Imitate Me!

“I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. ”                                                                      1 Corinthians 4:16

Before I went into ministry, I worked in the corporate world.  I rode the train into Philadelphia every morning. This was a time when both men and women wore business suits every day.  I had suits with skirts and suits with pants.  And many of the men wore 3 piece suits, mostly with however, white or tan shirts.  These were the uniforms of the day.

One year, we hired a new senior executive from outside the company.  From the very beginning, he set a new style.  He wore pink shirts, and frequently sported a bow tie.  Almost every day, while others wore ordinary white or neutral business shirts, he wore a pink shirt and bow tie with his suit.  And despite his colorful wardrobe, he also began to move up in the company, receiving promotions and gaining power and status.  It wasn’t long before pink shirts started showing up on junior executives in his own and other departments.  They wanted to be like him!

Imitation, it has been said, is the purest form of flattery.  It’s also a natural reaction to seeing another’s success.  When basketball stars wear a particular brand of shoe, there are many who go out and buy that same shoe, hoping to be like LeBron James or Stephan Curry.  When a movie star endorses a beauty product saying she uses it, women will flock to the store to buy the same product.  And unfortunately, when a powerful public figure spews hate and discrimination, there are some in our society who will rush to imitate.

Just this summer, the Wellesley, Mass. school system reported that racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic online posts had been made by Wellesley High School students.  This is in an affluent, upscale suburb of Boston, and this kind of language had never been an issue there before.  Over the last year, we have heard too many racist comments and slurs against people groups, words that were likely imitated by these youth.  Is this what we want our culture to become?

The Apostle Paul says “Imitate me!”  And in 1 Corinthians, he expands that: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ!”  We don’t imitate Paul because we want to be like Paul; we imitate him because we want to be like Christ.  God sent us not a book of instruction, but a person, the Son, to show us how to live.  He is to be the one we imitate.

Paul makes it clear in Philippians what that kind of life looks like.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Let these attitudes fill your heart and direct your life.  Let us keep our focus on the God of Jesus Christ who calls us to live holy lives of love, grace and truth..

Prayer:  Heavenly master, help me to keep my eyes on you and your son, Jesus Christ.  Let my life reflect your love.  Let my heart be filled with your goodness.  Let those who look at me see a child of your kingdom who strives each day to be worthy of the grace you have given me.  For I ask it in Christ’s holy name.  Amen.   

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Call to Prayer for our Nation

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If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
                                                                               2 Chronicles 7:14

This past week’s events have left many people wondering, what can I do?  Over the months ahead, there will be many suggestions and opportunities to live out our faith as Christians in loving our neighbor, no matter who that might be.  But right now, I want to invite all of my friends to unite in prayer for our nation and her people.

To that end, I invite you to take time each evening this week to pause for a time of prayer and reflection.  A National Week of Prayer began Sunday evening at 9:06 pm.  Perhaps you would pause at 9:06 each night.  If that isn’t a convenient time, select another time and commit to praying each evening.  I invite you to pray for an end to violence in our communities, for safety both for our police and for persons of color.  Ask God to intervene and raise up a way forward through which we can be united as a people.
And you may want to pray for direction from God on how you personally could act to be salt and light to the community around you, helping to find peaceful ways to strengthen community relations and ensure justice for all people.
You are welcome to pray using your own words , but if you would like some direction for your prayer and meditation, the prayers and Scripture below may prove helpful.  Let us unite our hearts and minds together in prayer, knowing that God is present, working in ways seen and unseen, to bring about a world of peace, justice and love.
 
Bron
 
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
 
Psalm 33 selections
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humanity;
From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – 
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do…
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
 
From Alan Paton in the midst of Apartheid
O Lord, open my eyes
that I may see the need of others,
open my ears that I may hear their cries,
open my heart so that they need not be without succor.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak
because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor
because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to these places.
Open my eyes and ears that I may, this coming day,
be able to do some work of peace for thee.
 
Prayer of St. Francis
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I 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;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

 
And finally, from Bishop Desmond Tutu – Prayer for South Africa but just as applicable to the United States
Bless our beautiful land, O Lord,
with its wonderful variety of people,
of races, cultures and languages.
May we be a nation of laughter and joy,
of justice and reconciliation,
of peace and unity,
of compassion, caring and sharing.
We pray this prayer for a true patriotism,
in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. 
 
 
The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

Speaking the Truth in Love

Pastor’s Friday Reflection                                                                      image
 
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
                                                      Ephesians 4:14-16                  
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When my daughter, now over thirty, was about seven years old, she asked me one day if she could invite a new friend from school over to play.  I agreed, and a few days later she arrived home with her friend.  To my surprise, the friend was black.  I welcomed her and the two girls had a good time together.  Later, after her friend had gone, I asked my daughter why she hadn’t told me her friend was black.  Jenny looked up at me with a puzzled expression and said, “I wouldn’t tell you if my friend was blond, why would I tell you she was black?”  That brought me up against my own racism.
This week we have watched in horror as first two black men were killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then, just in the last 12 hours, eleven police officers were shot in Dallas, with five dead, during a Black Lives Matter rally.  The details of the Dallas shooting are still under investigation as I write this. These shootings all have one thing in common – race.  In his press conference after the St. Paul shooting, the governor of Minnesota asked, if the occupants of the car had been white, would the result have been the same. Answering his own question, he said probably not.  And I wondered, if the police officer had known Mr. Castile was a Montessori School administrator, would he have felt as threatened as he must have felt when he shot the man? Did racial profiling play a role?
Paul coined that wonderful phrase, “speaking the truth in love.”  As a society, we must examine our practices with an objective eye, recognizing where racism has been so ingrained in our systems of governance that we who are not persons of color no longer notice the discrimination.  In order for us to be a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” we have to be sure that those ligaments, those connectors, are just, fair and supportive rather than destructive.  We need to work strenuously to eliminate racism and all “ism’s” from our society.  We need to speak the truth about our society.
In the aftermath of Dallas, the good news is that most police officers are honorable people who work for the good of their community.  But the time has come for us as a nation to rise up and demand that we speak the truth in love – that some people should no longer carry a badge and gun, that racism exists and must be addressed, that justice is the right of all Americans regardless of the color of their skin.  Let none stand on the sidelines saying, this is someone else’s fight.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called those who experience such visible racism the “canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere…Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”  (dissent opinion in Utah v Strieff, last month)  Paul’s words take it one step further, making it clear that we are one body.  When any part of that body is unhealthy, the whole is unhealthy.  We must work together to create a society that reflects the love of God and the recognition that every human being is a beloved child of God.
Here in the suburbs, we are shielded from much of the blatant challenge of racism, but that doesn’t give us a pass on action.  Our affluence also means we are people of power, people who have the ability to demand change at a governing level – better community policing in underprivileged neighborhood, better training of police officers, body cams, community oversight, but also fair wages for police and responsible efforts to increase their safety.  Let us act within our own sphere of influence to eliminate racism.  Let us speak the truth in love to one another – not firing shots at those with whom we disagree as in Dallas, but lovingly and hopefully pointing out places where racism exists and working together to make changes.  After all, even those who are filled with racism are children of God who deserve our love, not our hate.  Speaking the truth in love, asking God to change our hearts, we can create a world that reflects the love and justice that God intends.
Prayer:  O loving God, I come to you this morning all to aware of my own biases, my own proclivities to judge people by external criteria like race.  Help me, Lord, to see instead as you see.  Let me recognize injustice when I see it; let me act to correct inequity.  Give me a heart that is both demanding of justice and filled with love as I seek to bring our world one step closer to your kingdom.  And, Lord, help me to examine myself to find those places where I fail to love my neighbor because of race or other isms.  Change my heart wherever that occurs, so that I may grow more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who both loves me and challenges me to be better.  Amen.
 
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