Let me tell you the story about the doctor who said to a new father, “You have a cute baby.”
The proud daddy smiled and said, “I bet you say that to all the new parents.”
“No,” said the doctor. “Just to those whose babies really are good-looking.”
“So what do you say to the others?”
“To the others I say, ‘He’s the spittin’ image of you.’”
Folks – I want you to know that each one of you is the spittin’ image of somebody. And usually more than just one somebody. Each one of us has been molded – each has been formed – you are the person you are today – because of the influence of other people in your life.
Did you know that? You are who you are in large part because of the influence of other people. To one degree or another we imitate others. The way we think. The things we believe. How we talk. Heck – maybe even the way we walk. You and I are products of the people of influence in our lives. Again, to one degree or another. We are the spittin’ image of someone.
By the way, do you know where the phrase “Spittin’ image” comes from? Occasionally I get a blog posting in my inbox from a man named Steve Goodier. Sometimes I print his stuff in the “Thought for the Month” section of our monthly newsletter.
Goodier says that the, “…term “spittin’ image” stems from an old misunderstanding. Joel Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories, explained that when someone from the southern United States seemed to be saying, “spittin’ image,” what they were really saying was “spirit and image.” Now listen. I’m going to try to saying it with my best southern accent. Ready? “He’s the spittin’ image of his daddy.” (Hey Merritt! How’d I do?) That was pretty good, wasn’t it?
When we say that someone is the spittin’ image of somebody else, we usually mean that someone looks like somebody else from the outside. But it can also mean that they are like somebody else on the inside.
Nearly a thousand years ago there was a monk by the name of Bernard of Clairvaux. He said, “What we love we shall grow to resemble.” What we love we shall grow to resemble. Maybe today we might say we become the spirit and image – or the spittin’ image – of that which we love the most. We are shaped by that which we value – by what we admire – or by the people that we love the most.
So I want you to hang on to that thought – the thought that, “What we love we shall grow to admire.” And because today [tomorrow] is All Saints Sunday, I think that that is particularly important. All Saints Day is a day that the church has celebrated for centuries. The actual date is November the 1st, but since this is the first weekend after that date, we celebrate it today.
On the one hand, it is a day in which we honor and remember the departed saints – those who have gone on before us. And in just a little while, during communion, we will project onto the front wall up here the names of all those among us who have departed this life in the last 12 months. Their names are printed in your Mission Minutes as well.
But I want to suggest to you that today is a day to remember – not just those who have gone home to be with the Lord in the past 12 months – but also anyone who has been an impact saint – in your life. So today is a day we celebrate the lives of all the saints who have impacted our lives – whether living or dead.
And just so you know – in the tradition of the Lutheran Church, we declare that all the baptized are the saints of God. We are first and foremost Christians, but since we are Christians we can also say that we are numbered among the saints.
Now I know that some of you come from other faith traditions that hold that the saints are those who led exemplary, sacrificial Christian lives – and that a saint is someone whom the church has declared to be a saint. And that’s okay. That’s okay.
But I want you to know that in our tradition, we declare that all the baptized are saints. And our authority – our model for saying so is from the Scriptures themselves. The word “saint” or “saints” is mentioned some 60 times in the New Testament. And Paul, the Apostle Paul, when writing letters to various churches would often say, “To the saints who are at Philippi,” or “to the saints at Colossae.” Sometimes, he would put it this, way, “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…”
So you dear friend – are a saint. Whether you feel like one or not. And even though we use this day to remember the saints among us and those who have gone before us – it really is a day that honors God. Why? Because He is the One who declares that you are a saint. And he declares you and me to be saints because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Remember what we said last week? One of our readings last week was from the book of Jeremiah. And there God is speaking through the voice of Jeremiah when he says, “I will forgive their sins, and I will remember their sins no more.” Do you remember that? When God forgives, God forgets. God’s got this cosmic memory issue going on – and if our sins are forgiven – if God forgets our sins – then where are our sins? They’re gone. They don’t exist anymore. So if someone who is without sin is a saint – then that means that we are all saints, right?
Now, each of you have had at least one special person in your life who taught you what it means to be a person of faith, right? At least one person. For almost all of us it is more likely that we have had far more than just one person – more than just one saint who has been an impact saint in our lives. Someone who introduced you to Jesus. Told you about him. Read the Bible to you, and so on.
And then there were others who built upon that foundation – through the lessons they taught – either by the examples of how they lived their lives – or by some other means – maybe it was a Sunday School lesson or – maybe a sermon some preacher preached – or whatever. In each one of your lives there is someone who loved you enough to share with you in word – or they taught by example – what it means to be a disciple – a follower of Jesus Christ.
So when it comes to who you are as a disciple of Jesus Christ – you are the spirit and image – you are the spittin’ image of those saints who have made a difference – who have had an impact in your life.
The other side of this is that you too are a person of influence too. Just as you are the spittin’ image of at least one other person of influence – so too you are a person of influence. You are a saint – and you are leaving your mark on others. There are people who are the spittin’ image of you. Now there’s a scary thought! BUT because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ – and you are making a difference. You are a model of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let me share with you another story. This comes from Tony Campolo – a wonderful story teller – who tells about a man named Joe. At one time in his life, Joe had a problem with alcohol, and he lived on the streets. But one day Joe was converted at a Bowery mission. If you’re familiar with the City Mission in downtown Buffalo, then you know what I’m talking about.
Prior to his new life in Christ, Joe had gained the reputation of being a hopeless, dirty, good-for-nothing for whom there was no hope. But following his conversion to a new life in Christ, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known.
Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission doing whatever needed to be done. There was never any task that was too lowly for Joe to take on. He cleaned up after men who got sick. He scrubbed toilets after careless others left them filthy. Joe did what he was asked with a smile on his face, grateful to be offered the opportunity to help. He would help feed feeble men who wandered into the mission off the street. He took care of men who were too out of it to take care of themselves.
One evening when the director of the mission was delivering his evening evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with dropped heads, there was one man who looked up, came down the aisle to the altar, and knelt to pray, crying out to God to help him to change.
The repentant man kept shouting, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!” The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “I think it would be better if you prayed, ‘make me like Jesus!’”
The man looked at the director with a puzzled look on his face and asked, “Why? Is he like Joe?”
That’s it, isn’t it? Isn’t that what being a saint is all about? Isn’t that what being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about? Living so much like Jesus that people don’t know where Jesus begins – and we leave off.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul walked in the spirit and image of Christ. And he encouraged the people of Corinth – and today he encourages you and me too – to walk in the spirit and image of Christ.
Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a sermon about you trying to be a better person. That’s not what this sermon is about. I just want you to know that as a disciple of Jesus Christ
1. You are a saint.
2. You are the spirit and image – the spittin’ image – of those impact Christians who shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with you.
3. Since you also are a person of influence – I want you to ask, “Who are the people who are the spittin’ image of you?”
4. Am I walking in the spirit and image of Christ?
What we love we shall grow to resemble. We are shaped by that which we admire most, and by the people we love the most. Amen