August 02, 2021
The Proper 14B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 6:35, 41-51 from the Lectionary Gospel; 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 34:1-8 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Ephesians 4:25-5:2 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Gospel: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 76 (Lord’s Day 28)
John 6:35, 41-51
Author: Chelsey Harmon
The lectionary started us in John 6 a with the feeding of 5,000+ miracle, then Jesus began to share about his relationship with the world as the bread of life. As the bread of life, Jesus offers to spiritually nourish all who come to him for eternity; a seat at the never-ending table simply requires reception and belief. Starting with this week’s text, you may want to consider approaching these final three weeks in John 6 based on the series of questions the people ask Jesus, as their questions point to what hinders our ability as humans to simply believe.
This week, John 6.35, 41-51: “How can you be from heaven?”
The challenge: God does not make sense.
Next week, John 6.51-58: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”
The challenge: God offends us.
The final week: John 6.56-69: “Who can accept these teachings?”
The challenge: Can we accept God’s work and ways?
Spoiler alert! The answer is always the same: God. God makes it possible. God does it. God.
If you are interested in this sort of structure, in his commentary on John, Dale Bruner actually outlines 10 questions between verses 25 and 71. But, on to this week…
How can you be from heaven?
Having heard Jesus say that he is the bread of life and that they will never be hungry or thirsty spiritually, it seems that the part that the people got stuck on next is the idea that Jesus came down from heaven. This would make Jesus different than themselves, and different from Moses (to whom they earlier compared him). How can Jesus be from heaven if they know his mom and dad? Maybe even watched Jesus grow up?
Not to mention the fact that in their collective story as the Jewish people, when God did something among them by “coming down from heaven,” most of the time, it was pretty unforgettable. It stood out. From the plagues to manna and quail; a pillar of fire to communal exile… the hand of God was not so subtle as a baby born in a manger.
Jesus is implying that what they have seen with their own eyes and the very basics of being human are not true for him even though he is just like them. It literally does not make sense.
And that’s exactly right. God literally does not make sense to the world that he has made. It’s the reason why we speak of both general and special revelation, of natural and revealed theology. There are things we come to know about God by the way the world works, but then there are things that we can only come to know about God if we receive them from God through revelation. God stands both within his created order and outside of it.
And God is the one who can raise us up out of all that we know of this world and teach us about the miraculous and eternal. Notice what God is described as doing as the bread of life throughout this pericope: (1) the Father sent the Son; (2) the Father makes us be drawn to the Son; (3) the Son will raise us up; (4) the Son came down from heaven; (5) the bread comes down from heaven (see textual points below on the difference between 4 and 5); (6) God teaches and speaks to us; and (7) Jesus, as the bread of life, will give his flesh for the life of the world. God makes it all possible for us. God is the active agent.
Jesus is telling them that there are things that they need to accept, including accepting that they do not make sense in the context of this world.
The struggle to accept what does not make sense when it comes to belief in God hasn’t gone away. As the Enlightenment was birthed and some began to wonder how to make sense of religion and belief and its place in the modern world, the need for special revelation—of any sort of knowledge outside of what we could reach on our own with human reason—was rejected by many of the thinkers of the age. Others tried to present Christianity as the prime or “Natural Religion” that was the most reasonable of all the world religions (e.g., Immanuel Kant) because Christianity at least resulted in a strong moral duty among its adherents. What many of these philosophies shared as their ideological foundation was the idea that there is a hard divide between the realm of “God” (the noumenal) and the realm of this world (the phenomenal). We can’t really know much about the noumenal, or about God for that matter, because we can’t access it through our rational mind. But, the philosophers argued, we can know and trust and build our lives on things about this world, the phenomenal, because we can empirically study it. Philosophers and Theologians have been trying to parse the boundary between these two realities, of heaven and earth and their interaction with one another, for as long as we humans have been around.
Just as the people with Jesus did. “How can you be from heaven? We know you’re from here, Jesus.” They saw Jesus in the things of this earth: being born, living and breathing and working just like them. How could he be from something, somewhere, else? It isn’t rational.
