In 1915, the king of the silent movies was “The Tramp” – Charlie Chaplin. He wore his baggy pants, tight fitting jacket, bowler hat, oversize shoes and carried a cane. His pale skin and mustache were also a part of his trademark, but you could always tell it was him by his walk. He was so popular that communities began to have Charlie Chaplin lookalike contests, the goal to not only look like Chaplin, but to be one who had mastered, who could imitate that iconic walk.
San Francisco was one town that joined in the fun. They were line up around the block to participate. It worked by having several elimination rounds leading up to the finals. Many were cut in that first round, but finally the winner was named. Sounds like fun; however, what made it so comical was the fact that the real Charlie Chaplin had also entered the contest and had been eliminated before the final round.
It is reported, following the competition, that Chaplin was “tempted to give lessons in the Chaplin walk, out of pity as well as in the desire to see the thing done correctly.”
In my life, I’ve tried to imitate others. I told you about wanting to be Donald Trump when I was in college. My bank account is a testament to how poorly that worked out. There was also the time that I wanted to be like Clint Eastwood in those spaghetti westerns, so I asked for a pair of leather pants for Christmas. I didn’t get them, but I did get a BB gun, which was much better. And I tried to be like some of the guys in the bands that I liked to listen to, but that generally ended up with a bad haircut, worse clothes, and some odd looks.
At some point, I think most of us – for better or for worse – decide to be ourselves, because trying to be someone else is just too much work. Unfortunately, being ourselves does not always lead to a good life. Perhaps you are different, but that was true for me. In reflecting back on the life, when I decided to be myself, I ended up in complete agreement with St. Paul when he wrote, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” I set my mind on the things of the flesh, of the world, and as Paul said, “To set the mind on the flesh is death.”
So, if the imitation of the world leads to bad haircuts and being yourself leads to the evil we do not want to do, then where are we to turn?
The first chapter in the first book of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis begins (and, yes, I’ve probably shared this with you before and will likely share it with you again), “‘He who follows Me, walks not in darkness,’ says the Lord. By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.
“The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.”
Jesus’ own words confirm that we should seek to be like him: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.”
Imitating the world and being ourselves leads to death, but imitating Christ, by allowing the Spirit of Christ to dwell within us leads to righteousness and everlasting life.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to hear Bishop Michael Mitchell of the African Methodist Episcopal Church preach – man can preach – he said, “When you come into the presence of God [when you want to follow Jesus] you forget about Burger King! You forget about having it your way.” You forget about having it your way, and you imitate Jesus.
So, what does this have to do with the parable that Jesus told us today? The parable of the sower. The seeds are sown. Some of the seed falls on the path the birds get it. Some falls on rocky ground and even though it springs up, it soon dies because it has no roots. Other seed falls amongst the thorns and is choked off. And some falls on good soil and grows.
Jesus interprets the parable for his disciples in private, telling them that the seed is the word of God sown in a person’s heart and that for some that word is carried off by the devil; for others it springs up, but dies just as quickly; and then for others the seed grows, but is choked off by the concerns of the world. And, finally, there is the good seed that produces much good fruit.
We can hear this parable and understand its meaning, but Jesus was not only talking about the heart of a believer. He was also talking about producing good fruit. As he says, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Yes, the one who hears the word and understands is the one who allows the Spirit of God to dwell within them, but they are also the one who produces good fruit. They are the ones who imitate Christ. Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” The Spirit of God dwells in us, we believe in him, we imitate him, we produce good fruit.
If we are to produce good fruit, then how are we to go about this work? It is reported that there are three kinds of workers. For example, when a piano is to be moved, the first kind gets behind and pushes, the second pulls and guides, and the third grabs the piano stool. When it comes to the work of the Lord, we are not to be the third type of worker, but are to be the ones with passion. The ones who see everything we do as a means of glorifying God and increasing his Kingdom, whether that be through acts of evangelism, working in an office, mopping the floor, raising children – whatever capacity God places us in.
It is reported that the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was approached by a reporter who said: “Mr. Shaw, you are internationally famous and have traveled all over the world. You’ve been around some of the most famous people, and you’re on a first-name basis with royalty, well-renowned authors, artists, teachers and dignitaries from every part of this continent. If you had your life to live over and could be anybody you’ve ever known, who would you want to be?”
“I would choose,” replied Shaw “to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was.”
Shaw points to the fact that even for someone who has achieved great success – he won a Nobel Prize for literature and an Academy Award – he still did not live up to his fullest potential. I suppose we could all say something similar. In many ways we squander the gifts and talents God has given to us, but what if someone asked you to play the same game as Shaw, and they asked you, “If you had your life to live over and could be anybody you’ve ever known, who would you want to be?” But lets say that when you answered, you didn’t respond by saying you wanted to be Charlie Chaplin or Clint Eastwood or even the best version of yourself. Lets say you responded by saying you wanted to be like Jesus – you wanted to imitate His life – then how much good fruit do you think you could produce? How much glory would you give to Our Father? How many lives would you change?
The seed has been planted in the good soil of your heart. You have the Spirit of Christ within you. You have within you the capacity, no matter the circumstances or the environment, to produce good fruit, and what’s more, you do not need to live your life over again in order achieve this, you only need to live the life God has blessed you with in imitation of His Son. In imitation of Jesus.
Let us pray: Father of love, hear our prayers. Help us to know Your Will and to do it with courage and faith. Accept our offering of ourselves, all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings. May our lives be spent giving You glory. Give us the strength to follow Your call, so that Your Truth may live in our hearts and bring peace to us and to those we meet, for we believe in Your Love. Amen.