Where in the world did September go? I feel like we where just preparing for our first ever Drive-Thru Communion and now here we are, at the end of the month. It’s crazy to me how, even during covid, this is still a really busy time at church! We are gearing up for stewardship season, some kind of virtual bazaar (which is happening in different pieces/ways), a Candy Crawl in lieu of Trunk or Treat and an adapted Homeless Awareness Weekend. Check out our website for more information!
We continued in Philippians this morning. A wonderful letter of love and hope!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 27, 2020
The Hard Work Of Imitating Christ
Do y’all remember – I think it was around 25 years ago – there was a movement that, I believe, started with cloth bracelets and eventually was branded on everything: WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? The movement started in a very grassroots way, but took off and was really popular, at one point; it was a way to remind the wearer of the bracelet that they should act in a way that personifies Jesus (throughout the day and when faced with a situation, ask yourself the question, “What would Jesus do?”)
Out of curiosity, I did a little bit of research on the origins of the WWJD movement this week and, as it turns out, this phrase was first used in the 1890s by a Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon. In a sermon in 1891, he repeatedly used this phrase, “What would Jesus do?” in quotation marks. However, this concept apparently goes back even further than this, because in this sermon, Charles Spurgeon was referencing a book written in the 1400s by Thomas á Kempis. The book was written in Latin; it was called Imitatio Christi, which means, “the imitation of Christ.”
And the reason I went down a giant rabbit hole of research about a movement from the 90s this week is because this week’s scripture reading talks about imitating Christ, which is, ultimately, where this movement came from.
I like this movement for several reasons. First of all, it is simple, it is easy to remember and so it is great for kids and it is just something that can always be in the back of your head. Second of all, it started (at least the 90s version of it) as something people wore; and so it was literally something people were putting on their bodies as both a reminder to themselves throughout the day of how they wanted to live, but also a declaration to others that they were seeking to imitate Christ and demonstrate the Gospel in their own lives. It is kind of like wearing a cross; it is a visual representation of your faith. Finally, I love what this movement represents – a very simple and apostolic way of being Christian.
Because this is exactly what Paul is talking about in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.
We know from last week’s introduction to the Book of Philippians that Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia; Paul founded a church there and regarded the members of this church with great love and affection. He was writing this letter from prison; and so, in a way, his words carry so much more meaning because he was not writing from a position of freedom and power, but from a position of struggle and imprisonment. Paul’s faith was the problem in the world he was living in; preaching the Gospel was what put him in prison in the first place. Imitating Christ was not necessarily something that came easy in the position he was in; in fact, it created more difficulties for him.
Granted, we are not living in a time where we are persecuted for our faith, but we are living through challenging times; there are many struggles to be had right now. And so I think it is important to remember that when Paul talks about imitating Christ, he is not saying it is going to be easy. In fact, he knows it is going to be really, really hard.
And so we know today that imitating Christ – that answering that question, “what would Jesus do?” is not easy.
It requires a lot of us.
Paul says at the beginning of this chapter:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Friends, these are words that need to be embodied and emboldened now. These are words that we need to take personally and seriously as we seek to live the way that Christ lived, as we seek to share the Gospel and bring light and love to a world that is hurting. These are words that challenge us to see a world beyond the one that we are living in; to humble ourselves at the cross and to realize that this is not just about us. These are words that force us to look in the mirror and see not only the reflection staring back at us, but also how that reflection is different from the person God is calling us to be, how that reflection is different from the person we would be if we truly sought to imitate Christ in our lives.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
In other words, think about others before you think about yourself. Put the needs of others before your own. Do not be selfish in what you take from others, but generous in what you give to others.
But in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Humility is a really hard thing. It is something that causes us to think about and admit the times when we are wrong and when we fall short. It is something that exposes our human imperfections. It is something that pushes us outside of our comfort zones. It is something that sends us crashing off of the pedestals we work so hard to climb up on.
And yet, when we do this – when we, “in humility regard others as better than [our]selves,” we begin the work of reconciliation that this world so desperately needs.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
This one is so hard, because – especially now – it is so tempting to look inward and make sure you have what you need before you start helping others. But I think it is important to point out that this is not an either/or thing. There is actually really good manuscript evidence that the original text of this letter includes the word that we would translate in English to mean, “also”. Going off of this evidence, this means this verse – let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others – actually says, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Because we can help others without sacrificing ourselves. We can make sure people have what they need and are valued the way they should be without it taking away from our basic needs. This is not an either/or, this is an all of us together, as the Body of Christ, taking care of one another because this is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus called his followers to do, as well.
This is not easy. Because, in the end, we are human. We are imperfect. We have a tendency to think we are right about things. We have a hard time accepting the way someone else sees the world and therefore things like gender, race and sexuality are stumbling blocks for us. It is hard for us to imitate Christ because, let’s face it, he set a really good example.
The second part of this passage is a song of Christ; it is a beautiful expression of who Jesus was, both human and divine, a man who walked this earth, but also was exalted in heaven, who took the form of a slave, but was highly exalted by God.
And so we know, of course, that we will not be able to replicate Christ; that’s not the point. The point is that we are called to imitate him. To live our lives in a way that is a reflection of his life and this Gospel he so boldly proclaimed.
And this is hard; this is really, really hard. On the one hand, our world does not really lend itself to easily imitate Christ. But on the other hand, this is when the imitation of Christ is needed the most.
Friends, it is time. It is time to be encouraged by the Gospel to come together with the same love and let our lives – both our individual lives and our life as a community and a church family – be a true and radical and bold reflection of Christ. It is time to imitate Jesus in our lives in a way that humbles us and helps us meet the needs of others. It is time to let go of some of our own selfish desires – as hard as that is to do during these tumultuous times – and find ways to ensure that the interests of all people are met – ours, but also others.
There has never been a time like this in our lifetime where it has been more necessary to heed the words of Paul, where it has been more critical to imitate Christ; to constantly be asking ourselves this question, “What would Jesus do?”
And so I encourage you all this morning to challenge yourself. To live your life as a reflection of the Gospel. To honor one another as children of God. To shine God’s light into the world so that others will see the glory of God’s grace and the lifechanging truth that God’s love always wins.
To imitate Christ so that we can continue to tell this story.
Thanks be to God!