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The Second Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2013
The Epistle: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Sermon: "The Two-Question Quiz"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
The Two-Question Quiz
Have you noticed all the really valuable kinds of information you can get on Facebook? I mean there’s so much stuff you just can’t live without knowing. Just consider all the five question quizzes you can find there. It will take you less than two minutes to answer one. And faster than you can say, “Cheesy Internet quiz with no scientific value whatsoever,” you too can know which dead president shares your optimism, or which old-school comic-book superhero happens to have everything in common with you.
“Congratulations, you have anger management issues like The Incredible Hulk.” “You’re prone to patriotic acts of heroism just like Captain America.” This is clearly information that we can’t live without. Plus, through the power of social networking, we can share the results with everyone on the planet!
I wonder though, isn’t it a bit ironic that such things are so popular in a culture that upholds, even idolizes, the idea of individuality? In 21st-century America, ingenuity is supposed to be the ideal. Write some book for business leaders about “breaking the mold” or being an “outlier,” and you’re bound to make millions. But conformity isn’t supposed to be cool. Originality is everything, right? So, why the popularity of such join-the-crowd fun on Facebook?
Perhaps our interest in such things reveals something inherent to our humanity; a clue as to how we’re wired to live. Individuality may be the cultural ideal, but it’s not the Scriptural ideal. Yes, we love to think of ourselves as how we’re set apart from others; how unique we are.
However, according to Scripture, being fully unique, absolutely different, isn’t even a possibility. Individuality is our cultural mythos, but we hold far more in common than we are different. That’s because, you and I are inherently imitators of the world around us. Consider this: imitation is how we learn to be human at every level. We learn to speak by imitating our parents. We learn to walk by watching our older siblings. Later in life we create our own “unique” identity by imitating our teenage friends in school and following our particular clique in college. Finally, we set certain people in our profession on a pedestal and mimic their movements. And, of course, whether we’ll admit to it or not, we imitate our spouse. Why do you think so many older couples come to look and act like each other?
Many of the things we conform to are innocent, such as a Southern drawl or the way one holds a fork. (Yes, it’s catching up to me; “I actually said “impordant” right after saying “ya’ll” to some folks last week.) But others have lasting ramifications. Our work ethic, our attitude toward spouse and kids, and even our church attendance are things we pick up from others. Even really not-good things such as some sinful habit or a heart of discontent and cruelty can be the byproduct of bad conformity to someone around us.
We are what we choose to imitate. Each of us is a complicated mosaic of influences resembling many people in our past and present. We conform to the image of others, and others, right now, are conforming to us.
The words of the Apostle Paul from our Epistle reading to the Philippians this morning, speaks to this. Here, Paul gives a loving but firm command. “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17, ESV).
Paul doesn’t ask us to be innovators but imitators. What Paul is telling the Philippians, and us, is simply this: “You’re going to copy. You’re going to mimic someone’s steps and mirror someone’s movements when it comes to learning this Christian life. So, since you’re going to imitate somebody, imitate me. Follow me as I follow Jesus.”
Paul goes even further. He tells us that whenever we see people upholding the confession of the gospel he has handed down and exhibiting the Christ-focused, cross-loving style of faith and life that he has modeled, we should keep our eyes locked on that person. Why? So that, as a child learns how to live by absorbing every move of his or her parents, we might absorb how to live the Christian life. Imitation is key to the Christian life.
All of this begs two questions. First, who are you imitating? From whom are you learning what it means to live as a follower of Jesus? Is it your spouse? Do you have a Christian friend whose faith feels more mature? Are you soaking up the shared wisdom of fellow small-group members? Are you following the pattern of a faith-filled parent?
Here’s the second question. Who is imitating you? If you have children, this one is easy to answer. But your sphere of influence extends beyond the home. Who in your life knows that you’re a Christian and, thereby, their understanding of Christianity is founded on your words, your actions and your attitude? Who is learning from you? That can be a scary one with which to wrestle.
The bottom line is who are you following? You are following someone, even if unconsciously. Likewise, someone is following you, whatever your example may be.
As we consider those two questions, here’s something important to ponder: Scripture tells us that as we imitate the likes of Paul, as we learn from the faith and life of our brothers and sisters in the Faith, the end result isn’t a bunch of little Christian clones who all look just like each other, but a community of people who resemble Christ. Jesus is not only our Savior in that he takes our sin as his own to the cross in our place, but in his living and breathing, in his walking and talking, in his healing and loving and perfect commandment-keeping, he is also our example. The God-man Jesus Christ demonstrates for the world what it means to be fully human; to be completely right with God, and to live fully in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus shows how to live at one with God, with each other, and completely in-step with the rhythms of life in our created world.
Paul tells us in Romans 8:29, that all who are baptized into Jesus’ name are not only forgiven their sins, put right with the Father, and empowered by the Spirit, they have also embarked on a lifelong journey of being “conformed to the image” of Jesus. That is, you and I will slowly but surely start acting like him, loving like him and resembling him. By imitating one another as we each are faithful in following Jesus, we begin to resemble and reflect him. For those who like big, ten-dollar theological words, this transformation by example is called sanctification; literally, the process of becoming holy.
Human beings are creatures of conformity; we are inherent imitators. The question is not if your life will resemble someone else’s but whose life yours will resemble. As of now, there’s no quick, five-question quiz that can tell us how much we are like Christ. Not even on Facebook! But the two-question way to gauge your godliness is to simply take a quick glance at what’s in front of you and what’s following behind you. Whose footsteps are you in today? Who is walking in yours? Ask those questions, then look over there, to the cross of our Savior and example, Jesus Christ! Follow him! And those who follow you will find their way to him too.