“Sharing God’s Image”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
First of Six in “Holy Habits-Sharing Resources” series
10 January, 2021
Genesis 1:26-31
John 1:1-5, 10-14

I know I’m not the only pastor who struggled with what to say today.  The chaos and riots that erupted in our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday were profoundly unsettling at best, laying bare the deep and growing chasm between the narratives so many of us live by in this country.

Where even to begin, and how to speak without alienating?  Because in our own congregation, we have different perspectives about reality and what is true, stemming at least in part from the sources we have trusted for our information about what’s happening in the world, and how to read or interpret it.

But one source we as Christians all accept as telling the truth and shedding light on the realities of this world is the Bible.  And in the Congregational tradition, we believe in the authority of Scripture, which can only be properly interpreted in community.  We encourage the active sharing of individual conscience and convictions about Biblical teaching based on personal reflection on and engagement with the holy Scriptures.  So, even a child who listens to the reading of the Bible may have divine insight to share about what’s written.  Certainly, Jesus did even as a boy… to the pleasure of some, and to the consternation and even suspicion of others.  Remember what John said, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”[1]

I never cease to be amazed and delighted by how often the Holy Spirit says, “Look!  See, I had this in hand when you were planning, though you couldn’t possibly have seen it clearly at the time.”  It happened again this week, when I realized that the scripture passages I had selected several weeks ago to introduce our new Holy Habit theme are actually perfect for this moment.  Because, as I said in my introduction to the theme of the Holy Habit of Sharing, it made sense to start at the very beginning—even before the beginning, really.

As Genesis Chapter 1 makes clear and Dr. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder quipped in an article I read this past week, “The Creator knows what to do with and in chaos. Creation has chaos in its DNA.”[2]  According to our most ancient story about how the earth and we ourselves came into being, the first several days of creation were all about God working with the chaos of the void and the deep, bringing order and light and life as creatures of all sorts were dreamt up and then fashioned by the mind and the word and the breath of God.  Finally, as the crowning act of creation, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” and, effectively, “let us share our work and joy in all that we’re undertaking in this creation.”

What can possibly be meant by the words, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’?  Given our knowledge and understanding of the universe and the cosmos, no one would seriously suggest that God is some flesh-and-bones being, only on an infinitely larger scale. Our likeness to God has nothing to do with our physical form. So, then what?

I think the answer must lie in the attributes and character of God. We are conforming to the image or likeness of God when we conform to the nature and ways of God, just as we would say someone conforms to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ when their behavior—and not their physical appearance—resembles what we know of Jesus’ life and attitudes and commitments.

The behaviors of God we read about in Genesis One include: an idea, followed by the act, followed by entrusting humankind with a care-taking role, with a spirit of mutuality, and the gift of free will: the ability to choose whether we will use our powers of dominion for nurturing, or for destruction and self-interest.

All of these activities by God display a hopefulness, a confidence, and a love for and appreciation of the diverse beauty of all that has been created, as well as a deep desire to live in communion with all of it – to share life.  And especially with human life, which possesses powers of reflection, evaluation, and agency that the Bible says elsewhere is just a little lower than the angels’.

But you know, it didn’t take long before things went a bit sour and the author of our creation story acknowledged that the God-given gifts of agency and choice proved too much for us.  When God entrusted humankind with “dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and every living thing that moves upon the earth”, I believe the authority was intended to be a power for others, just as all of God’s gestures were acts of sharing life; we were given an agency and ability to assist all of life to mutually flourish.

From the beginning, though, we have allowed ourselves to become consumed with the temptation to have more than our fair share: more power, more resources, a greater sense of grandeur – at the expense of universal flourishing.  Having been created in the image of God was not enough.  We wanted to be the same as God, to be God—with one key difference: human beings who aspire to be God are generally not interested in sharing.

To this day, it’s when we indulge our desire to be God, rather than being content to be like God, that the gap between us widens.  Not only that, but the more we indulge our desire to be God—to be in charge, to be the ultimate at any level—the more difficult we find it to connect with our truest self, to find the peace and joy our souls yearn for.

It’s been argued that where it says, “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image,’” it’s an early reference to the Trinity.  And although it’s not the only way that sentence can be interpreted (especially for people who respect the tradition of our Jewish brothers and sisters), it is one way to read it theologically.

Certainly, as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ was God-made-human: Immanu’el.  And this reading make sense with the first verse of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  It was Jesus who showed us how to live fully into God’s original intention for us as human manifestations of God’s own image.  And his followers have always recognized how Jesus was the very image of God from the beginning, and have endeavored to imitate him and learn his ways—to bear his image, which we are able to do by the power of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Each year, on the Sunday after Epiphany, the Church observes the Baptism of Jesus.  Churches who are using the Revised Common Lectionary will hear Mark’s gospel account of the moment when Jesus was baptized.  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”[3]  

It’s a testament to God’s infinite grace that we, too, are claimed as God’s Beloved – especially if and when our attitudes and behaviors bear little or no resemblance to Jesus Christ.

But, as those who have come to understand that Jesus’ life and commitments represented the incarnation of God’s original loving plan and hope for all of human life, we will be drawn to make choices and take actions that make us conform more and more to Jesus’ image, his likeness, his attitudes and actions.  For example: his lack of fear as one firmly rooted in divine love, which conquers and expels fear.  And, the absence from him of fear-mongering, threats, or intimidation.  His love for the outsider, the disenfranchised, the alienated.  And, his critique of the powerful, the callous, the self-absorbed.  His gifts of healing for the afflicted, and affliction of the self-satisfied.  His ability to bring calm to terrifying storms, bringing order to chaos with a word—not a word of violence and domination, but one of peace and empowerment.

Friends, many of the systems and institutions that we’ve long assumed would hold are being rocked, tested, shaken to their foundations.  None of us have ever lived through a global pandemic at this scale before, and its ripple effects are impacting absolutely every aspect of our wellbeing.  Add to that the proliferation of disinformation by people with exclusive political agendas; the stoking of fear as our society continues to change and racial inequities are becoming impossible to ignore; the dramatic pace of technological change, in a world where too many seem to be exploiting these changes along with their God-given freedom to make poor choices about whether they will nurture or destroy, serve others or themselves, pursue truth or lies … It’s not an unwarranted or unfaithful response beneath the weight of all this to cry out with frustration and lamentation, to implore the God who is ultimately sovereign over all Creation to do something—to rise up, to reverse the current trajectory, to redirect the hearts and minds of those bent on destruction, self-interest, and chaos.  To once more bring order with a word.  To prove yet again the truth that “[t]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.”[4]  To prove the power of love that triumphs over every other worldly force.  To re-affirm in us the great reversal of human experience that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection revealed.

We are in the second week of the season of Epiphany.  Last Sunday, we heard the hope-and-light filled words of Isaiah 60, which begin with “Beloved, arise, shine! For your light has come.”  And we started with a hymThis morning, as one last reminder that we share God’s image, I invite you to take in and live out of the Good News expressed in this adaptation of Isaiah 60, written by Kelly Ann Hall, and found at: https://www.theworkofthepeople.com/the-great-reversal— listen again for the preaching of God’s word for you this morning.

 

[1] John 1:11

[2] Dr. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, Associate Professor of New Testament, Chicago Theological Seminary.
https://churchanew.org/blog/posts/chaos-in-the-capitol-what-will-we-preach-this-sunday

[3] Mark 1:10-11

[4] John 1:5

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