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How to be a Genuine Imitation

There is a story from India of a poor grass cutter who found a beautiful stone in the jungle. He had often heard of people finding valuable diamonds and thought this must be one. He took it to a jeweler and showed it to him with delight. Being a kind and sympathetic man, the jeweler knew that if he bluntly told the grass cutter that his stone was worthless glass, the man would either refuse to believe it or else fall into a state of depression. So instead, the jeweler offered the grass cutter some work in his shop so that he might become better acquainted with precious stones and their value.

Meanwhile, the man kept his stone safely locked away in a strongbox. Several weeks later, the jeweler encouraged the man to bring out his own stone and examine it. As soon as he took it out of the chest and looked at it more closely, he immediately saw that it was worthless. His disappointment was great, but he went to the jeweler and said: “I thank you that you did not destroy my hope but aided me instead to see my mistake on my own. If you will have me, I will stay with you and faithfully serve you, as you are a good and kind master.”

His stone, rather than valuable, was a lesser a stone, a poor substitute. The grass cutter did not know the real thing when he saw it. Sometimes we can’t tell the real thing, but we can tell the fake. No matter what clothes I wear or what vocabulary I use, I will never be able to come across as a gangster rapper. Wearing the clothes and using the lingo would just make me an imposter, not the real thing.

Imposters. Fakes. Wannabees. That’s what the first Christians were thought of by some who lived around them. In fact the very name Christian was a term used to make fun of the people who wanted to be like Jesus. In the earliest days after Jesus death and resurrection, the followers of Jesus described their approach to Judaism as “The Way.” It was The Way for they taught and practiced the way of Jesus. You find this in Acts chapter nine where it says Saul went in search of “any belonging to the Way.”

The ones Saul sought to persecute were those belonging to The Way. The name change to “Christian” came in modern-day Turkey. Two chapters later in the Book of Acts we are told “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” What we are not told is that the term meant “Little Christ” and it was used to make fun of those who wanted to be like Jesus Christ. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, so rather than the positive association we have of someone wanting to be Christ like, the term Christian was more like calling a person a “Little Messiah.”

But the Christians took the name on willingly as they saw a desire to be like Jesus as an important part of belonging to The Way. They didn’t consider themselves fakes or imposters, for their faith was authentic and their desire to be like Jesus was genuine. They knew that they were not the valuable gem stone worth a fortune, but they also understood that they could be transformed over time into something more like the image of God within them.

Paul told the Christians in Ephesus they should, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Thomas à Kempis put it this way in his 14th century book The Imitation of Christ, “On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.”

There is a story the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear their duck preacher. The duck preacher quacked on eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left telling the preacher what a stirring sermon it was and then they waddled back home. Not a single duck flew.

If you go to church week after week you are learning how to live a more Christ like life. It’s like getting flying lessons. But if you have been waddling on home unchanged now is a good time to consider what you need to change to be more authentically you—a genuine imitation of Christ.

The story I began with was right. We can better tell something is a cheap imitation when we compare it to something of real value. But the deeper truth is that the real value is within you. I know this because I know that you are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s how God made you to be even if you don’t act it. 

The key is to begin to live out that essential nature, that image of God within you by loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t matter what you believe if you never act on it.

What would you need to change to be less of an imposter, a fake Christian? What would you need to change to become more of a genuine imitation of Jesus? What would you need to change to become more genuinely you while genuinely living as God calls you to live? Ask God and then have the courage to act on what our Lord shows you.

            (The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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