This ad campaign was created by Rev. Ian Macdonald for a class project directed to get people to see and understand the commonality they have with Jesus.
In 1964, Marshal McLuhan coined the phrase, "The medium is the message." In terms of the church that means Jesus is the message. And we, his followers, are the medium. We are the billboards and commercials that puts the good news out into the public eye. As such, we only have a short period of time to capture people’s attention. How they see or hear us, will determine whether they will want to join us, or change the channel.
From today’s reading, we might see that something is out of whack in the churches of Philippi. Whatever it is, it causes Paul to send a heartfelt letter in which he remind them to “Be of one mind with Christ Jesus.” That is to say, to imitate Christ in all that we do.
In the great cinematic comedy, Airplane, there’s a courtroom scene where a psychologist is asked to give his impression of the defendant. The doctor replies with perfect deadpan humor, “I’m a doctor. I don’t do impressions.” Perhaps Christians are also confused by what they are being asked to do.
There’s a big difference between imitating and impersonating someone. An impersonator takes great pains to make people believe they are who they are not, while the imitator simply strives to be a reflection of a person they look up to or admire.
Paul knows that impersonating Christ is impossible. The bar is set way too high. We’d never be able to do it. And in our failing to do so, we might give up on our faith and spiritual practices all together. Instead, Paul encourages us to adopt an attitude that reflects the teaching and blessings of Jesus in all aspects of our life.
He says, “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He set aside his divine privileges and took on the status of a slave! Becoming human, he humbled himself; lived a selfless, obedient life; then died a selfless, obedient death. Because of this faithful work, God honored him so that all created beings will bow in worship before him; praising his name and offering glory to God.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Think about it and where you might stand in such a call.
To be Christlike requires us to radiate the same Spirit of Jesus so others can come to praise God and come to know God’s great purpose for them. To borrow from Victor Hugo, “To love another, like Jesus loves us, is to see the face of God.”
Jesus is the message. We are the medium. Through us, God blesses the world, and “works in you…according to his good purpose.” How the world sees us, will determine how the world will respond to God’s blessing.
Like a well-crafted ad, the church must be more than a venue for entertainment. As we stand in society, we must stand out by the way we show God’s generous love and grace and forgiveness. This begins in our heart; where we adopt an attitude and life that reflects God’s will and not our own. Impersonating Jesus is impossible. Imitating him is totally doable.
If advertising taught me anything it’s the simplest ideas are often the most effective. One approach is as easy as taking that tired old cliché “What Would Jesus Do” and apply it to any and every situation.
For example, when you go to work tomorrow, look around and ask yourself, “who would Jesus invite to lunch?” Or when you’re standing in line at Starbucks ask, “Would Jesus buy a cup of coffee for the person behind him?” What kind of conversation might they have while they wait for their order? How would he drive a car? Or build a new relationship with someone he didn’t know?
These are just a few ways we can begin to nurture a spirit of Christlikeness within us. It doesn’t have to be tough or difficult to practice simple gestures that might reach a wound only compassion can heal.
So why then are so many Christians afraid to put Christ at the beginning of their Christianity? I like to say, without Christ, I’m just an “Ian.”
Ian has many friends who are atheists. One who is very dear to me makes no bones about it, and neither do I. I know his heart. He’s a good man, a faithful husband and a wonderful father. He gives generously of his time and money. He opens his home and feeds people amazing meals. He listens with an empathetic heart, and seeks peace, pursuits kindness, and all that other good stuff.
When I recently told him that he had more in common with Jesus than most Christians, he laughed. But I noticed my comment made him stop and think. It’s in these moments that “who we are” actually matters. In my attempt to imitate Christ, my friend was able to take my words to heart…because he knew my heart. As a result, his heart was open…even if just for a blip…allowing the Holy Spirit to enter.
Will it change his beliefs? I don’t know. But it might empower him to keep advertising God’s will, whether he intends to or not. Paul reminds us that God uses anyone and everyone “according to his good purpose” to get the Good News out into the world.
So, as you drive down the road of life what will your billboard say? “Worry about our past?” Why, through Christ, “God has forgiven us.” “Worry about the future?” I don’t think so, the Bible tells us God gives us what we need. What about “Live today in the presence of God?” Yes, I think that would be a great ad for Jesus. I also makes a great ad for ourselves.
Live today…and love as much as you possibly can.
Smile even when you don’t feel like it.
Listen without being distracted by a phone call or text message.
Today…Take the time to sit, walk, jog…whatever…and begin a conversation with God.
And while you’re at it…don’t let the sun go down on your anger.
Today is a good day to forgive debts and trespasses against you. It’s a good day to drive carefully. Sleep peacefully. Laugh whenever possible. Radiate. Dance. Sing. Celebrate life…not just with your loved ones…but with everyone…strangers and even your enemies.
Today is a great day to begin again. Start right now. This very second. For that is exactly how long it takes for your life to stop.
Our time on earth might be limited. But our call is everlasting.
When we imitate the life of Christ, by sharing our love with one another, people are able to see you for who you really are: the beautiful, radiant, glorious face of God, through whom all blessings flow.
American poet Walt Whitman who wrote,
“Love the earth and the sun and animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others…
and your very flesh shall become a great poem.”
We hope that you will share this message, and consider donating to our ministry.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 111-12.
Rohr, Richard. Daily devotional email from the Center for Action and Contemplation, September 17, 2017.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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