There is much to our knowledge of God that is rational. We can look at the wonders of ecosystems and our own biology and marvel at the order and the way all things, when working according to their design, work for our good and for life. General revelation is a way to come to know things about God, and especially God’s providence.
But there are some more foundational things that we have to have revealed to us by God to be able to believe, and often those are the messages we hear that lead us to not just knowing things about God, but to actually know God.
Over the last two weeks, the people who came to Jesus kept talking about signs—what would Jesus show them so that they might believe what he was saying about himself? In this section, Jesus tells them (again) that it isn’t about what they will see. It is about what they will learn from God, or in other words, what they will believe without seeing because they can accept the work of the triune God.
If we could be wholly rational about faith, then we wouldn’t need God at all. We wouldn’t need anything to “spiritually eat” the bread of life that comes down from heaven. That’s why, Jesus says, the Father draws us to himself. Because if we’re in charge, we won’t turn towards the heavenly realm, we’ll keep looking around the earthly one to try to make sense of things. (As we saw last week, switching our mindset from full bellies to hearts full of wonder isn’t a quick change unless stirred by God.) It’s also why Jesus says that he continues to come down as the bread of life, inserting more and more of the age to come into the present world until that final day when all that there is is the noumenal (God realm) for the rest of time.
Even that promise doesn’t make sense to us! The reality is that the earth is finite, but the promise is that we have an eternal reality that Jesus, as the bread of life, raises us into. Our present steps into “forever” come because God the Father started us on the path, Jesus nourished us on the journey, and actually delivers us into our destiny.
We cannot reason our way into believing that. That, like we heard last week, is a revelation that needs to be accepted as part of Christ’s spiritual nourishment as our bread. Last week, Jesus told us that God gives us the gift of belief and all we have to do is “eat it” and thereby integrate it into ourselves. This week, Jesus expands the description of the work of God but keeps our activity the same. All have to do is eat the living bread that is Jesus Christ and we will not die—not even when this world as we know it comes to an end.
This pericope is chock-full of participles; paying attention to the tenses used on those participles, we see that an important theological point is made without being explicitly stated. We’ll focus on two of them as they refer to Jesus coming as the bread of life in both the present and past (aorist) tenses.
- In verse 43, Jesus says that the Father sent him (past tense participle); this implies the specific occurrence of the Incarnation was a one-time event.
- In verse 50, Jesus says that the bread (him) comes down (present tense participle); implying that he continues to feed us even now even though he is bodily not with us anymore.
- In verse 51, both tenses are used: Jesus says that he is the living bread (present tense participle) that came down (past tense participle).
In other words, Jesus came down in a unique way to give his flesh so that the world might have life; but even though he only did that once, he continues to nourish and provide life to the world even now. We didn’t miss out on justification because we weren’t there, and we continue to be sustained by God’s providence today.
Two images of God came to mind as I read this text and took note of the God-active language. As we saw above, God the Father is described as sending Christ as well as drawing us to Christ. The set of actions made me think of some of the playground introductions I’ve witnessed, as one parent encourages (and sometimes forces) their child to make a new friend. Sure, sometimes it’s out of desperation to get the kid out of their hair, but really, parents do it because it’s good for their kids to get to know, be kind to, and experience relationships with others. The Father knows that Jesus is exactly what we need as his children. That’s why he sends him to be the bread of life for the world, and why he nudges us forward to seek and follow and hope after him.
The other image that came to mind was the way God seems like a strategist in this passage. God sends himself to us in Jesus, he draws us to himself, he is the one who raises us up, and the one who teaches us. Up, down, side-to-side, God is at work in every direction to corral us for himself—like the good shepherd that he is!
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Author: Scott Hoezee
I have this theory that although the actors who win the Academy Award earn the award for the entirety of their performances in the movies in question, there is often (maybe always) one key moment in those films that really cinches things. So in Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks is impressive throughout but it’s that moment when he finds out he has a son and then with choked emotion asks if the boy has any developmental challenges like his father—“Is he smart or . . . or is he . . .?”—that did viewers in emotionally and earned Hanks another golden statue. Father and son moments are like that.
