18th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was perfectly humble for you and me, dear friends in Christ,
Who do you imitate? Someone once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” A few weeks ago my wife couldn’t get her key for our van into the ignition. At first I thought it was because one of our kids jammed something in there. But then we figured out what happened. Our son David who’s not quite 2 years old, had found my wife’s van key in her purse, managed to climb into our minivan and stick the key into the ignition and pretend to drive. He didn’t get the key all the way into the ignition and somehow bent it, that’s why we couldn’t put it in the ignition. How did my 2 year old know all of that? How did he know where the key was, what the key was for, how to get into our van, find the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition? He imitates his parents. If we’re going to grill something for supper, my wife will give our children the option of hot dogs or hamburgers. My daughter Jenna’s response is usually, “What’s dad going to have? I’ll have whatever dad has.” My son Lucas has watched me attempt to fix things, now, if he finds a screw driver lying around, there will be disassembled toys, flashlights, or play cameras. My daughter Megan is excited to learn how to play the piano, why? Partly because she sees mom playing it. In many ways, children imitate their parents. Who do you imitate?
Finally, as Christians, we would expect that each one of us imitates Christ, right? We would expect that we would imitate Him in His loving care for everyone in need. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His patience, in His gentleness, in His love for every single soul. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His humble attitude considering others more than Himself. We all imitate someone. Who do you imitate?
In all reality, each of us must confess that our lives fall incredibly short of imitating Christ. And there’s a reason for that. Each of us has a sinful nature that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us lives in a world loaded with sinfulness that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us is subject to Satan’s temptations who wants our lives to imitate him. And that’s been going on since our first parents Adam and Eve. In our gospel we saw how the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, in our text we see Miriam – Moses’ big sister – trying to humiliate Moses in order to get a piece of power, we also see Aaron – Moses’ older brother – going right along with it.
So, the Israelites are on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. They’ve been to Mt. Sinai where they saw the Lord descend on the mountain with fire, thunder, smoke, a loud trumpet blast. They heard all the commands of God. They’ve set out from Mt. Sinai and right away the people complained about their hardships, then they complained about not having any meat, “If only we had meat to eat! …We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” And Moses interceded with the Lord and the Lord graciously gave them more quail to eat than they knew what to do with. Well, right after that, Miriam and Aaron, we notice that Miriam is listed first which probably means that she was the instigator, began to speak against Moses, his leadership, and the fact that he married a Cushite wife. Having a Cushite wife was simply a pre-text to their real complaint. What was their real problem? They were full of pride and wanted more power and prestige. They were jealous and envious of Moses and his position of God-given leadership. Miriam herself was a prophetess and had led the women in singing praises to God after God delivered them through the Red Sea. Aaron was the high priest who was to lead the sacrifices and worship life of the Israelites. But God hadn’t appointed them to lead the people. Moses was God’s servant.
Notice that this was a subtle attack not just against Moses, but against God. Moses was God’s appointed servant. Isn’t that what’s at the root of bitterness, envy, and jealousy? Isn’t it finally an affront to God? God, I’m not pleased with the way you have set things up. God, I deserve more than this person or that person. God, I’m smarter and more talented that that person, I deserve his or her job. God, I deserve more power, more money, more respect than that person.
Or, there’s the other side of the coin, how do we react when we’re unfairly criticized? Our sinful nature wants us to go on the attack, to fight back, get even, to think wicked and hateful thoughts, to plot revenge, or… fall into self-pity, “poor me, everyone’s against me, my life is so miserable.”
Moses doesn’t even defend himself here. We’re told that Moses was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Moses didn’t want to fight back. But doesn’t he have a spine? Why won’t he stick up for himself? Humbleness doesn’t mean being timid or weak, rather, it’s a positive quality that desires not to hurt anyone. Moses didn’t want to do to Miriam and Aaron what they were doing to him. What is it that lies at the heart of our desire to often treat someone the way they treated us? To get even when we’re unfairly treated? Isn’t it a fear? Isn’t it finally a fear that people will believe a lie about us, that our reputation will be damaged, that nobody will defend us? How could Moses be so humble? Wasn’t it due to his trust in God? He trusted in God to defend him. It was the Lord who intervened and stood up for His servant Moses. We’re told that the Lord heard. He heard it all.
The Lord communicated to His people through Moses. If this rebellion persisted, it would have spread, not just tarnishing Moses’ reputation and subverting his leadership, but it would have turned people away from listening to God’s Word. And if that happened, if people no longer listened to God’s Word, their souls would be lost forever. So God in grace intervened. He appeared in a pillar of cloud, defended Moses’ position and Moses’ honor, and made clear why they should listen to His servant Moses.
And the result? Miriam was struck with leprosy. Why just Miriam? Perhaps it’s because she was likely the instigator of this rebellion. Or perhaps it’s because God knew how this was going to turn out and how He was going to show His forgiveness for her. However, if Aaron had become a leper – even if God healed him – he no longer could serve as High Priest. But how does Moses react? “See! See what you get? It serves you right! You’re getting just what you deserve for so rudely rejecting the Lord’s prophet!!” But what do we see? He loved his sister – even though she had wronged him. He pleaded for his sister – even though she was in the wrong. Moses didn’t speak up to defend himself, but he didn’t hesitate to speak up for his sister. Think about that! Could we pray to God to bless the person who hurt us? Pray for the person who ruined our reputation? Intercede for the person who treated us like dirt?
But what do we see in Moses? Isn’t it a love that reflects his Savior God? A love that steps in on behalf of others? A love that intercedes for those who oppose and contradict him? A love that rests on God’s mercy and grace? A mercy and grace that healed Miriam and allowed her back into camp after 7 days of public disgrace for a public rebellion.
Have we ever failed to demonstrate a love that imitates Jesus? Do we always have a concern for the eternal souls of people? Or are we more interested in getting ahead, getting more power for ourselves, insisting that our way is the best way – even better than God’s way? We all have. That means we’re all guilty of rebellion against God and we all deserve much worse than Miriam’s leprosy, we deserve God’s anger against us forever in hell.
So where’s the solution? See it in the God who forgave Miriam and healed her – He’s the same God of grace who forgives us and restores us – even for rebels like you and me. See it in the Savior who was never prideful, envious, or jealous of anyone. See it in your Savior who offered His perfectly humble life to God for our life of sin. See it in the Savior who loved you so much to shed his blood to wipe away the guilt of every loveless sin you and I have ever committed. See it in the Savior who continues to love you day after day – even when our lives have been so unflattering to Him. See it in a Savior who remains in control always and guides things to bring you to the special home He’s preparing for you in heaven.
See that love and imitate in your own life. Imitate it by loving your children even when they’re hard to deal with. Imitate it by loving your spouse even when their loveless nature shows itself. Imitate it with your parents even when they don’t seem to understand. Show a love that imitates Christ to your friends and neighbors, your classmates and coworkers. Show a love that loves the unlovable. Loves enemies. Loves those who contradict you. Love others as who they really are: souls for whom Jesus died.
Imitation is often a form of admiration. When we imitate the love of Christ in our lives, ultimately we’re praising and admiring Him. When we imitate Christ, we’re glorifying and praising our Savior who so loved us. So, who do you imitate? Amen.