They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And they (whoever they are?) are right.
And that is both comforting and kind of scary when you think about it. My children are going to learn how to behave and live by watching and copying me! Poor kids.
But think about it. We were created in the image of God to be made into His likeness. I know I’ve said this before, but it is such a foundational truth that it simply can’t be overemphasized.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18:
Brethren, we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing.
No wonder St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says things like “we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.” And then he writes ” Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing. If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”
Our Orthodox Christian faith isn’t a mere set of religious doctrines or philosophical insights about God. It is an actual way of life prescribed to us and for us based on an actual and living tradition that is lived out in a community of people. And, that, my friends, is always hard work. Always.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say if your experience of real community isn’t hard work for you, well, you ain’t doing it right!
Learning to live together in a community means the hard work internally of staying awake to your own behavior, words, attitudes, and actions because you set the example on how to live in front of others. You may respond “O father, not me. I’m a nobody. No one watches me as an example.” And my response would be, well, actually I think I’d just stare at you in unbelief. You do set an example for someone, and I bet you’d be surprised how many folks watch and learn from your life.
This work also is absolutely invaluable for your own spiritual growth. Because it teaches you about yourself. Do you see the genius of our Creator in making us for communion? So much important work is done through the hard work of learning how to get along with so many different people!
AND we don’t have to start from scratch! Foundationally, we have the example of the Holy Trinity to begin our learning. But if that seems to be too much of a reach, then look at the lives of the saints. And if that is still too much for you, look around you and notice the folks in your parish that seem to be an example of love and peace.
Today, as we come closer and closer to Bethlehem and the celebration of the enfleshing of God in Christ, let’s really embrace the call to be like Christ in being connected to each other. Let’s work hard to make our parishes icons of communion and family so that the rest of the world can find their way to being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, Your promised Second Coming isn’t meant to scare us or confuse us. It’s meant to focus us on what is truly important. We are meant to be focused and occupied with the Foundational Wisdom of the Faith and to be drawn closer to You and each other so that we will be like You. Help me, Lord, today, to see this vital wisdom and reject the temptations to be like anyone else, but You! Amen
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