Faith & Worship Faith & Worship


Taking risks

"we become imitators of God through understanding who Jesus is"

Ephesians 4:30-5:2: John 6:35-51

Paul, in the extract from his letter to the Ephesians that we heard, concerns himself with the subject of unity. Early in the chapter he encourages the Christians within that community to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. A unity based upon one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

He then turns his attention to the way that Christians should live their lives - in particular where it touches upon relationships - and in fact if you follow the passage through to the middle of chapter five, Paul contrasts eight stark realities in the difference between the walk of the unbeliever and that of the true Christian:-

  • falsehood rather than truth
  • resentment rather than self-control
  • stealing vs. generosity
  • evil speech vs. edification
  • malice vs. love
  • impurity vs. virtue
  • foolishness vs. wisdom
  • debauchery vs. joy

Paul knows from his own experience and that of the churches for which he feels responsible, that every one of these is a potential stumbling block not only to the individual Christian but also to the Church as a loving and vibrant community.

"Be completely humble and gentle," says Paul elsewhere. "Be patient, bearing with one another in love."

Paul was writing in response to a particular need. In this case it was the rising popularity of mysticism which was undermining the authority of the fledgling church at Ephasus, and possibly also Collossae. People were becoming confused, tempted by the attractiveness of alternatives, the hard sell which questioned the very authority of their God, the continual chipping away of faith that was lacking in the maturity to realise just what was happening.

And as a result the community was beginning to lose it's way, lose sight of it's direction and purpose, lose sight of God Himself.

As a result of this there was division, bitterness, anger, selfishness and a hardening of hearts, an insensitivity towards fellow members - all those faults which Paul picks out and contrasts so well.

This could not go on, otherwise the church would just self-destruct. It would become no different to the world in it's values and morals - to put it bluntly the church would become irrelevant as far as the general population would be concerned.

It's a straight choice, Paul tells his readers. You can't have one foot in one camp and one foot in the other. You can’t call yourself the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers and dangle a foot in both camps. Make your choice and stick to it.

"Don't give the devil a foothold!" Paul warns.

Then, halfway through listing the evils which are apparent within the Gentile community Paul comes out with a gem of a quote to sum up that which he considers is the way out of this hole that the church seemed to be steadily and quite happily digging itself into.

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

What a phrase to get to the nub of the problem, but what does he actually mean by it?

"Be imitators of God!"

I mean, I know we should set ourselves targets, but don't you think we should set our sights just a little bit lower to start with? I could never win the London Marathon, I'm sure - but I could set myself a target of running the distance in, say, 5 ½ hours (wind assisted of course).

Isn't that just the same?

Sorry, says Paul, but you're missing the point. You set your sites any lower than that, and suddenly the winning post is not so important any more, back come the distractions and you're really just going through the motions.

Oh, and it's so tempting to draw an analogy here with the church of today. There are so many distractions, so many things which hold our attention and keep us looking anywhere but in the right direction. And while we're being distracted we're also losing sight of our mission, in danger of falling into the same hole that the Ephesian Christians were digging, and in danger of showing a divided and fragmented face to the world.

Of course, while this is going on the genuine seeker after faith looks around and sees alternative lifestyles and philosophies which seem to offer the love, security and spirituality that the established church somehow has lost.

Why else has there been such an interest in Buddhism and Eastern religions over the past few years, other than for the fact that Christianity is no linger seen to be scratching where people itch.

In fact the Church itself spends far too much time itching, so how can it be seen as relevant to the needs of the world.

It was a problem in Paul's day and it's a problem today for the simple reason that the basic nature of man is no different than it has ever been.

"Don't give the devil a foothold." Paul warns. And if you're dangling one foot in either camp then its so easy for him to grab hold of a trouser leg and pull you down.

This is why it's so important for us as a Christian community 2000 years after Paul wrote those words to look at our bibles and see how we can relate not only to the problems that the early church was experiencing, but also to see how God's word to His people then can also be God's word to his people today.

"Be imitators of God." Paul tells them.

As children of earthly parents don't you recognise thoughts, actions and moral decisions that you make as being broadly similar to those that your parents would make or have made. Sometimes we might wish otherwise, but like it or not we carry around with us the influences of our parents.

Likewise our own children will be influenced by our own lifestyle, ethics and morals. For some this will be a bad thing, where children learn from parents who have very few scruples and little regard for others, but for Christian parents and children…. Well, hopefully this will be an enriching experience from which they might grow into mature adults themselves.

It's about learning, and it's about growing.

And if we turn to our second reading from John's gospel we can follow this through with Jesus' own words.

"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."

Bread is a wonderfully sustaining foodstuff. We could look at the individual ingredients and concoct a sermon simply on those, the yeast, the salt, the grain which yields the wheat flour, the water which binds them all together - they all can have a spiritual significance which Jesus himself used in the stories that he told.

But let's look at the finished product and how we an relate that to the meaning that Jesus was inferring to the crowd who had so eagerly followed him all day, and seen him perform a culinary miracle with a few fish and some loaves of bread.

We eat bread and it is absorbed by our bodies. It is converted into the energy we need to live, work and grow. Complex carbohydrates broken down steadily to give us the sustenance we need as human beings. Protein builds up our strength. Vitamins and minerals ensure that our bodily organs and system function correctly. It is simple, nutritious and life-giving.

When Jesus started talking about 'Bread of Life' the crowd thought he was talking literally about bread, and immediately their thoughts turned to their stomachs and back to the manna that God had provided for His people when they were in exile. But no, Jesus tells them, he's not talking about the physical aspects of hunger.

Yes, they had just witnessed something of a miracle when so many were fed and satisfied from the meal he provided courtesy of a few small fish and a loaf or two of bread, but that wasn't about showing off his power - it wasn't some form of conjuring trick to impress. As always with Jesus there was a spiritual lesson to be learned.

What he wants them to grasp is that within Him is all the food that they need to grow spiritually, real bread that satisfies hunger forever, not just the rumbling stomachs and hunger pangs that they might be feeling at that particular place and time.

We eat in order to grow. It's spiritual hunger that Jesus is talking about here, and that's something that has consequences not only for now but for eternity. Bread cooked in the kitchen satisfies the physical hunger for a short while.

But by growing through the consumption of this"real bread" comes the promise of eternal life and a share in the Kingdom of God in this life, along with all the benefits that come from this.

And here we touch again upon the words of Paul

"Be imitators of God." Said the apostle Paul.

How can we possibly do that in our own strength?

Well, quite simply we cannot.

But what we can do is look to the One who is the Bread of Life. We can come to Him and be sustained by Him, learn from him, grow spiritually by the sustaining influence of his word and His Spirit in our lives, and put what we learn and understand - our new-found spiritual maturity - into practice in our daily lives.

We can look to the One who is the source of all Love and start to show love and compassion to others.

We can look to the one who is the source of all Truth, and make truth our starting point when it comes to communicating with those around us.

We can look to the One who is the source of all Wisdom, and put the foolishness of the world behind us.

We can look to the One who they called "Teacher" and learn those things which will build up our individual lives and the community that we call the Church.

We can look to the One who gave All without reserve or prejudice, and look to our own relationships and see how those can grow and be nurtured on this bedrock of love.

In other words we become imitators of God through understanding who Jesus is, by studying His word, by listening to Him in the quietness of our time together, by looking at the example of His life and selfless giving, by literally opening our lives up to be moulded and modelled into the person that we were created to be - a unique creation within whom can be discerned the love of the Creator.

Just as we can look at a person and sometimes see the parent shining through (and here I'm thinking of positive examples) so people should be able to look at us as individual Christians and as a worshipping community, and see something of our Heavenly Father shining through.

And no, that's not impossible because we have everything we need. We have God's word in black and white which presents the life and person of Jesus to us in a way that each of us can comprehend, however young, old, educated or not we happen to be. We have Jesus' own words as he presents Himself to us as the Spiritual food that will nourish us on our journey - and beyond.

We have the teaching of the apostles, and here particularly we read Paul's words as he leads us to contemplate the stark reality of the choice that the Church faced, both then and today in the way that the Christian community interacts internally and also externally with the world.

And we have the overriding promise of God that if we don't think we can make it on our own then all we have to do is ask

"Whoever comes to me I will never drive away."

"…live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

'Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.'



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