Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Does 'Made in the Image of God' Mean? (Genesis 1:26-27)

26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”

27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
        in the divine image God created them,
            male and female God created them.


It is Mother’s Day today, and I welcome the moms who have joined their children and or grandchildren in worship today.  I welcome children and grandchildren who have joined mom or grandma today, because one of the things she wanted today was for the whole family to come to church together.  So, whether you are here today because it’s what you wanted to do, or because Mom guilt-tripped you into coming, which, as a mother, is her right to do, either way, I’m glad you’re here today.


One of the tricky things about Mother’s Day is the honest recognition that while it is a happy day for many, it’s a painful day for many others, for a whole variety of reasons.  As a church, we walk a fine line on Mother’s Day between celebrating with those who celebrate today, but not adding additional hurt to those for whom today is already difficult enough.  That’s what the church does – we simultaneously rejoice with those who rejoice, while we weep with those who weep.  So whether today is a joyful or a difficult day for you, thank you for giving us all a chance to be the church today.


Mother’s Day was started by Anna Jarvis, a Methodist from West Virginia, who wanted to honor all women and the influence they have in raising us, pouring themselves into us, shaping us, forming us, making us the people we have turned out to be.  She was thinking of both actual mothers, but also spiritual mothers who, whether or not they have children of their own, have left an impression on us.


I think of some of the church mothers, like Mrs. Marshall, who always wore a hat every Sunday, and whose *snap* in the sanctuary could freeze a misbehaving child at 20 paces.  That sound was so familiar and long-established in the church in which I grew up that there were adults who still tensed up when they heard it.  I think of Mrs. Kellogg, who kept the nursery, even though her own grandchildren lived hundreds of miles away.  I think of Mrs. Jasper, who tried to instill something of the Christian faith into us rowdy, smart-mouthed middle school boys, and who, despite our best efforts and appearance of total disinterest in each week’s lesson, was more successful than we would have ever let on.


I think of extended family, too – second cousins and my grandmothers and my aunts – my mom’s sisters who all look and sound so much alike, that my cousins and I, as toddlers, were known to walk into the kitchen where the sisters were working together and grab Mom’s pant leg, only to look up and realize that we’d gotten the wrong one.


Something of each of these women is part of who I am, indeed, it does take a village to raise a child, and today I celebrate these who were part of the village that raised me, and as I look back over this list, I can’t help but think, “God bless them, because these women sure must have loved me an awful lot to put up with what they did.”


You can so often see the influence and family resemblance from one generation to the next.  You could put a picture of me and my Dad taken at the same ages next to each other, and you’d think we were twins.  We are often a chip off the old block, or the apple don’t fall too far from the tree, as it were.  Ashley was looking at a recent photo of herself yesterday and she said, “I am so turning into my mother,” which I could have told her a long time was already happening, but I’m smarter than that, but I will tell you a I got a good, hard look at my mother-in-law before we got married just to make sure I was good with how everything was going to turn out in the long run.


Family resemblances are hard to deny – and they’re not just physical.  Something of those who raise us rubs off on us, makes us who we are.  No doubt, many of you have found yourselves in the same situation, realizing you are looking more and more like one of your parents, or finding yourself doing or saying certain things, perhaps things you swore you would never do, as you think, “I am so turning into my father or into my mother.”


Likewise, our family resemblance to our Heavenly Father is hard to deny.  The Scriptures tell us today that we are made in God’s image.  Think about that.  Something of God’s character is imprinted upon us, makes us who we are, undeniably, unmistakably identifying us as having something of God within us.  But what?


In ancient near Eastern culture, an image carried the essence of the thing it represented.  It’s why world leaders would have statues of themselves placed in far corners of their empires, ego not withstanding, it was a way to take their authority and presence into distance lands.  It’s why the Hebrew people were warned against having idols or false gods or making graven images, lest the essence of those things infect their devotion to God, which it often did.


Images are not merely symbolic, they powerfully carry the essence of the thing they represent in real and tangible ways.  We are no different.  When the Biblical writers chose the words “made in God’s image” to describe humanity, those were powerful and intentionally-chosen words, meant to convey in no uncertain terms that we, humanity, the pinnacle of God’s whole creation, have been created with something of God’s essence and character within us.


What we mean when we say that we are created in the image of God will largely depend on who we understand God to be.  Last week, we spent some time getting clear on our basic, fundamental understanding of who God is – establishing a picture in our minds of God’s character, what makes God, God.  We turned, as always, to the Scriptures, which told us plainly and clearly that “God is Love.”  That’s our starting point, our foundation, the root from which the whole rest of it grows – God is Love.


Tina Turner rightfully asked, “What’s love got to do with it?”, and the Christian faith responds that Love has EVERYTHING to do with it because Love is who God is, plain and simple.  And we, all of humanity, is made in God’s image, so it naturally follows that since God is Love, we are made in the image of Love.


Wow.  God is Love.  And God’s love for us is so great that when God makes us, God fashions us in God’s own image – the image of love.  Every man, woman, and child, everyone who has ever lived, everyone who will ever live, is made in the image of God, which is Love, and has the capacity to become like God, namely, to be perfected in love.  Over time, by God’s grace, we find the family resemblance becoming more pronounced as we grow in love, to become like God.


And here’s the thing about what happens when God creates – every time God creates, God says, “It is good.”  Read through the creation accounts in Genesis: God creates, God stands back and surveys what God has just made, and declares, “It is good.”


Theologians have said, “Creation, as it leaves the hand of God, is good.”  How do we know?  Because God has declared it so!  Creation, as it leaves the hand of God, is good.  In fact, God says humanity is “very good,” and it stands to good reason that, having been made in God’s image, imbued with something of God’s character, filled with God’s essence, which is Love, we would be.  We are made in the image of God, and creation, as it leaves the hand of God, is good.


That, of course, is only part of the story.  It’s the first part of the story, the foundational part of the story, but the other part of the story is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as Romans 3:23 tells us.  We fall short of the glory of God, the image of God, the Love of God.  Every day we do this.  The word, “sin” means both “a condition of separation,” and “the act of missing the mark.”  Every day we do things that separate us from God and others, every day we miss the mark by sometimes painfully wide margins.


Even as people of faith, every day we fall short of loving God and our neighbor fully and completely, every day we fail to glorify God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.


Some would start the story of faith there – with a sinful humanity.  And that’s part of the story, but it’s not the start of the story.  There are a few chapters in the story that come first.  Remember, our starting point is with God, and creation, of which humanity is a part, as it leaves the hand of God, is good.


And so, before we sinned, before you and I were separated and distanced from God, we were made in God’s image.  Even when we fall into sin, that image is still there, for God has placed it permanently and indelibly upon each of us.  The image of God may be tarnished, it may be bent, it may be obscured, or hidden, or almost unrecognizable.  It may be covered over by layers of selfishness and willfulness and pride – but it’s still there.


Just as we at times may distance ourselves from our parents, turn our backs on them, disobey them, resent them, rebel against them, yet, be unable to deny that whatever they have done to shape our character is still a part of us, even when we make it hard to see, so too does that image of God remain upon us, waiting to be restored to its original glory, shone and polished back into beauty and brilliance.


My sister and her husband own a sprawling house built in 1878 that is a total heap – but they love it.  It sat on the market for years, until they came along, and could envision what it would look like to restore that home to its former glory.  And that’s what they’re doing – slowly, carefully, pain-stakingly restoring what has been there all along, just waiting to be revealed.


And that’s how God deals with us.  God sees the brilliance, the beauty, the reality of what how we were originally made, for it was God who fashioned us in the first place, and the story of salvation is one of God slowly, carefully, painstakingly restoring the image of God that’s been there all along, just waiting to be revealed – and thank God, God loves us enough to restore us and reveal who we were created to be all along.


It all starts with God’s Love.  We find our value, our dignity, our worth, not in ourselves, but in God.  For the person who is struggling with feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt, know that you are valuable simply because you are made in God’s image, and as such, you are a person of sacred and inestimable worth.


Friends, God doesn’t love us because we are lovable.  God loves us because God is Love.  God doesn’t love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good.  God is Love and we are made in God’s image – we are imbued with God’s attributes of love and creativity, and we most fully live into our purpose when we use that love and creativity to restore others as God has restored us.


After all, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.  We are made in God’s image; may the family resemblance be unmistakable.

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