Imitating Jesus. Modeling Jesus. Learning to See Our Neighbors and Ourselves (Part 2). Ephesians 5:1-2

The Apostle Paul calls his fellow Christians to imitate God in order to live up to the reputation of God’s family.

He challenges generations of believers: “walk in the way of love,” as Christ did.

This is about our loving the way Jesus loved.

This is about our modeling love the way Jesus modeled love.

And Jesus always acted in line with the Father’s will.

The love of Jesus embraced outcasts, pardoned sinners, healed the hopeless, challenged the complacent, and willingly sacrificed everything so that we sinners could be reconciled with God.

Modeling Sacrificial love is our most visible and defining family trait.

The only reason we are in the family of God in the first place is because of God’s extravagant love.

As Paul calls us to imitate God’s love, he reminds us that we are defined by it—we are “dearly loved children.”

Our own love emerges from the depths of that eternal love.

Our love is an overflow of the love God has personally shown to each of us. Love is the DNA test that determines paternity with our Father God (1 John 4:7-8).

God loves you because you are his child, you are his child because he loves you.

Children of God are called: “be caught up into the infinite circle of God’s love.”

We are most like our Father in Heaven, most godly, when we allow that love to flow into us from above and flow like a river from us into the lives of others.

Ephesians 5:1-2 The Message

Wake Up from Your Sleep

1-2 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Theologian Brennan Manning spoke a challenging truth, when he wrote,

“How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.”

Treating our neighbors and ourselves as eminently valuable is not easy.

And this leads us to the next thing we learn from Jesus ….

How could Jesus communicate the reality of what he saw?

Well… I think Jesus also teaches us to…

3. Ho to exercise the power of initiating.

Referring back to the Narrative Luke 19:1-10,

Jesus does not sit back to see if Zacchaeus will come out and express his hope.

He is high up in a Sycamore tree…. It’s sort of obvious that he is only hoping to “see” Jesus from an “untouchable” distance. So, Jesus takes the initiative.

Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:5 Amplified)

When Jesus reached the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

Can you sense how significant that is? So many people can seek attention by becoming shy or fearful or by becoming dramatic and demanding …. but our demanding attention is entirely different than simply being given attention.

There is nothing more powerful than our initiative

…because it expresses what is really within us

…not merely responding to what we HAVE to respond to

…but what we WANT to respond to.

Love never just does what is required.

Love doesn’t just see people as an obligation

Love does not just see people … as a duty to fulfill when it is “required.”

Love initiatives: (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Amplified)

Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. Love never fails [it never fades nor ends].

Our initiative speaks…… Are we risking it all trying to climb the Sycamore Tree?

Jesus makes a significant point of this when there is conflict in a relationship.

We won’t venture outside of our “comfort zones” into all that he teaches…

but the one striking element is that when… either … we should decide to stay on the ground, battle the crowds or should go… immediately, directly, to the tree.

And while we are deciding on whether we will “climb the Sycamore Tree” or if we will do what is always customary, stay on the ground battling the crowds,

If Christ is on our minds, if we reflect on our own…we realize he is teaching us how we treat another amidst life’s conflict… reflects how we will honor them… whether we can be trusted to care for their good and not just our protection.

It communicates whether they really matter to us.

The key word is “go” … we are to go pursue setting things right.

Do we realize we have the power of initiative with some people who are afraid?

And finally…we see from Jesus… the power to…

4. Embody the reality of grace with our presence.

If we step back and look at this scene… it was loaded for Zacchaeus.

The scene was full of hatred…. animosity … and judgment…

and Jesus took the initiative and stepped decisively, directly, into that space.

Imagine the awesome significance of Jesus looking beyond the crowds and calling out Zacchaeus…. then announcing he would be coming over for lunch.

Imagine what it communicated to everybody.

In essence… Jesus took the initiative, stepped into the line of fire… directly into harm’s way, he brought the power of his presence into the space of judgment.

And isn’t this the example Jesus was setting for us by doing it so frequently?

He was accused of being a friend of sinners…. because he didn’t join in practice and purpose of one group riling itself up, condemning, canceling one another.

It was the space he was unhesitatingly chose to be seen by everyone standing in.

When a woman was brought before him who had been caught in adultery.

When those who were disabled or diseased were shinned… or children told to be quiet… or a Samaritan woman deemed ethnically unclean.

It could lead some to think Jesus was either ignoring their sin… or ignorant of it.

The presence of Jesus was never one of ignorance…but of divine insight… he didn’t see less… he intentionally, innately saw more of our neighbors than us.

He didn’t worry about condoning their behavior…because he wasn’t.

Never with the slightest compromise of his own righteousness

In fact, what spoke volumes was he never saw these moments as a podium to speak about tax collecting… prostitution… or politics or government because the point was not that he didn’t see the outworking of sin…but that he saw more than the working of sin – but saw sinners for whom salvation was good news.

Some may recall that when he spoke to the Samaritan woman who had come out in the middle of the day to get water at the nearby well…

She said… “how is it that you a Jew speak to me a Samaritan… and a woman?”

She’s saying, “Don’t you see me like everyone else?”

She is saying, “Aren’t you as biased and prejudiced as everyone else?”

She is saying, “Are you here to try and cancel my life like everyone else is?”

Are you just that blind and ignorant …unaware of who I am, what I have done?

Jesus would answer that by asking her to go get her husband. And that opened up her heart to know he saw so much more… yet he did not simply reject her.

It was always clear if one looked… that Jesus was not PARTICIPATING in the behaviors of others…nor was he giving PERMISSION or CREDENCE to the behaviors of others…. He was simply being among, present, with such people.

What we can learn from Jesus …

is that our willingness to move away from what is “customary prejudices and biases” is simply to be among and present with those who presume judgment… can speak of our “above and beyond” efforts of imitating Jesus seeing “more.”

Jesus always risked his own reputation. In a world in which people rarely defy the obvious power of social reputation… Jesus showed the power to be trusted to truly, selflessly, serve the interest of others more than his own social interests.

If we want to love God, our neighbors and ourselves like Jesus… we will have to mature in being trustworthy… of being those who won’t just serve our social status… who will come be with someone who our friends may look down upon.

Are we or are we not someone who someone else can share their fears and failures with…and know that we won’t use it to serve our own personal gain?

This is essential to becoming safe people.

So, we would do well and better to imitate and model Jesus: embrace the Love of the Father and power of our presence. We may need to enter the space of grace.

Luke 19:1-10Amplified Bible

Zaccheus Converted

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector [a superintendent to whom others reported], and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, but he could not see [a]because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran on ahead [of the crowd] and climbed up in a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus reached the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So Zaccheus hurried and came down and welcomed Jesus with joy. When the people saw it, they all began muttering [in discontent], “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a [notorious] sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “See, Lord, I am [now] giving half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will give back four times as much.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he, too, is a [[b]spiritual] son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

That day… so many people could not fully see all that was going on around them. When someone (Jesus) saw more… someone came down from a tree….

I believe that each of us have a desire to help people both climb up to see Jesus, come down from hiding in the trees… where they hope nobody will see them.

The visual exchange between Zacchaeus and Jesus is unique in some respects…

People aren’t looking at us as the Messiah… if they did, they may not be so quick to look for us or to receive us… or to change with us…. but it DOES capture what our world needs. It captures how we can climb, mature grow in loving like Jesus.

It speaks to how we receive God.

It speaks to how we receive our neighbors.

It speaks to how we receive ourselves.

It speaks to how we experience God’s love through resurrected Jesus Christ.

It speaks to how we experience the love of God and model it for our neighbors.

It speaks to how I experience the Love of God and become inspired to share it.

it speaks to how others approach God,

It speaks to how willing our neighbors are to approach God and approach us.

It speaks to how our neighbors are to approach the Christ in us

It speaks to how willing our neighbors are to experience the Christ in us.

It speaks to how approachable we are… how safe we are.

It speaks to how approachable God is.

It speaks to how approachable Jesus is.

It speaks to exactly how worthy Jesus is to be the model of our maturing lives.

Ephesians 5:1-2Amplified Bible

Be Imitators of God

Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father]; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another—practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God [slain for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.

Christ as Our Only Example …

When we read a passage like the one in our Scripture for today, we recognize that God is totally different from us.

Christian teachers sometimes talk of God as being “wholly other.” That teaching reflects the words of God himself through Isaiah the prophet:

“To whom will you compare me?

Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One…

“I am the LORD,

and there is no other.” (Isaiah 40:25; 45:18)

Although the Spirit works in us to make us more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), believers do not become divine. We cannot become God, but in God’s strength alone we can become godly. Sadly, in this life we still remain sinful, but through God’s charity, forgiveness and redemption we are reconciled to our Maker.

Except for the example of Jesus, who is divine as well as human, there is no human achievement that provides an adequate example for us.

So, we must rely on what God himself has done in Christ by his Spirit.

He showed us what love is.

God the Father has provided for our salvation, and Jesus, the Son of God, has given himself as the penultimate sacrifice in our place to be our Savior.

The Holy Spirit helps us to receive and live out that love.

So, all three persons of the Trinity work together for our salvation, for our good.

I imagine that there is someone in each of our lives…. who we can help climb up and come down from a tree… out of the place of not feeling safe in how we live.

Is there someone in your life that may need to know that you see more than others see….

More than they can, see?

Are there people in your life that need to experience that you are safe?

And how about ourselves?

Do we know that we can both climb up, come down from the Sycamore Tree?

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

I want to offer all of us a short prayer that has been serving me to take hold and stay ahold of life in God.

God, I see the Sycamore Tree Zacchaeus Climbed.

What should I do now? Climb into its heights or chop it down for my firewood?

If I choose to Climb, … what then?

Do I hide in it, remain anonymous or make myself known to Jesus from it?

I know Jesus is coming down the road …

I see the dust rising up from where he is approaching the crowds and me.

Do I fight against the crowds to see him, to touch the fringes of his garment?

I see the Sycamore Tree again ….

I see its branches inviting me to come forward ….

Do I stay on the ground or do I risk everything to climb into its heights?

God, I belong to you.

May your will become my will.

May your love become my love.

May your neighbor become my neighbor.

Today, may I be a better imitator and model of the life your Son has given to me.

Lord, grant us the love to serve others with such selfless devotion that our kindness will help transform their lives and draw them to Jesus, the source of all love. In his name we pray. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

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