Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 02/24/2013

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  You’ve probably heard that before.  Anyone know who said it?  Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832); according to Wikipedia he was an English cleric, writer and collector known for his eccentricities, among which was a fondness for gambling.  Apparently he won and then lost a fortune in the gaming salons of Paris.  In the end he killed himself rather than undergo a surgery that would have kept him alive.  In between though, he did come up with a number of memorable quotes, the one on imitation being the best known.  That’s your fun fact to know and tell for today; Charles Caleb Colton.

Imitation though, besides being a form of flattery, is one of the fundamental ways that we learn.  Sometimes it’s intentional; as a young basketball player I used to try to imitate things I saw Celtics players do.  I never did those things as well as they did, but it was still helpful; I’d like to think it made me a better player and the older I get the better I used to be.  Another example of this kind of imitation is when I worked with one of the first graders in Homework Club a couple of weeks ago, part of his math worksheet was tracing some numbers which is another form of imitation, another way to learn.

Sometimes though, imitation is unintentional, we’re not even aware of it as we learn to do basic things.  One example I think of is when I taught school and in my class was the son of a guy who worked in the same district and at some point I noticed that the son walked exactly like his old man.  I’m sure it wasn’t intentional but when you think about it, it makes sense because when you’re learning to do those very basic things, how do you do it?  You’re imitating those who you see most often.  That’s one reason why at some point many of us realize we’ve turned into our parents.  There are many things that we learn by imitation, intentional or unintentional, for better or for worse, and I want to talk a little bit about that in relation to what we do in church.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul tells the people to imitate him which at first seem like the height of arrogance on his part.  In other places he says to be imitators of Christ which is easier to take (hard to do, but easier to take) but when someone holds himself up as a model to be imitated it can be a little bit off putting; who does he think he is?  When you look at it more closely though, Paul really isn’t being arrogant in this case.  In earlier verses he actually downplays his accomplishments as being insignificant in the overall scheme of things. 

Paul is on to something different here; the imitation he’s talking about is more about imitating him and others in the pursuit of a goal, the goal of knowing Christ, being found in Christ, being of the mind of Christ.  For Paul this imitation is more about following him on this journey in pursuit of this goal than it is about seeing him or anybody as a model of perfect behavior.

Because of that, it’s not 100% clear what behaviors Paul was talking about in this call to imitate him, but it made me think that as we introduce children to the life of worship in the church, a fair amount of it is imitation, or at least it starts that way.  There are things that we do here that our parents and grandparents did before us, things that haven’t changed a whole lot, and these things then get handed down to the next generation and part of the way it’s handed down is by imitation.  Explanation should come at some point too, but it starts with imitation.  With Holy Communion, which six of our young people will receive for the first time today, the imitation actually starts earlier for many of them as they come up to the altar rail with their parents and put their hands out like they see everyone else do, only to have me give them a blessing instead; but the imitation has already started.

What we believe is that there are things we can do, practices that we can imitate that help us to know Christ.  That’s what the disciplines of Lent are about actually, and I think that’s closer to what Paul was getting at with the Philippians.  I don’t know if he had Holy Communion in mind or not, but for us it is one of the fundamental worship practices that we imitate as we come to know Christ.      

There is a little bit of knowing about Christ in this too.  The kids have learned (we hope) something about this ritual that they will participate in today; they’ve learned about how Jesus shared this simple meal of bread and wine with his disciples as part of a larger Passover observance; they’ve learned about how he told them to keep doing it and that he would be present with them in the bread and wine.  They’ve learned about all that and will continue to.  But today they enter more deeply into the mystery of not just knowing about Christ, but knowing Christ as they imitate millions of other Christians in doing something that on the surface of it might not seem to be all that significant.

But those millions of other Christians, including us, know that it is significant.  The significance is hard to explain though, other than to use Paul’s terminology of helping us to know Christ.  It’s not magic, that knowing doesn’t happen instantly, but over time, for many people, imitation of this simple ritual becomes the most meaningful thing they do in worship.  Something happens; those moments at the rail are different.  Jesus has promised to be present in the bread and wine and in mysterious fashion he is and as he is, he becomes part of us in ways that we can’t explain but that we know are real.  We have faith in the process. 

In addition to Jesus’ presence, this imitation also has the effect of forming and transforming us; we become the community that Jesus would have us be as we gather around him.  At the altar rail we’re all the same, no one gets more than anyone else, there’s no need to rush to be first for fear of running out.  There’s enough and there always will be; everyone is fed.

This is a special day for Gavin and Jackson and Kayla and Hope and Garrett and Mackenzie, but I think it’s a special day for Jesus too.  In doing what you do today and all the times after today, you get closer to Jesus, you know him better and he likes that.  He already knows you, but today your relationship with him gets even closer and that’s a good thing.  Today you imitate what you’ve seen others do; but the thing about imitation is that at some point it’s not imitation any more; it’s just who you are, and in this case it’s who you are in Christ and with Christ and that too is a good thing, a very good thing.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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