Imitating those we admire

Pastoral Messages | April 11, 2019

Anybody who watched one of the thrilling NCAA basketball tournament games in recent weeks got their fill of slow-motion replay. Shots from behind the 3-point arc seemed to create the greatest excitement among announcers. “Did you see the rotation on that ball?” “Spectacular elevation. Quick release. Magnificent rotation. Wow!” They’re talking about the backspin that players put on the ball as it rotates smoothly out of one’s fingertips. It’s not a pushing of the ball so much as what looks more like an effortless release. I watch that deft maneuver and instantly want to go to the gym to try and imitate it. That’s when I realize I was born with little finger fluidity and nothing close to the flex of wrist that truly great players possess.

I actually spend a lot of energy in my life trying to imitate what I see other people being so good at. From generosity to affection to trying to speak without using distracting “ums,” I know I have so much to learn from people who are better at such things. We all practice the art of imitation, and commendably so, at least for the most part. It’s how we enlarge our lives and become multi-faceted or better people.

Sometimes we Christians think it’s our job to imitate Christ. The WWJD (“What would Jesus do”) bracelets of the last generation signal this impulse. This faddish phrase has expanded over the years to have many people wondering what would Jesus eat? What would Jesus drive? What would Jesus read? What would Jesus vote for? What would Jesus wear? Presumably, the enchantment of knowing his every instinct on such topics would inspire us to imitate him. But nowhere in scripture does he suggest that disciples of his should slavishly imitate or “ape” him. What he says instead is, “Follow me.” In other words, we have a life to live that is our own, not a replica of his life that has already been lived.

I picked up my dog-eared copy of Thomas à Kempis’ 15th century devotional classic, The Imitation of Christ, just to see if I was missing something here. But, no, this mystic doesn’t ask us to mimic Jesus, as the title seems to suggest. Rather, he speaks of how God can form our character through humility. There’s no direct imitation of Christ that’s necessary for the Christian life. Our job is to be so closely in tune with the inner character of Jesus that we’ll learn to walk hand-in-hand with God, trusting the fullness of our lives to this Lord.

We’re pretty good at talking about Jesus, admiring Jesus, and referring to Jesus. But the more we live in such ways as to demonstrate that we are accountable to, and dependent on, God, the better we will have understood those all-important words of Jesus: “Follow me.” I pray that Holy Week will help you and me absorb those two precious words in a brand new way.

-Peter W. Marty, senior pastor

3 Comments on “Imitating those we admire”

  • Stella Herzig

    April 12, 2019 at 11:34 am

    So my take-away might be?:: We are individuals and we can follow Jesus by our being compassionate, humble., and obedient to the Father, without doing exactly Jesus’s historical actions while on Earth. Those events can inspire us to use our own time & actions to make that kind of difference according to time place and circumstance we find ourselves in today. The father loves the individuality of us all due to the special pleasure He gets in having a relationship with each of us that is uniquely sweet. Jesus just let us know how to be that facilitates that divine relationship. He did it best! We can do it OUR best. yes?

  • Sheila Mesick

    April 11, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    In my youth I sported a curly shag which helped me in my imitation of the Saturday Night Live character Rosanne Rosanna Danna. I had fun and brought laughter to friends through imitating this character. Since my youth I have experienced a pang of shame for the struggle I have had in imitating the life of Jesus. I understand the premise of His parables and the importance their lessons have for our lives, and in how we live in relation with others. What has been the greatest lesson in this stage of my journey is losing some physical and cognitive ability. Becoming familiar with the reality of isolation has become a big life lesson with insight and tears. So your thoughts about humility hit home. If this is what is necessary to bring me to the place I should be, I am working to embrace it. Blessed Easter Peter.

  • David DeWit

    April 11, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    It seems to me there is still some validity to the attempt to be “Christ-like.” It’s not that I ever expect to change water to wine or to walk on water or to heal paralytics. But it might mean being compassionate, opposing the exploitation of the poor or oppressed, etc. etc.

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