Sermon: Imitators of Christ, Ephesians 4, John 6         


Imitators of Christ, Ephesians 4, John 6            

Sunday 12 August 2018

For those going on holiday in the UK this weekend, there will have been that feeling of, ‘we knew the summer wouldn’t last until we went away’. Well the sun lasted half-way through the school holiday so it wasn’t too bad.

Many will still have made for the seaside. One of the first signs of arrival is, of course, not the emergence of the bucket and spade, or the clifftop walk evoking Poldark, but the smell of the sea air. As John Betjeman put it in ‘Seaside Golf’:

Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves

And thyme and mist in whiffs..

Lark song and sea sounds in the air

And splendour, splendour everywhere’.

Can you smell it?

Smells are so important to our well-being and our recognition of our contexts. I wonder what are your favourite smells? Something cooking, a flower? Often smells are loved by us because they remind us of someone or somewhere; sweet peas in my grandfather’s garden, tansy in many an old unconcreted farmyard. What might yours be? Of course, herbs may feature highly. And some smells are uncomfortable, burning food –what’s going on in the kitchen?, or surgical spirit –hospital visits in the past.

Perfumes and after shaves have particular smells that are ever developing. Sometimes manufacturers try to create a fragrance that can imitate one that’s famous or more expensive. The EU has rules about preserving the integrity of the original, as you might imagine.

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians, probably Paul, but we’re not sure, describes Jesus as a fragrant offering for God, but, by extension draws us into the same calling for us to be fragrant offerings in the name of our Lord. It’s that image of us giving something off, like a perfume that says something about us being Christians to others. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t put your finger on what it is that makes someone that fragrant offering for God, but, you know there’s something that makes its mark on you.

The letter to the Ephesians is keen to balance good relationships within the Christian community, but also amongst the wider community where these early Christians live and work. ‘live in love, be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’.

‘And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you’.

Some of you may know Thomas Tertius Noble’s choir anthem on those verses- the music is very Romantic, the words are central to our aim of imitating our Lord in our words and actions for the sake of the church and the world.

But just who do we imitate? If we think back to when we were young, we can probably remember catching ourselves imitating one or other of our parents when we weren’t quite sure what to do. Or, perhaps one of our peers, what words to use to be in the in crowd, or what clothes and styles to wear. To decide to imitate is at least a choice we can make, but, how infuriating when it seems to happen unconsciously; ‘you sound just like your father’!

And what about now; who do we imitate? Our partner, perhaps, because common behaviour can be binding and unthreatening. Our parents, because we can now see the wisdom? Or people we work with? Because teamwork requires a certain amount of copying and acquiescence to gel the group. Or a character from TV, because they seem to have the stamina or perseverance we lack?

Perhaps there are times when we can spot ourselves imitating something that is unhelpful. A characteristic that is fun or engaging to emulate, but, in fact, is unhelpful in our relationships – or just really annoying. And, perhaps, we need to work hard to resist that imitation and ask the

God might help us to change the smell to something more appealing to others and something more indicative of self-giving love.

This week Boris Johnson MP has made comments in a newspaper article about the headwear of Muslim women. The problem for Mr Johnson is that he’s got pretty stuck in expectations about himself that leads him to imitate a particular style of sound-bite grabbing. None of these statements are fragrant offerings, but, unhelpful imitations of particular attitudes put quite crudely. Allright for a comedian, perhaps, but not a minister of state.

I suppose I might be making a false claim in assessing Mr Johnson. For us as Christians in today’s world, we do also now have to live with a culture where the understanding of Christianity is generally limited. Which is why, I would say, it’s even more important that we are imitators of Jesus Christ, or good ambassadors, or fragrant offerings in his name.

Because our neighbours or those around us of different cultural or media driven understandings, may say, those people there are Christians, so, what can I learn about being a Christian from what they do?

They have a moral code built around loving God and neighbour, so, how do they show that? How does Greenbelt and General Synod, food banks, sexual abuse, Church commissioners assets and church schools help or hinder others in their understanding?

They are a community, they meet to pray and sing, they try and support each other and try and look outwards to serve the community. There are a lot of good things there, but a lot of interpersonal friction and barriers to others too.

How do they deal with their anger –do they bridge-build much or do they fire off bad-tempered emails and tend to sound like self-assured people writing in tabloid newspapers. They value meetings and groups to share and problem solve, but, are they open to others or do they just talk about others?

It’s not easy, is it? We’re not perfect, but we need to be aware of the perfume that is us collectively and individually and work to refine the smell when we know it’s not showing forth the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus wasn’t just an imitator of God, he was God; that’s why the followers who listened to him were just as likely to turn away as listen.

He said he was the Bread of life. The smell of fresh bread –for how many is that a favourite smell? Enriching and satisfying and inviting. That smells like a pretty good fragrance for faith - enriching and satisfying and inviting.

It is, I suppose, the Eucharistic fragrance of what we do here. Eating and drinking the bread and wine and recognising our Lord’s presence as we receive him, mysteriously, but, wholly, in his love and service to us. Enriching and satisfying and inviting in love and service –that’s a strong perfume.

It’s the fragrance that comes close to overpowering us in its greatness and means of salvation. But it’s that strength of fragrance taken within us, that enables to be better imitators of Jesus Christ as we go forth in his name.

Canon Richard Mitchell

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