There’s a pretty funny string of commercials that’ve been making the rounds over the last year or so. Progressive Insurance puts these ads on and they feature Dr. Rick. Does this face look familiar? Have you seen these ads before? If you haven’t yet, I’m sure you will at some point.


So basically the gist of the commercials is this: Dr. Rick is a life coach that tries to teach young adults how NOT to become like their parents. So for example, one scene shows some twentysomethings walking through the store and one of them is talking on speakerphone for everyone to hear. Dr. Rick chastises the girl for doing this, because that’s something your parents would do. In another scene, a guy is asking the shopper next to him for his thoughts on a purchase. Dr. Rick intervenes. You don’t make small talk with strangers like that – that’s something your parents would do. And in another scene, a man with blue hair walks by. Don’t say anything, don’t bring attention to his appearance – because that’s something your parents would do – and you don’t want to become like your parents, according to these comical ads. Progressive’s point is this – “We can’t protect you from becoming your parents. But we can protect you when you bundle home and auto with us”


Maybe you once felt this way about your parents. What you thought was cool and what they thought was cool were two totally opposite things. Maybe that’s the case right now – your kids give you a hard time for the way you dress or talk or behave in public. Commercials like this one are humorous and they remind us that there is a generational gap between parent and child. Well, I’m here to tell you this morning that Progressive is wrong – spiritually speaking, at least. Progressive says that you don’t want to become like your parents. But Paul says the opposite. In our lives, we want to become more like God, our Heavenly Father. The way God our Father is, that’s what we want to be like. Ephesians 5:1-2 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. Some Bible translations take verse 1 and say “Be imitators of God”. There is no more blessed endeavor for our lives than to walk, breathe, live, behave as children of the light. To live a life of love. 


All the time in regular life, people like to imitate others. If I were a 10 year old boy playing Little League baseball, I might wear my uniform and spit sunflower seeds just like my idols on the baseball diamond. If I were a teenager who loved a band or music group, I might imitate them by dressing in the same style clothes they wear. My point is, if we want to mimic other people – it’s usually pretty easy. Change my hairstyle, my wardrobe, put some black lines under my eyes just like the ballplayers do to keep the sunlight out – imitating others is usually pretty easy. Well, if we want to imitate God and be more like God – it’s actually pretty tough. Today’s lesson is kinda like a part 2 to what we talked about last week. Last week we said that we want to leave our old ways of sin behind and walk as new people in Christ. We painted with a broad brush last week. But what exactly does it mean to be a new creation in Christ? What, specifically, does a new life in Christ look like? What does it mean to imitate God or follow his example? First, Paul tells us that imitating God means eradicating a number of different things from our lives: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Not “pause it” or “set it aside for now”. But eliminate it for good. Do you know how hard that is, to eliminate something destructive from your life? If you ever tried to quit smoking or cutting sugar or spending less time on your phone…it’s not easy. Same goes for these enemies of the heart. Old habits die hard.


If you’re like me, a week doesn’t go by where one of these ugly demons makes an appearance. Countless are the thoughts of a sinful mind. Sometimes these sins manifest themselves in our hands, our actions. But very frequently – one of the smallest members of our body, the tongue – does the deepest damage. I’m sure you don’t have to think too hard or think too far back to remember a time where your words were peppered with bitterness, directed towards someone else. Instead of using our tongues to lift up and encourage others, we get angry and awfully vicious, even with those we love and care about the most – our spouses, our kids, our parents, our friends. We talk behind the backs of others and tear down the character and reputation of the people we don’t care for. Don’t let the age-old saying fool you: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – That’s wrong, our words definitely can hurt others. But even more, a dirty mouth is a symptom of a much deeper problem. 


I read an article last week about dentists and dental hygienists. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes – they know your brushing habits and flossing habits (or lack thereof) the moment they lean you back in the chair. But even more, in the world of dentistry the mouth can reveal other underlying issues in your body. The state of your gums, what the inside of your cheeks look like – that can tip a dentist off to other underlying medical issues that need to be addressed. Spiritually, the mouth and the heart are so closely connected. Jesus, the Great Physician and here, the Great Dentist once said this: The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. James, the brother of Jesus also speaks about the mouth and tongue of a Christian – With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. If we’re going to imitate God, it requires a total overhaul of brain, lips, and heart – because in him is no darkness at all. 


That’s the first way that a Christian can imitate God, according to Paul. Clean house, gut it. Back up a dumpster and purge all of the rottenness out. But then, something else has to come in and take residence. So part 2 of imitating God is wearing the beautiful qualities of God. This is one of the more well-known Bible verses in the New Testament, maybe you even know it from memory – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. If we’re going to imitate God – here are three big ones. Kindness, compassion, forgiveness.


Seems easy enough, right? This is basically the sermon that the world preaches to itself every day. Love one another. Be kind! I bet that in less than 15 minutes of walking around Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle or any other big city you’ll see some sidewalk art, a store sign or flag calling you to embrace more of these values. I’ve gotten to know most of you pretty well now, and I think you’re very kind people. You’ve demonstrated that kindness to me personally and in my view numerous times in my time here. And I think you’d agree that, on the surface, its really not that hard to let someone into your lane of traffic or do an unrequested, unrequited chore around the house or offer a hand to someone who needs it. More or less, I think it’s easy to be kind to people who are kind to me and it’s also not too strenuous to show love to a complete stranger, with whom I have no track record, good or bad. But recall how that verse ends – “just as in Christ God forgave you” God poured out his kindness, compassion, forgiveness on sinners. People with hostile hearts and attitudes towards him. People who often want nothing to do with him. Now perhaps you see that these three qualities you hear about all the time – it’s not easy to do this at all. It’s very, very difficult. If we want to imitate God, it means showing kindness to those who are actively hostile and mean to us. If we want to imitate God, it means being compassionate to those who don’t deserve it. It means forgiveness – forgiving the one who has cut your heart so deep. Easy? Not at all. Difficult? So often, yes. 


Imitating our parents? Progressive says “don’t do it”. But God’s Word says “yes, do it!” Imitating people is pretty easy. Imitating God is so difficult. Feel overwhelmed yet? Well here’s the cherry on top – Jesus said during his sermon on the Mount – “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Heaven requires perfection. And saying “I was a good person” as your password at the pearly gates won’t get it done. Now make no mistake, we actually do imitate God all the time. But we’re imitators in the same vein as cover bands, nacho cheese, and faux fashion. Cover bands try to sound like the original band – but at their best, they’re still far off. You go to a movie or a game and they serve you that yellow gunk with chips and try to pass it off as “cheese”, but its not fooling anyone! Fake leather might work as your coat material, but it’s not as durable or authentic as real leather. Likewise, we try to imitate God, but sin gets in the way. The Spirit is willing but the body is weak. It can feel overwhelming to try and imitate God.


You know what would make imitating God an easier thing to do? If the pressure were off of us. If our salvation didn’t depend on us, this would be a much lighter endeavor to undertake. Well, guess what? That is your life. That is your reality! You are under no pressure to please God. Because his wrath over sin has been quenched. His anger is stilled. Our God and Father is pleased with all of us – because of Jesus. Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Jesus’s perfect life, perfect death and perfect resurrection was the perfect payment for sin. Fragrant. Pleasing. It is finished, God is satisfied. And since Jesus did it perfectly, what’s so striking and profound about God’s kingdom is that we reap the benefits of what Jesus did for us. That makes us God’s dearly loved children. As sinners, he loved you so deeply to rescue you and free you from your sin. As his dearly loved child today, his arms are ever open. Every Sunday you come and sit here having failed to perfectly imitate him as a spouse, friend, neighbor, employee, parent, child. You feel terrible and miserable and guilty. “But before the son could finish talking, the Father said “Quick, bring the fattened calf”. That’s how God treats you. Before you open your mouth to say “I have sinned in thought, word and deed – you’re forgiven. Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love. Nothing can change the way he feels about you! The pressure’s off of you. You’re dearly loved beyond measure – words we need to hear every day. 


The victory is already ours. And since our whole life is one of victory, we celebrate. And what does a Christian life of celebration look like? It looks like the powerful handful of verses we just mined through. Why do we as Christians still want to live new, pure, kind, compassionate and forgiving lives today? To answer that, I love 1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. We get to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus to a tired, worn out world. Someone’s only interaction with Christ might be through us in their lives. 


And that gets me to thinking about something from yesterday. In prep for the Summer Bash, I made little cards for our neighbors with various church information. What we offer, What we believe, who we are. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if I could leave “Who we are” blank? Here’s what I mean. What if our reputation preceded us? What if our actions spoke louder than our words? What if we became the kind of church that was known to those around us as being extravagant in kindness and compassion? What if when people thought of encouraging, kind, loving people, Messiah Lutheran Church, 2733 Marvin Road SE was the first thing that came to their minds? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if I never had to type up a “who we are” section again! What if we became more like our parents, our Heavenly Father? Amen.