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October 14, 2020

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it’s also one of the best ways to learn how to do something. This is particularly true when one is in the early stages of learning. I’m not an expert in pedagogy or child development, but I’ve observed it time and again. We learn to speak by mimicking others. Before children develop their own particular style of dancing, or playing the piano, or pitching a baseball, they imitate their teachers or coaches. Once this foundation is in place, a person can create their own distinctive style, method, or approach.

There are no doubt other ways of learning, and creativity can be stifled by too strict a method. Still, imitation has its place. It is, in fact, the approach Paul notes in 1 Thessalonians. The Sunday lectionary moves us into this epistle this Sunday; it is likely the first-written book in the New Testament.

Paul is pleased to see that the Christians in Thessaloniki have been imitating Paul and his colleagues, who have themselves sought to imitate Christ. In part, this means enduring suffering and persecution, just has Christ suffered for us. But it also means living with Spirit-inspired joy. To be a follower of Christ is to face and endure the hard things of this world for the sake of others, and to do so with joy. This is not because we find joy in the suffering itself, but because the power of the gospel transcends suffering. We have been joined to Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection. We may suffer in the night, but joy comes with the morning.

May we faithfully follow Christ, imitating him and the saints who have walked the way before us. In this joy, we’ll find our own particular, peculiar, personal style, signs of God’s grand diversity that flows from the singularity of the empty tomb.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of joy, thank you for sending your Son. In him we have the gift of life. Give us good courage to follow in his footsteps, trusting the Word that shows us the way. Fill us, Holy Spirit, with joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Anders, 1.5 years old, in my old office at St. Peter’s. He seems to be copying me. August 20, 2013.

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