“This one’s for the children”

“This one’s for the children”

Ephesians 5:1-2

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It is great to be back.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved our family vacation,
but it is good to be back on our home turf,
even if that turf is frozen.

Getting to spend time with one’s family
is something to be thankful for. And I am.
But about three days in to our family togetherness time
I started to feel like something was a little off.
Like my equilibrium wasn’t quite right.
I thought for a while and realized that what was feeling off
was that our family was together… ALL THE TIME!

See, when we are at home
we all have schedules to keep and work to do.
The kids have school and dance classes
and play dates
and Bri and I have meetings and visits
and sermons to write and people to talk to
and church calendars to plan.

Our time together as a family, on a regular basis,
usually amounts to an hour or two a day
on either side of dinner.
Otherwise we are scattered.

But while we were away,
we were with our kids every singe minute.
It was no wonder that when we were on vacation
I felt ready for bed by 8pm.

For me it was a bit more tiring than usual,
for my wife, it was exhausting.

Bri suffers from chronic headaches and migraines
which give her great sensitivity to light and sound.
So two little girls
running and screaming and playing CONSTANTLY
during the waking hours was rough on her.

Now, she handled it like a champ,
she played more Go Fish and read more silly stories
than I have ever seen.
And she was super-mom
in Grandma and Grandpa’s swimming pool.

But I pretty much had to put her to bed
at the same time I put the kids to bed
because could not escape the truth…
that we had to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Now I tell you this so that you will have some context
for a question Bri asked me on Valentine’s Day last week.

It started out a typical Wednesday.
The only difference was that we had a joint Ash Wednesday service that night.
I took the kids to school
I did some writing and planning for a couple of hours,
picked up Braeleigh brought her home had lunch,
worked on planning some special services that were coming up, and then left to go pick up Michaela from school.

When we got home Michaela went to do her chores
and I sat down in the living room with Bri.
But she wasn’t watching the Olympics like I thought she would be
and she wasn’t working on her computer.
She was reading something on her phone… rather intently.

Before I could say anything
she looked at me and as straight faced and serious
as she has ever been she asked me
“Do you think we could homeschool the girls?”

Now having just spent ten days
of non-stop family togetherness
and seeing its effects on us
I figured it had to be the set up for a joke or something.

But she was serious, and as soon as I realized that,
I asked “What happened now?”
Knowing full well I didn’t want to hear the answer.

A little after 2pm on Wednesday
Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old kid,
walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland, Florida, and ended the lives of 17 people.

It is an all too familiar story.
It is a tragedy that is occurring in our nation
with frightening regularity.
And I am honestly not sure which sermon I should preach here.

Do I preach about holding on to hope?
Do I preach about looking for more things to do than pray?
Do I spin up the sermon from 4 shootings back
where I explained just how tired I am of all of this?

As I was trying to write this sermon,
I rewrote this section a half-dozen times.
And each time I wound up deleting it
because I knew I had said it all before.

And if I repeat my preaching
in reaction to these mass shootings,
just like the news media
repeats their reporting of these national tragedies,
just like our conversations with our friends and neighbors
repeats when discussing these atrocities.
Nothing will change.

So, people of God, beloved of Christ, it’s time for a change.

In Ephesians chapter 5
Paul tells the saints to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

Now I want you to remember,
step into the way back machine in your mind
and think for a moment,
about something we’ve surely all experienced or seen.

One of your kids
or a child you know from your neighborhood,
somewhere sometime you have seen this,
a young child who puts on their dad’s rain-boots
or their mom’s hat and tries to walk around
pretending to be their dad, or their mom.

For me it wasn’t rain-boots but typing.
My dad wrote a lot when I was a kid
so there was always a typewriter around
and I used to love to sit at that thing
and press the keys faster and faster
like I had seen my dad do until, of course,
all the keys got bunched up and stuck.

My kids want to play my guitar,
which is why it hangs on a wall out of reach
instead of on a floor stand.

They want to type on my computer.
They imitate us.

And sometimes it is annoying,
most of the time it is adorable,
but this is what God asks of us,
to look at God to watch God and to imitate God.

And not in the big miraculous ways,
though if that is your gift have at it,
but in the way God interacts with humanity,
with neighbor and stranger and friend. Watch and imitate.

