Oculi, The Third Sunday in Lent: Be Imitators of God

Lessons: Jeremiah 26:1-15, Ephesians 5:1-9, Luke 11:14-28
Hymns: 614, 659, 439, 422, 427

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Perhaps you’re familiar with these lyrics: “My child arrived just the other day. He came to the world in the usual way. But there were planes to catch and bills to pay. He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew, He’d say ‘I’m gonna be like you, Dad; You know I’m gonna be like you.’”

      This song is from the perspective of a father. He’s too busy for his son and his son grows up too fast. The son asks, “When you comin’ home, Dad?” and the father replies, “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.” The boy wants to be just like dad. He wants to imitate his father, which ought to be a good thing.

      After the boy is grown, the father calls his son, saying, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.” The son replies, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time. You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu. But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad.” Then father observes, “And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.” Too busy for his own father, just as his father had always been too busy for him.

      Children strive to mimic their parents. Some things come naturally. Similar looks, speech, and height are all determined by genes. Same with some mannerisms. But accents in speech, priorities, beliefs, and often interests are learned by following and doing. If dad loves the outdoors, mostly likely his sons will love the outdoors as well. He’s trying to be like dad. When parents are enthusiastic about something, children become enthusiastic as well. Children love to pretend they are doing what mom and dad are doing. So if dad is shaving, a young boy may want to pretend to do the same.

      Some may find this cute or quaint, but it is part of learning. Children learn a lot from their parents by following and doing.

      God has entrusted to parents the task of being the primary teachers of their children. While it is fine to let experts teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and even music, parents are not to relinquish their God-given responsibility of teaching their children.

      Parents are to serve as role-models, showing what is right and wrong. They are to impart knowledge and skills to their children. And above all, as Christians, parents are to teach their children the Christian faith. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, God teaches that parents are to pass on the faith to their children, for it is written, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

      Yet, as the song I quoted indicated, sometimes parents unintentionally teach their children to make the wrong choices. If we use foul language, our children will pick up on that. If we show them marriage is frivolous through abuse, divorce, or jokes belittling marriage, they will likely develop a low view of marriage. If we only strive for money, our children will learn the false attitude that money is the most important thing in the world. When parents do not teach their children the Christian faith through their words and actions, then children will falsely learn that the Faith is unimportant.

      On the other hand, if parents serve as good examples, they show their children what is good, right, and salutary.

      In today’s Epistle, God instructs us all to be imitators. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul writes, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). Yes, be an imitator of God. For you are His child, adopted into His family through the waters of Holy Baptism.

      You were once darkness. You had let sin reign in your mortal body. You were enslaved to the sin you inherited from Adam. But then Christ came to you and rescued you from your sin. By His grace, He adopted you into His family. Now, you are light in the Lord. Now you are a child of light (Eph. 5:1-9).

      And so God tells you—as His child—to be an imitator of God.

      At this, our sinful nature is inclined to rear its ugly head. We try to let ourselves off the hook. We reason, saying, “I can’t imitate God’s perfection! I’m a sinner! So I’m not even going to try!” Or, “My friends don’t imitate God—in fact, very few others imitate God!”

      Perhaps the most deceiving is, “I don’t need to imitate God. I can just ask God for forgiveness.” Why is this so deceiving? Because those who think this way figure they can ask God for forgiveness when they are not even interested in seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness.

      We work so hard trying to justify ourselves for not imitating God. In fact, even many who are conservative Lutherans try to let themselves off the hook. There are groups out there trying to promote a “200 proof gospel.” Or they’ll call it “radical grace.” They love featuring someone who has done something really bad—cheated on a spouse, caught up in drugs or alcohol, turned their back on God—and then suggest that, unless you’ve sunk to the same depths they have, you will never really understand the Gospel.

      Of course, those who have sinned like they have can be forgiven. Jesus really did die on the cross for their sins. Those who repent and believe in Christ receive forgiveness for even the biggest sins.

      But the problem arises is when they suggest that you don’t really know or understand the Gospel until you’ve been where they’ve been. They then inadvertently make you believe that you need to imitate them and their past life in order to really receive the Gospel.

      But that’s not what God teaches you. Instead, God tells you to imitate Him, as dear children.

      God Himself is not a fornicator, adulterer, or coveter. God does not engage in filthiness, foolish talking, or crude joking. God does not deceive you with empty words.

      When Jesus walked the face of the Earth some 2000 years ago, He remained chaste. He was content with what the Father gave Him. Jesus only spoke the truth with wisdom and charity.

      Jesus is the example which God desires you to follow. Not the one who can get away with the most. Not the one who pushes the envelope. Not the one who tries to get as close to the border between right and wrong without going over.

      But why would we want to be imitators of God? First, we are now God’s children. We’ve been adopted into God’s holy family through Baptism. And just as children love to imitate their parents, so also we are to love imitating God.

      Second, Christ loved us and gave Himself for us—a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. What this means is Jesus paid for your sins on the cross. He shed His innocent Blood as He bore your sins in His Body. Because He paid for your sins, you do not want to repay His lovingkindness with sin. Since you’ve been purchased with the price of His Blood, your desire is to honor God with your life and the choices you make.

      Third, we imitate God because it is good to do so. God doesn’t give us Laws for our harm. Instead, the Commandments are written so that we have a peaceful relationship with God and our neighbor. While breaking the Law may seem to be fine at the moment, the result is always harm toward ourselves and others.

      Finally, we imitate God because He teaches us to do so, as our passage from Ephesians 5 teaches. While good works do not save us from our sin, they serve as proof that we have faith. Good works are commanded by God and are pleasing to Him. St. James teaches, “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26). And remember the words of Ephesians 2:10. Right after being taught that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our good works, St. Paul writes “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

      So, we are to be imitators of God. Not for our salvation, but because we are saved. Not just on Sunday morning in Church or when we are around our pastor or other church leaders. But throughout our life.

      There are many ways in which God teaches us to imitate Him. There are numerous examples of godly living and faithful Christians in the Scriptures. Looking at many Christians in history reveal great examples to imitate. The Ten Commandments teach us God’s will and righteous living. God’s Word teaches us true morals and values—ways of life which are pleasing to Him. And above all, Jesus’ own life serves as the best example for us to imitate.

      When parents serve as good examples to their children, parents love to see their children grow up in their image. Parents love to see their children mirror them.

      And God loves it when we have been rescued from our sin, added to God’s family and restored to the image and likeness of God. God loves to see us imitate Him as His dear children.

      For our identity is now in Christ. Having been baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ. In baptism, we have died to sin and have risen to newness of life. According to our New Man, we desire to do good. We desire to imitate Christ through righteous living and good works.

      We are blessed to have all our sins taken away. And so we walk in the light of Christ. We imitate our dear Father in Heaven, for we are His dear children.

      Unlike the father in the song I quoted, God will never let you down and His example is always good. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen