The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, as well as being the most historic street in the city is a good candidate at times for being its weirdest. During the Festival in August every shade of weird and not so wonderful seems to appear on its cobbles. Last year walking down from St Giles I suddenly realised I was actually walking in a group of about ten Elvis impersonators. They were pretty easy to identify, quiff hair, sideburns, dark glasses, lurid jump suits and lots “aww huhs” being said. No doubt there was a show somewhere that they were trying to attract the crowds to …. or maybe it was just a gathering of committed fans using the Festival as cover for a mass dress up? …. You never know during the Festival!
As I already mentioned it wasn’t hard to identify this group, collectively their jump suits, hair and faux southern American accents reminded me and everyone else around of Elvis. I was reminded of my encounter with the Edinburgh Elvises (what is the collective name for a group Elvis impersonators?) while reading something from Paul. “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NLT) Paul seems to be suggesting that the church is a community of impersonators, or more accurately imitators, not of Elvis the Pelvis but Jesus the Christ. This wasn’t just a throw away remark by Paul either, but something that was woven into the fabric of the earliest believers understanding of what it meant to be the church. Paul in probably the earliest Christian document we have tells this first generation church “You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master.” 1 Thess 1:5 The Thessalonian church it appears was a community of Jesus impersonators, a community whose lives echoed Christ’s in some sense. The Thessalonian Church were a group of people who when you encountered them reminded you of Jesus. The question I am left with, is how? How did they remind other people of Jesus? In what sense were their lives reminders of His? How exactly did they imitate Jesus? The Elvis impersonators probably just hit the fancy dress shops, a wig, couple of stick of sideburns and a jump suits was all that they needed. I am pretty sure that Paul isn’t suggesting that to remind people of Jesus we need to buy a pair of Jesus sandals, grow a beard and let our hair grow to our shoulders. If that was what imitating Jesus was all about I am thinking that some of you girls are going to have a challenge on your hands as well as looking slightly unattractive.
Let me put it another way. Let’s imagine an encounter like I had with the Elvis impersonators on the Royal Mile, but with you and your church. If someone encountered your church what is it about you that would make them conclude that you were in Paul’s words a community of “christ imitators?” If its easy to identify Elvis fans, what is it that identifies you and your church as Christ Followers? What sets you apart from those around you? What is the Christian equivalent of the Elvis impersonators side burns, quiff and jump suit? What is about those of us who are disciples of Christ which should remind other people of Christ?
Paul gives us a strong clue ” You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves” Imitating Jesus isn’t about wearing Jesus sandals but learning to live a Jesus way of life. As Christians we remind other people of Christ by the way we live, when our lives echo his to some degree. When we display, the values, attitudes, and actions that Jesus displayed our lives and our community will make others think of him. Jesus himself was pretty explicit about what it was about our lives that was to remind other people of him. In Jesus world, disciples had one great aim in life, to become like their master. Jesus said that other people who encounter us will know whether we are authentically his disciples, whether we really are like him, by seeing one defining characteristic of his embodied and expressed in and through us “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognise that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”John 13:34-35
Sacrificial, servant love is to be the defining characteristic of Christianity. We are to be as easily recognisable to those who encounter us as Christ followers by our Jesus style love as Elvis impersonators are by their Elvis style clothing. This is why as Mosaic Edinburgh one of our aspirations, is to “Be Known For Love.” A new week is just kicking off, our mission this week, as every week, and every day is to live in such a way that we remind people of Jesus. In our encounters with people in our daily lives, both those who are part of our families and those who are strangers, through acts and words of love, we are to be living flesh and blood, Holy Spirit empowered echoes of Jesus.
So who did you remind of Jesus today?
As we plan our future as a community how will we remind Edinburgh of Jesus, the King of Love as clearly as the Elvis impersonators reminded the Royal Mile of the so called King of Rock and Roll?