Made in God’s Own Image, Humankind Is Good

Trinity Sunday, Pentecost 2, Genesis 1:1-2:4, 2 Cor. 13:11-13 and Matthew 28:16-20

Sermon to Pohick Church on FaceBook Live, June 6, 2020

The first chapter of Genesis emphasizes that humankind is created in God’s own image – and that humankind is “good.”

Images deeply influence how we are formed. The God we imagine is the God we emulate. In cultivating our “religious imagination,” we contemplate the essence of our Creator, and we become like Him.

Yes, as lofty and improbable as it sounds, you and I were created to look like and act like our Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in a dynamic, eternal relationship of mutual love.

In Genesis we hear, “Then God said, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”

Two months ago, that statement was easier to swallow. Godlike images abounded: In the early days of the pandemic, people of all nations, races and religions worldwide were uniting in selfless love: together in staying apart, protecting the vulnerable, and risking lives to serve the sick and dying.

Today we aren’t seeing those images so much! The concept that we are created in God’s image is really hard to believe these days, isn’t it? Turning on the evening news quickly convinces us otherwise: an innocent African American man senselessly killed by a policeman; peaceful protests overshadowed by violent, self-serving riots and looting; a nation regressing before our eyes, from unity to division.

If we’re created in God’s own image, how does our image change so quickly? After all, God’s doesn’t!

That’s one constant we truly can count on: God’s Image never changes. This is what we emphasize on this Trinity Sunday:

The Changelessness of our one God;
The Self-Giving Relationship of the Three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
The Unifying Power of the Spirit of Love given to us for the purpose of growing into God’s likeness and sharing the good news.

The good news is: throughout the history of mankind, from Creation to the Last Days – God stays the same! God was, is, and always will be one dynamic, ongoing relationship of love: The Father creates us with such potential for good. The Father sends His Son Jesus, who offers the grace of forgiveness and new beginnings. The Father and Son send their Spirit, who in turn, lives in us and sends us to share this good news.

Given that God says, “Let us make humankind in our image,” it’s astonishing how quickly we find ways to depart from God’s likeness:

This week we’ve seen mages of George Floyd gasping for his mother; images of police subduing rioting and looting; images of our leaders polarizing rather than unifying…

So how do we begin to reconcile this lack of integrity? We’re all made in God’s image, but we sure aren’t acting like it! Where do we find calm, hope and healing in the midst of chaos, despair, and division?

My sister in law and I met a policeman recently who was asking these questions. Parked in our parking lot, protecting our historic church, he clearly needed to unload and share his own despair at the state of things. He spoke eloquently of his disgust about George Floyd’s murder. He condemned the racism present in some police. He was frustrated that they destroy the image of the majority. He said just because he’s a policeman doesn’t mean he makes those choices. Just because he’s white doesn’t mean he can’t feel the grief of black people – or at least try to — and work for reconciliation. In fact, he told us with tears in his eyes, that he loves to serve by protecting those who protest injustices. I was heartened later in the week to see images of just what he was describing: police and National Guard laying down shields and kneeling humbly at the feet of peaceful protestors!

Oh that we would lay down our shields and bow our knees more often, valuing the personhood and viewpoint of the other! Finding common ground! Instead, we tend to approach issues dualistically, making decisions and judgments in a binary, either/or way:

I’m right, so you’re wrong.
My truth is THE Truth; so your truth is a lie.
And the ultimate dualism:
I am good; you are evil.

In other words if we express an opinion, we are labelled in one “camp” or another.

Dualistic thinking is divisive and destructive. Only God is completely good and completely right. Only God knows THE truth that brings freedom. On this side of heaven, you and I only possess part of that truth, a shadow of it, as through a glass darkly.

So, if you find yourself insisting that you possess THE truth – beware! As Jesus repeatedly warned the Pharisees: you have a long way to go!

By all means, stand up and protest injustices, particularly racism! Do so peacefully, reaching out in love: Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. Demonstrating humility and peace. For these are God’s qualities, which we see with crystal clarity in Jesus Christ.

On the cross we find the clearest image of God’s power. In Jesus’ resurrection we see the power of self-giving love and forgiveness defeating the power of force and division every single time.

In these highly polarized times, how might we live into Christ’s love? How do we live into our God-given image with integrity, when the world screams at us to divide?

The guidelines are simple. With the eyes and ears of our hearts fixed on Jesus, we see and hear His voice in our hearts:

Love God.
Love your neighbor – every single one. No exceptions.

Be humble. Humility means not speaking loudly over someone to express your own truth. Even if you believe that person is flat-out wrong, listen. Offer respect. Find a middle ground as they express their point of view; and:

Practice moderation.

Moderation is not a popular stance. We prefer to dwell in one camp and hurl insults at the other. We assign binary labels like “liberal” or “conservative.” Those who are forgiving, humble, and moderate, who are able to meet people right where they are, and who listen and learn from both sides, tend to be labeled as wimps, or as indecisive.

Yet Jesus possesses these qualities. The power of love draws disciples to him. And these are the qualities Jesus equips us with to go out into the world to share.

Great leaders know the power of humility and love, and they consistently point to the image of Christ.

As many know, a lifelong parishioner and leader of Pohick Church was none other than George Washington. Like his father, he raised his family here, in the Anglican via media, or the “middle way” of the established colonial church. Anglicans are known for a “latitdudinarian” approach –a big word for offering plenty of theological breadth. No either/or’s, no false divisions. Both unity and diversity; both Catholic and Protestant, both Sacrament and Word. The Son of God is both human and divine, with both vulnerability and great power.

Formed in this ethos, Washington learned and emulated the qualities of Jesus Christ. Washington’s humble, moderate leadership demonstrated that God’s love has the power to transform individuals and influence the birth of a nation.

I’m going to read a quote from his circular letter of 1783, written to the governors of the states at the end of the Revolutionary War and on the eve of the Constitution. Listen for his aversion to factions and divisiveness. Listen for emphasis on moderation, humility, reconciliation, unity:

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large…that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with the that charity, humility, and peaceful temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our Blessed Religion – and without an humble invitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a Happy Nation.”

Humility, obedience, order, peace, and love. Washington knew it is only in contemplating the image of our Triune God, and in emulating the Divine Author Jesus Christ, that we can be a Happy Nation.

It’s not easy to keep our eyes fixed on the image of God’s unifying, healing love, when we are distracted by polarizing images of division and hate.

It’s hard to see how humankind is made in God’s image.

Perhaps you’ll find solace in the words of Nelson Mandela, another Anglican and a leader during South Africa’s apartheid. He would become discouraged by rampant racism, and by broken and divided humanity. In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela writes:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. In that way lies defeat and death.”

In the coming days, no matter how dark it seems, let’s keep our head pointed toward ‘the sun.’ Continue to pray for humility, justice, reconciliation, unity and peace in our land. As many of our great Christian leaders have taught and embodied, when our imaginations are filled with the Son of God, that is surely our way to love, goodness, and life! Amen.