Sat, Jun 06, 2020
In the Image of God
Genesis 1:26-31 by Dr. Matthew Rich
Series: Sunday Morning Sermons

Our Second Scripture Reading for today comes from the Book of Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26-31. As we were talking about this text in staff meeting this week during our devotional time, I mentioned that while this story is very familiar, (every children’s Sunday School curriculum starts with creation, right?) I did not ever remember preaching on the end of the sixth day of creation before. The first day of creation, sure. Lots of sermons there. The general pattern of the creation, definitely. But a sermon on just on the sixth day, I could not remember. In a more thorough search of my records I discovered I did have one sermon from 2006 that was about days six and seven of creation, but it focused on sabbath. So a familiar text, but perhaps also new. As we hear it today, I invite us to listen with fresh ears for the Word of God that might be found today in just these verses of the creation story.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

There is a story about a little girl who was in a drawing lesson. Just six years old she struggled each week with this time, but on this day she was actually paying attention. The teacher came over to ask what she was drawing. The girl said, “I'm drawing a picture of God.” The teacher replied that nobody knows what God looks like. Undeterred, the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

I would have liked to have seen the picture that she drew. Because I am sure that it would have been delightful. In fact, that seems to be the sense of the whole first creation story in Genesis. It is an artistic calling forth of creation, a permission giving for existence. Let there be light and stars and land and swarms of living creatures in the waters and birds flying above the earth. Earlier on the sixth day of creation, just before the text we read this morning, God said: Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. … And God saw that it was good. Did you catch that even the creepy crawly things are invited to live, to exist, and to thrive as God paints this portrait of creation with the Word. Yes, it was good.

I believe we have talked about the word in Hebrew for “good” before. Yes, the Hebrew word for “good” is tov. Tov means “pleasing to the senses.” So, homemade apple pie just out of the oven is tov. Jumping into a cool swimming pool on a 95 degree day is tov. Hearing a master play the violin is tov. Maybe for you catching a glimpse of the sanctuary during worship today when we have been absent from it for so long is tov. Yes, when God calls forth something it is tov, it is good, it brings God great delight. Indeed as theologian David Willis has written, “God could have just as well have created the world for its usefulness, but God created it also for its delight.” Have you ever thought about that? God created the world because it brought God great delight. And even more God wants to share that delight with you and with me?

Because that is what happens at the end of the sixth day of creation. Yes, just as that young girl sought to create a picture of God, in our text today God signs the canvas of creation with an image of God’s very self. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. I am not aware of another creation story in any other religious or cultural tradition in which the gods put living, breathing, walking-around images of themselves into the world. And it is significant that not just a single human being bears this image. No, humankind is created in the image of God. The vast diversity of the human creation and experience bears the image of God. And when God does this, when God adds the image of God’s very self to creation, we discover that it is not just good. No, God declares it is very good, manifestly good, exceedingly good, abundantly good. It is delightful.

Now, while we must admit that the original Hebrew readers of this text would never have seen a reference here to our Christian Trinitarian understanding of God, as we read this text today we can find a hint or two. If the image of God in the world is so rich and diverse as to be reflected in the entirety of humankind, then there must be some richness and diversity within God’s very self. Not a singular old man sitting on a throne. Not a bearded buddy putting his arm around you when you are feeling low. Not a wind blowing in the trees. Not a single image of God. No, we find Father, Son and Holy Spirit plus a whole lot of other scriptural descriptions that remind us of both the mystery and the intimacy of our God. Yes, the diversity in God’s very self is reflected in the diversity of humankind. And God said it is very good, manifestly good, exceedingly good, abundantly good. It is delightful.

Yes, God created the world because it brought God such great delight. God signs the canvas of creation by putting an image of God’s very self into the world and declares it delightful. God shares that delight with you and with me and wants us to share it with one another.

But so often we fail at this vocation. We fall short. We sin. Instead of sharing and multiplying God’s delight; we share anger, pain, distrust, dismay, prejudice, privilege, injustice, and violence. We fail to see the image of God in others. We believe the image of God is reserved only for those who look like us or who live like us or who believe like us. And that is nothing less than idolatry. As Presbyterian writer Anne Lamott has written, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Yes, we are quite skilled at creating God in our image instead of rejoicing that it is the other way around.

My friends, we are reminded today in the midst of our own brokenness and this broken world how disastrously we have failed to bear the image of God in the world. We have failed miserably at sharing God’s divine delight. But instead of blaming someone else - and there are plenty of potentially deserving targets, let us focus on our own responsibility and failures. For there is much work to do and with God’s amazing grace, we each have a part to play.

This morning, we might begin at a table. In a few moments we will gather around our tables at home, which by the power and gift of the Holy Spirit, become the Lord’s Table. All are invited and welcome at the Lord’s Table. This was powerfully dramatized years ago in a movie called Places in the Heart. The final scene in the movie occurs in a small country church where a sparse congregation is gathered for worship. Wayne and Margaret Lomax begin to hold hands, their marital estrangement healed after his lover leaves town with her husband. The elements of Communion are passed among the congregation and we see Wayne and Margaret receive the sacrament together and we think, “Oh, how nice.”

But as the bread and wine are passed from person to person, suddenly the congregation is more numerous than before. There are new people in the pews – including most of the villains from the movie. Finally the plates are passed to Edna Spalding, her two children, and Mr. Will, her blind boarder. However now sitting next to Will, where there was once an empty seat, is Moze, the African American who helped Edna prevent foreclosure on her farm by bringing in a crop of cotton. The night before, Moze had fled town under threat from the Ku Klux Klan whose members were now sitting in the pew directly in front of the Spalding family. We think to ourselves, “There is no way that Moze would be welcome in this small Texas depression era white congregation.”

Moze receives the sacrament and passes it on to Will, who passes it on to the Spalding children. Edna herself receives the plate and then passes it to her husband Royce, who now sits in the once empty seat beside her. Royce was murdered within the first five minutes of the film, shot in the line of duty as sheriff, by a drunk African American teenager, Wylie. Scratching our heads we ask, “How can Royce be present in church at the end of the movie?”

Finally with the words, “The peace of God,” the deceased sheriff passes the sacrament to the person beside him, who turns out to be none other than his slayer. Wylie receives communion, saying to Royce, “The peace of God,” and this strange scene fades slowly away as the movie closes.

Yes, at the table of the Lord the richness and diversity of humankind can gather, enemies might become brothers and sisters in Christ, the image of God might be recognized in each and every one. A bite of bread and a sip of juice - a small step, but it is one way to begin to polish and reflect the image of God in you and in me.

And as Christ meets us there at his table, it just might be delightful and we might even glimpse a picture of God!

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: