A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B) + August 12, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B)
First Lesson: 1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

36450723_10160563180005022_128994029860814848_oThere’s a relatively new group within the Episcopal Church that calls itself, “Episcopal Evangelists.” They have a very active presence on Facebook. Anyone is welcome to join, but as you might’ve guessed, the primary purpose of this group is to serve as a means of support and creativity for those in the Episcopal Church who feel particularly called to the ministry of evangelism.

This past summer, as the Episcopal Church prepared for its 79thGeneral Convention in Austin, Texas, the “Episcopal Evangelists” were also hard at work. They were getting ready to spread the word at the convention that evangelism is important to Episcopalians, and one way they planned to accomplish this goal was by giving away these bright green “Episcopal Evangelist” bracelets to anyone who wanted it. The bracelets were meant to serve as conversation starters with the idea that someone in the public square might see it and ask questions about it.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. Unfortunately, I don’t have an “Episcopal Evangelist” bracelet, but if I did, I would wear it proudly!

When I first saw the idea of these bright green bracelets being given out at the convention, it reminded me of growing up in a small town in south Alabama and those multi-colored bracelets that I used to see kids wearing when I was in elementary school. You probably remember them as well. You might’ve even owned one at one time or another. They had the letters, “WWJD” printed on them. And, of course, we all know what “WWJD” stands for, don’t we? Say it with me. “What would Jesus do?”

Well, I never had a WWJD bracelet. The kids who wore those were the ones who were active in their own churches and youth groups. In small-town Alabama, that usually meant Baptist, Church of Christ, or Methodist. I didn’t really grow up going to church, at least not on a regular basis, but, I can remember, as a young child, seeing those bracelets and wondering, “What does it mean?” What does “WWJD” mean?

Of course, I quickly found out what the letters stood for. My classmates made sure of that. But, it would be years before I really understood the importance of the question, “What would Jesus do?”

In today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the author writes, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

In this passage, the author is providing instructions to some of the earliest Christians on how they should live their lives as followers of Jesus, and the same is true for us, as followers of Jesus in our own time and place.

“Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” I don’t know about you, but the thought of imitating God is overwhelming, to say the least. How can we possibly begin to imitate God? How can we imitate the one who created us all, the one who exhibits perfect love and perfect grace?

To begin, I think we have to have a model, an example to live by. We have to have something personal that we can experience for ourselves, something to witness so that we can begin to exhibit the same kind of love and grace that we’ve already received from our generous God. In order to be “imitators of God,” we have to have something more than just abstract concepts or ideas about God.

Why? Because we learn through our experiences.

When you think about it, we’ve been doing this our whole lives, from infancy and childhood until adolescence and adulthood. We are who we are today because of the people who have been right there with us every step of the way through our life’s journey, those who’ve influenced us the most- members of our family, our parents, our teachers, our coaches, our Sunday school teachers, our pastors, and so many others. Our lives have been shaped, for better or worse, by all of these people and the countless experiences we’ve had since we drew our first breath.

We learn through our experiences, and this is why we desperately need something concrete to hold onto when we seek to live as “imitators of God.” This is why we need Jesus in our lives and why the question, “What would Jesus do?” is so important.

In a commentary on our lesson from Ephesians, one author writes, “Christianity has yet to grasp the full implication of the incarnation: the Word has become flesh and dwells all around us. Paul is calling for these early Christians not merely to worship God in Christ, but through the Holy Spirit to imitate Christ in their own behavior, for the sake of the Christ’s church and the sake of the world. They are to forgive as they have been forgiven. They must turn from wrangling and slander and turn instead toward kindness and forgiveness for Christ’s sake. We imitate Christ in hopes that through the Holy Spirit we will grow into the likeness of Christ and that God will use us as instruments to bring in God’s realm of peace, justice, and mercy.”

My brothers and sisters, the question, “What would Jesus do?” is more than a simple catchphrase. It’s absolutely necessary in order to pattern our life on the one who lived and died as one of us, the one who teaches us how to be “imitators of God.”

“WWJD.” “What would Jesus do?” May this question precede every action that we take and every word that comes out of our mouths, and while we’re at it, let us consider another question, one that’s perhaps even more significant in these strained and divisive times in which we’re living. “WWJND.” “What would Jesus not do?”

Our Sequence hymn for this morning, which we sang just a few minutes ago, is actually a paraphrase of a popular prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Actually, you can find it in the back of The Book of Common Prayer. To me, there’s something so inspiring about this particular prayer that seems to resonate with those who hear it. Perhaps, it resonates with us because it helps us put into words that which we find difficult to articulate on our own.  It helps us confess that we’re all broken people living in a broken world and that we desperately need God’s grace and mercy in order to do the work that we’ve been given to do as God’s people. Personally, it challenges me to live better each day and to strive, more and more, to live into my calling as a follower of Jesus and imitator of God.

Let us pray.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is
 hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where
there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where
there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where 
there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to 
be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is
in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life. Amen.

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