into this world. Always seek to honor your Christian self.

I wore this stole this morning, because it is a beautiful image of how small, different and unique pieces that are unlike one another can come together to form something so beautiful. Through our imitation we must still strive to be different.

How, then, are we fulfilling our call to imitate Christ? We know that imitating Christ does not mean finding a cookie cutter model and conforming yourself to fit the mold.

Imitating Christ means embarking on a journey to find your Christian self; to listen for God speaking to you, calling you to act a certain way, to walk down a path laid out for you and to be part of a ministry that you will help to thrive. Imitating Christ does not mean that you should look to your neighbor and mimic their actions or expect them to mimic your actions; rather you should celebrate the unique gifts that you both bring to this church and to this world. Imitating Christ does not mean repeating words that were printed on a page and trying to live your life word-for-word according to the bible. It means trying to understand what those words mean in your life today. It means waking up every morning and choosing to live out the gospel message; to spread the good news and to show a Christ-like face to the people that you meet along your journey.


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