And you may say
“Pastor Mike, I look out at the world
and I try to watch God but it’s awfully dark out there
and I just can’t see it.
God doesn’t appear to be doing much
so when I don’t do much, in a way I am imitating God.”

And I may say “touché”
but I will counter by telling you
that God is trying to work,
desperately trying to build a kingdom of peace,
the kingdom of God on earth.

And the problem, the reason we are not seeing it,
the reason the darkness is so encompassing,
is because we are failing to hold the light.
We are waiting for someone else to come along and do it.

The gospels tell us that if we want to see God
we need only look to Jesus.
If we have seen Jesus we have seen God.
And so we have to start by looking.
We have to start by not only knowing Jesus
but doing everything we can to imitate him, as beloved children.

Kids imitate the people they look up to, their heroes.
In the beginning it’s usually their parents.
Then we move on to firefighters and doctors and nurses.

Then we get even more refined,
some follow after philosophers,
others political activists,
and those who are great in the world of sports-ing.
Still others follow after captains of industry.
We follow our heroes, we imitate them.

As kids its as simple as slipping into our parents shoes,
or putting on the plastic helmet you got
when your class visited the fire department.

But as we get older,
as our heroes take on more specific forms,
as our goals in life begin to coalesce,
that imitation takes work,
it takes commitment and determination,
it takes a willingness to sacrifice.

If, as my girls grow,
decide they want to be prima ballerinas,
and tour the world dancing for thousands of people,
they cannot just show up to dance class once a week
and seriously expect to achieve that goal.

Their lives have to take on a more singular focus.
They have to be committed
to several hours a day of dancing
and that means sacrificing other things they may want to do,
time with friends or other after school activities.

They have to sacrifice sleep
so they can keep up on their school studies
and practice their dancing.
They have to hit the weights at the gym to strengthen their muscles.
If they want to be Anna Pavlova
then they need to commit their lives to that task.

For us, in the church, as children of God,
as Christians, there is only one hero we seek to follow,
to imitate, to be like, and that is Jesus 
and we cannot follow Jesus if we don’t first, last, and always
come back to these scriptures and learn from him.
If we seek to be imitators of God
we must commit our lives to that task.

If we imitate Christ,
we will seek and befriend the outcasts
rather than shutting the strangers out.
If we imitate Christ, we will offer grace to others – and to ourselves. We’ll proclaim that none of us is without sin –
by being honest with our own struggles and shortcomings –
and we’ll also proclaim the good news
that God loves us anyway.

If we imitate Christ,
we have to learn to listen to those who disagree with us.
If we imitate Christ,
we remember that he warned
that those who live by the sword will die by it.

If we imitate Christ,
we have to figure out what it looks like to go the second mile,
to walk in someone else’s shoes, and to turn the other cheek.

If we imitate Christ, 
 we cannot help but weep over the broken cities,
over a people whom God wants nothing more
than to gather up like lost ducklings
and shelter under God’s wings.

If we imitate Christ,
we will keep feeding the hungry,
not because they jump through all the right hoops,
but because they’re hungry, and we have enough to share.

If we imitate Christ,
we will keep speaking truth to power,
even when it’s unpopular, even when it’s hard to do.

If we imitate Christ,
we will persevere in prayer,
even if the sweat and tears fall down like drops of blood.

And then we will get up from our prayer
and go back into the world
and be a part of how God transforms the world.

If we imitate Christ,
we will hold the light for the world – and my goodness,
how the world needs that light.

We will work for healing;
we will advocate for health care and wholeness
and educators and children,
and we will refuse to be silenced
by the deep pockets who value profits more than lives.

And friends, if we imitate Christ –
we can’t forget where a lifetime of relentless grace
and bold truth and justice mixed with mercy got him:
he ended up on a cross.
Alone. Crying out, “My God, where are you now?”

But if we imitate Christ,
we will also remember that that is never where the story ends.

God makes a way where there is none.
God brings life where death reigns.
God transforms lives,
God brings hope in despair,
and God is still in the resurrection business.

It’s not easy. It takes time.
And there are times when we are weary,
and we want to give up.

Jesus was there, too.
He prayed to be spared – and then he got up anyway.

May we have the courage and the faith to do the same.
God, and the world, our neighbors and our children,
need nothing less from us.

May we be people of grace.
May we be people of hope.
May we be people of bold and persistent faith.
And as we imitate Christ,
may God use our lives to transform the world. Amen? Amen.

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