By Rev. Greg Moore
Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models.” Philippians 3:17 CEB
Imitation gets a bad rap.
The word alone conjures up thoughts of inferiority. Images of imitation cheese, imitation butter and imitation Rolexes flash before our eyes as examples of, “not the real thing.” In the business world, the term “imitation product” is synonymous with “counterfeit product”.
We in the church see it differently.
For those who are following Jesus, imitation is one of the ways God is saving us.
We Christians are those who are seeking to imitate the life of Jesus in all that we say and do. When God takes flesh in the person of Jesus, the church mothers and fathers tell us, we are given an example worth imitating. When we see Jesus forgive his enemies, we imitate him when confronted with those who make enemies of us. When we see Jesus break bread with friends and strangers, we imitate by sharing what is on our table and giving thanks. When we see Jesus often withdraw for prayer and solitude with God, we imitate him, offering our prayers and solitude in union with Christ’s offering for us.
Of course, this is nothing new. When Thomas à Kempis, the 15th-century imitator of Christ, wrote the beloved devotion, “The Imitation of Christ” he was highlighting the truth that Christians imitating Christ is not a substitute for Christ’s absence. Imitation is the way that the world experiences Christ’s presence in every generation. The body of Christ imitating the life of Christ is still the way that Jesus takes up room and moves in the world.
Naturally, Thomas learned from his holy friends, who were imitating the life of Jesus with him. They taught him how to love, heal, feed, and forgive like the One they imitated. They learned it from those who went before them. They sought to live out Paul’s challenge to the church in Philippi, to imitate Him in order to become the real Presence they were called to be.
Here’s the point: people learn how to follow Christ as they imitate the Christ they meet in each other. Imitation is the only real form of discipleship.
For the followers of Jesus called Methodist, we learn to imitate Jesus by creating and cultivating holy friendships. We call this, “relational discipleship.” Together, with our holy friends, we practice imitating Christ until all heaven breaks out.
For the month of November, our weekly posts will be about stories of holy friendships where people are imitating each other and Christ. May their stories encourage, challenge and inspire us in our holy friendships. May we imitate what you see Christ doing in and through them. Through our shared imitation, may we experience the real presence of Christ.