The moment that very likely won Marlon Brando the Oscar for Best Actor in the movie The Godfather occurred in a funeral parlor and is also a father and son moment, albeit devastatingly different. The mafia king’s son, Sonny, had been mowed down in a fierce machine gun ambush at a highway toll booth. The scene is gruesome as Sonny is riddled with scores of bullets. (The actor, James Caan, who played Sonny once said that the special effects crew told him they had never before put so many “pips”—the little explosive charges that can make it look like clothing had been pierced by a bullet—onto a single actor!) Later, in the funeral parlor, Don Corleone (Brando) tells the funeral director to do what he can to make the man presentable so his mother would not have to see him in this dreadful shot-up condition. Then with emotion straining through every muscle in the Don’s face, he mournfully says “Look how they massacred my boy.”
It is a terribly sad scene.
It is also a scene fraught with the history of a violent man who had raised a violent, ill-tempered son in a mafia world where murder is considered “just business.” The sorrow the old mafia kingpin felt for his son was something his own actions had made highly probable if not inevitable.
Kind of like King David with his boy Absalom.
The history-fraught backstory here is pretty well known but would have to be reviewed if one were to preach on this text. Ultimately the sadness of it all goes back to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his shameful set of arrangements that led to her husband’s death. The prophet Nathan nailed David for his sins, and although David abjectly confessed and repented, Nathan predicted that a sin like that may well boomerang and ricochet through his family for quite a while to come. Actions have consequences, and when the head of the family behaves with such wanton abandon and lack of regard for others, that may bear bitter fruit in children who go and do likewise.
Whether one can draw solid lines between David’s bad example and what happened next, the fact is that it was not long before one of David’s sons (Amnon) took an incestuous shine to one of David’s daughters (Tamar, a full sister of Absalom). Ultimately Amnon was driven so insane by his lustful obsession with possessing Tamar sexually that he raped her and then, filled with the self-loathing that often comes after an irrational lust is sated, Amnon tossed Tamar aside like an old shoe.
What comes next is enough murderous mayhem as to require an R-rating if it were a movie today. (Following my having preached a sermon on 2 Samuel 13, I was told by my Elders that there are some texts in the Bible on which a preacher should NEVER base a sermon, and 2 Samuel 13 was one of them! I am pretty sure that’s not true, but the sex and violence of that part of the Bible is properly arresting and even off-putting.) Absalom takes his revenge on Amnon. Then David, for reasons that were strategic, political, and personal, in turn rejects Absalom and banishes him from the better precincts of the kingdom. Absalom stews, leads a rebellion, and is finally killed.
It doesn’t get much more tawdry than this. But at the end of the day, neither does it get much sadder than this. David had played his hand as best he could and according to his best lights (though most of us might say that David went too far and took a wrong turn at several key bends in the road) but when he discovers his strapping boy Absalom is really and truly dead, David heaves forth sobs of grief sufficient to engulf the entire city of Jerusalem. Indeed, the wrenching cries of “Absalom, Absalom, my son, Absalom” echo along the corridors of Scripture. No parent who ever lost a child could so much as glance at the end of 2 Samuel 18 without dissolving into tears him- or herself.
If it’s the Gospel of hope and joy you try in some way, shape, or form to preach each week as a pastor, this chapter presents its challenges! Just not a lot of Good News here, it seems. But the story is at least a reminder of how much we need the grace of God in our world, starting altogether too often in our own family circles.
Yes, we could point out that this ruin in his own family may have been either a divine punishment (as the prophet Nathan seemed to predict) or the unhappy natural consequences of David’s sin—and maybe those two options are not at odds with one another after all—but since few of us would dare to claim we are without sin in our lives (and vis-à-vis the other members of our families), merely connecting this tragedy to something David had “coming to him” hardly mitigates the genuine tragedy and sorrow of all this. (It reminds me of the scene from the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven in which a young gunslinger is trying to justify his having just killed a man. “Well, I guess he had it comin’ to him,” the young man says, to which the grizzled character played by Eastwood replies, “We all got it comin’ to us, kid.” Indeed.
We live in a broken world and in this world, brokenness seems to have a habit of begetting more brokenness. The abused tend to grow up to abuse others. Those who had once been victimized and oppressed too often use their pain as a license to turn right around and oppress some other group. On and on it goes until you wonder what can ever deliver us from this grim cycle, this apparent bondage to calamity.
Maybe the answer really is in the one who—in the corresponding gospel lection for Proper 14—said that he was the bread of life whose flesh alone can bring a new day into all eternity. He is the One who finally absorbed evil without passing it on, who took the worst the world could dish out—and who most certainly did NOT deserve it, did not get what he had coming to him—but then as good as declared, “There now, this ends with me.”
From Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 5-6):
“All Israel found [Absalom’s] derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he finally led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined him. On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was a thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chiefs of staff till they were sick of hearing it that if Absalom fell into their clutches, they must promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field [which Absalom had torched], old Joab kept his fingers crossed, and when he found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that, and he cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. ‘O my son, Absalom, my son, my son. Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son.’ He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”
Author: Scott Hoezee
These days I am contributing two sermon commentaries a week here on the CEP website: the Old Testament reading and the Psalm. This week I worked on the Old Testament passage first: the tragic story of the unraveling of David’s household through the rebellion and later the heartbreaking death of David’s son Absalom. So having just worked through that sad story, it was a striking experience to turn to Psalm 34.
Because if the story in 2 Samuel 18 tells us anything, it is that even the favored of God are not spared every hardship. Yes, all those sad events seem to spiral out from David’s egregious sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. The prophet Nathan indicated that though David was forgiven, he probably had not quite heard the end of the matter. Indeed, he had not.
But whether we construe what all went down with Absalom as in part David’s fault or something else, the fact is that this represents a dreadful episode. We can be quite certain that if David really is the author of the 34th psalm, this was not a song he sang anytime too soon after what we read about in the Old Testament passage for this week. David for sure knew that on this particular occasion, he had not been delivered from every bad thing by God.
Within just the first 8 verses assigned by the Lectionary, the psalmist claims God always hears every cry for deliverance, that the righteous never have faces covered in shame. And then near the end of the psalm beyond the bounds of this lection, the psalmist says that even when the righteous have troubles, “the Lord delivers him from them all.”
Who knows if the people who assemble the Lectionary were trying to send a message by yoking these two passages. Whether they intended to do so or not, however, I think we can discern a few things that might be worth preaching about.
First we can observe that for all its sunny promises, Psalm 34 is not the only type of poem within the Hebrew Psalter. There are plenty of other laments that indicate not only that trouble can and often does come to even righteous people, but sometimes that trouble lingers for a good long while too. We for sure need to know this and preach about this. The one line of thought we should wish to banish from the church as much as any other is the one that says “When trouble comes, it’s because your faith is weak or you did something wrong or you did not pray hard enough or . . . .” Or any number of things that you can read about in the Book of Job on the lips of Job’s miserable so-called friends.
Second, however, we can also see Psalm 34 as having multiple and differing horizons of fulfillment that are worth noticing and also celebrating. Sometimes people in our congregations can testify that following a genuinely harrowing stretch of their lives, the Lord did answer prayers, God did bring some measure of healing, deliverance, and restoration. Whether those good things were precisely what these people had been hoping and praying for, something happened that reassured them that God was near after all. They had not been abandoned. We need to listen to these testimonies and find prudent ways to bring them into the proclamation of the gospel in our congregations.
But such relatively near-term fulfillments of what Psalm 34 promises can also give way to the longer-term fulfillment that we all expect by and by. No, we dare never wave away someone’s current (and undeniably bad) pain with some trite “Don’t worry: in heaven it will be all better” kind of overly sunny pronouncement. Most people find that attempt to paper over genuine sorrow to be merely offensive. And they are right.
Still, we do have the consolation of God’s ultimate promises in Christ. We do believe that in the cosmic long run, wrongs will be righted, unjust suffering will be reversed, those who for now got away with murder will face a reckoning, and in the words of a well-known saint, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Yes, this is prone to run overly far in the direction of “pie in the sky by and by” optimism but that is no reason to not at least try to encourage the downtrodden with this final hope for restoration and justice.
Because in that longest possible run the final verse of Psalm 34 will ring true eternally:
The Lord will rescue his servants;
no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
If we connect the ultimate promises of Psalm 34 to the rescue finally provided by Christ Jesus, it might remind us of a fairly well-known little parable. I first heard it on the TV program The West Wing when the White House Chief of Staff Leo is trying to help the deputy Chief of Staff, Josh, through a rough time of dealing with PTSD after nearly getting killed in an assassination attempt on the President. Leo is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and so knows full well what Josh is going through and so connects Josh to a therapist who really did help. When Josh wonders why Leo is doing this, Leo tells this fable or parable:
A guy is walking down the street and suddenly falls into this really deep hole. The walls are steep and slick. A doctor wanders by and the guy cries out, “Hey, Doc, can you help me?” The doctor writes out a prescription and throws it down the hole. A priest comes by and the guy calls out, “Father, can you give me a hand?” The priest writes out a prayer and drops it into the hole.
The guy’s best friend comes by and he says, “Hey, Joe, can you help me out?” Joe immediately jumps into the hole. “What did you do that for, dummy, now we’re both stuck down here.” But Joe answers, “Nah. I’ve been down here before. And I know the way out.”
Author: Doug Bratt
“Imitation” may be, as Charles Colton once famously wrote, “the sincerest of flattery.” However, some attempts at imitation may also be the sincerest of sheer folly. A six-year-old might, for example, try to flatter LeBron James by trying to dunk a basketball – with potentially disastrous consequences.
Who can, however, as Paul’s calls us in Ephesians 5:2, imitate God? Isn’t that sheer folly? Even God’s adopted sons and daughters are, after all, natural imitators of the evil one. We see evidence of that impersonation nearly everywhere. We see it in our own reluctance to love God above all and our neighbors as much as ourselves. Some members of our families are blind to Jesus as Lord and Savior. What’s more, our spiritually nearsighted neighbors and co-workers serve a myriad of gods.
The danger of such blindness, what Paul calls “darkened … understanding” (4:18), lies in the steep downward path on which it plunges us. Being spiritually blind is a bit like trying to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon while blindfolded. You may, after all, eventually get there. But you’ll probably get at least severely injured on the way.
Paul insists that what begins with spiritual blindness quickly degenerates into what he calls the “hardening of” peoples’ “hearts.” That, in turn, spirals downward into alienation “from the life of God.”
Finally, spiritual blindness plunges its victims into what verse 19 calls “sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases this in The Message, spiritually blind people “let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every kind of perversion.” Once people lose our spiritual sensitivity, we also naturally also lose all self-control. So were it not for God’s restraining grace, life apart from the Lord would be utter anarchy and chaos.
How, then, can Paul call people like you and me who are by nature spiritually nearsighted imitators of the evil one to be “imitators of God”? Joel Kok, to whose work in The Lectionary Commentary, The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles, (Eerdmans, 2001, p. 329ff.) I’m (again) indebted for many of these ideas, writes that apart from what Paul writes earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, such a command would be either “ludicrous or cruel.” Because even the godliest people can’t imitate God on our own, a call to do so would completely discourage us.
However, when we remember what Paul has written earlier about re-creation and conversion, his call to imitate God makes sense. In Christ, after all, as Paul notes in verse 32, God has forgiven God’s adopted sons and daughters. So God’s adopted sons and daughters’ imitation of our Father is a bit like writing a thank you note to someone who has given a generous birthday or wedding gift. After all, God’s people want to thank the God who has done so much for us by loving God and each other “just as Christ loved us” (5:2).
God has also, however, to stretch the imperfect analogy, both bought and given us the thank you cards. God has, after all, equipped God’s children for loving living. God is, quite simply, busy converting Jesus Christ’s friends from our old, unloving ways to new, loving ways.
In verses 22ff. Paul compares this conversion to a change of clothes. We generally change out of the clothing in which we, for example, work out before we come to church. What’s proper attire at the gym is, after all, often not proper at a wedding.
In a similar way, Paul says the “clothing” that is things like lingering anger and vulgar language isn’t proper for those God has saved in Christ. So the apostle calls believers to take off the old, smelly “clothing” that is our old way of living and put on the clean clothing that is our “new self.”
Yet even faithful Christians are naturally like people who so much like our reeking clothes in which we work out that we don’t want to put on clean clothing. Spiritually speaking we’re naturally “sartorially challenged.”
So God’s people need someone to help us recognize how “dirty” the clothing that is our old behavior is. In fact, we’re also like babies who need help just to change out of our soiled clothing.
Thankfully, then, Paul insists that God helps God’s adopted children to both recognize how “stained” our clothing that is our old way of life is and put on a “clean” way of living. He uses the imagery of recreation to describe that transformation.
In the very beginning God created people in God’s image, to be much like God. We, however, have almost hopelessly blurred that image so that we naturally resemble God very little. Even Christians are naturally like people whom some sort of injury has virtually obliterated any resemblance to our parents.
God, however, is like a surgeon who does plastic surgery so that we once again in some ways resemble our heavenly Father. God equips those whom God has made “like God” to be, in some ways, like God. God empowers those whom God has made in fundamental ways to somehow resemble God to, for example, “speak truthfully” and “not let the sun go down while” we’re “still angry.”
After all, as Paul writes in verse 39, we’ve been “sealed” by the Holy Spirit of God. While this primarily means that God made us God’s children by putting the Holy Spirit in us, it also means that God equips us to imitate God.
Yet how can Jesus’ friends know what to imitate? We sometimes say that you can learn a lot about a person’s character from what she does when no one is looking. Paul would say that we can learn a lot about God’s character by studying Jesus Christ. In fact, as Kok notes, chrestos, the Greek word for kindness about which Paul talks in verse 32 sounds a lot like “Christ.”
So God’s adopted sons and daughters learn a lot about God’s kindness by watching the gospels’ Jesus deal kindly with people others mistreated. We also learn to watch Jesus who repeatedly showed the virtue of “compassion” that Paul mentions in verse 32.
On top of all that, God’s adopted children see the supreme example of forgiveness (32) in Jesus Christ. After all, while we naturally find it impossible to forgive people for even the most minor slights, Jesus forgave even the people who so unjustly crucified him. Of course, we can’t actually watch Jesus be kind, compassionate and forgiving. So in order to imitate Jesus, his followers study, pray about and meditate on his actions the Bible describes.
Of course, even then even God’s holiest people still can’t perfectly imitate God. Jesus’ friends can’t live up to Jesus’ call to, for instance, be as perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Even Paul who sometimes called his readers to imitate him admitted that he didn’t perfectly live up to his calls to imitate God.
Thankfully, then, God, of course, saves us by God’s grace, not by our imitation of God. But those who, with Isaac Watts, survey the “wondrous cross” want to give back to God “my soul, my life, my all.”
So, with the help of the Holy Spirit, God’s adopted children constantly look for ways to deliberately do things like sharing with those in need. We try to build each other up by what we say. Jesus’ followers beg God to let the Spirit create in us kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
God doesn’t, after all, just give us Christ’s example of imitating God. God doesn’t even just give God’s dearly beloved people God’s Holy Spirit who equips us to increasingly imitate God. God also gives us the sacraments by which God strengthens our faithful imitation of God.
The Lord’s Supper is what one prominent Reformed theologian called “spiritual food and drink for the time between” Christ’s first and second comings. Those who would imitate God, then, regularly feast on the sacraments’ offerings. The Spirit uses the Sacraments as a means of grace, after all, to help equip us for a life of love that offers at least a pale imitation of Jesus’.
In his essay, “Christianity and Literature” in the book, Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis argues that much of the New Testament assumes that major human relations (Christ to God, us to Christ) are imitative. Reflecting on that essay, Cornelius Plantinga notes, “Whereas modern criticism views imitation in literature, for example, as bad and unhappy (creativity, originality, spontaneity all put imitation in the shade), it is the normal way in the New Testament of presenting the art of life itself.
“Only God, maybe only God the Father, is truly original. All else is derivative and reflective. Saints are not moral or spiritual geniuses. They are imitators. [Lewis writes] ‘Our whole destiny seems to lie . . . in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed; in becoming clear mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours’.”