Made in the Image of God

I preached this sermon during the 11am Traditional Service at First Lutheran Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  The two readings for the service were Genesis 1:26-31 and Luke 10:38-42 both taken from the NRSV translation.  You can listen to the gospel reading and the sermon above and, if you desire, follow along with my manuscript below. Enjoy.


 

Happy New Year!

Now that 2015 has come to a close and we have welcomed in 2016 it is time for that great tradition: The New Year’s Resolution! Whether you love them or hate them, New Year’s resolutions come in many forms. Some of us may be looking to go to the gym more often, or maybe quit smoking. This year I was challenged by Emily Lemoine to choose a word that I wanted to intentionally focus on for the year. Regardless of the form these resolutions take, they are designed for us to look at ourselves in a new way for places we can improve ourselves

At the end of the year we have the opportunity to look back to the beginning and ask ourselves how well we kept our resolutions, to examine whether or not we made the improvements we set out to make, if we got closer to our idea of who we want to be.

Therefore, it is only fitting that we should use this first Sunday in the New Year to go back to the beginning of Scripture, way before Christianity even existed, to the beginning of creation. In our Hebrew Bible reading today we find ourselves in the 6th day of creation. Up to this point God has created light, water, sky, dry land, plants, sun, moon, and stars. God has created the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, land animals and now people. God will later create vegetation that all of God’s creation can use for food.   You know the story, filled with beautifully poetic prose that rhythmically paints a picture of creation out of a formless void[1] and declared it good. The rhythm of this first creation narrative in Genesis takes a slight detour in our reading from the 6th day of creation, however. Hear again Genesis 1, verse 27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In no other place in the creation account is another created in God’s own image, the Imago Dei, both male and female. Before we have the opportunity to say or do anything, before we can draw in our first breath, we, the human race, are created in the Image of God. The trouble is that it’s a lot easier for some of us to find ourselves in God’s image, than others.

When I took my first Theology class at Wake Divinity last year I struggled a lot with this passage. As I studied a more literal translation of this verse, which reads that God created adam in his image. With a limited understanding of the Hebrew language I thought that adam translated to Adam, the first named man. If God created man in his image then where was I as a woman possibly going to find where I fit in an Image of God that was only masculine. With further study and the help of my friend and classmate Liam, I learned that adam is understood to mean human or humankind, but more literally means “ruddy” like the reddish color of earth. Adama, the feminine equivalent of the word, means ground. So, when God creates adam in his image, God creates beings of the ground, both male and female, in God’s own image, rather than just Adam, the representation of men.

With that foothold in place, I continued searching for where I fit into the Imago Dei. And so, I began searching through the bible for ways God is described not only in more commonly heard terms like Father, Lord, and Master, and found comparisons of God to a mother bear in Hosea[2], or mother eagle in Deuteronomy[3], descriptions of God laboring[4] and giving birth[5] to creation, in Isaiah, and again in Deuteronomy, respectively. In addition to more gender neutral names like Rock of Salvation[6], Fountain of Life[7], the First and the Last[8], Refuge and Strength, and Shelter from the Storm.[9] Time and again in the Old Testament God feeds God’s people beginning with the verses that close our reading from Genesis, a task that in ancient Israel would have been specifically designated to women.

God doesn’t stop there though. God celebrates individuals who choose to subvert gender roles ascribed to them by society, breaking down roles like women taking care of the home or men studying and engaging in business, for example. A month ago Emily preached a sermon where she described Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as spunky, adventurous, and a woman who challenges authority. A woman who is frequently seen traveling, even alone, rather than in domestic roles. Our Gospel reading today tells the story of another Mary, Mary of Bethany, Lazarus and Martha’s sister, another woman who breaks the rules. When Jesus visits Mary and Martha in their home Mary is found sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what he had to say. While this scene doesn’t seem like much on the surface having a place at the teacher’s feet was reserved for that teacher’s disciples. The fact that Jesus not only welcomes Mary in her discipleship, but approves of it, opens up that place of discipleship to women as well as men, when such a place was reserved only to the latter socially.

You see, God transcends the boundaries of the male gender that the church traditionally ascribes to God. God created humankind in God’s own image, both male and female, God created them in Genesis. “We see this, the celebration of the divine male and female, in the spirit of God that hovers over the waters at creation–the Hebrew for spirit, ruach [roo-akh], is feminine. And we of course see it in the Gospels when God shows up it the male body of Jesus.” In order for us to fully understand ourselves as made in God’s image we first have to understand that that divine image consists of both divine masculine and divine feminine in harmony with one another.

So what does it mean for us as beings made in both the divine masculine and feminine image of God, created as part of that which God declared “good” in the beginning?

If we, that is ALL of us, in the human race are created in God’s image then it is our responsibility as part of the Church and as God’s created beings, to speak up for rather than against those whom society chooses to deem “other.” Whether it’s women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ Community, refugees, persons whose religious beliefs differ from our own or any other marginalized people group.   We can do this by seeking relationships with our brothers and sisters who have lived experiences that differ from our own and taking the time to talk with them, to get to know them, and their stories.

By taking the time to hear the voices of the marginalized, those whom our society has decided are not welcome here, or don’t fit into what society’s pre-conceived notions of what the Image of God looks like, we can walk with our sisters and brothers, adding our voices to their laments to end gun violence, cries for sanctuary from war torn homelands, demands for equality and safety of all people, and start building a church known for its hospitality, rather than exclusion. A church where “All are Welcome”, and where “All means ALL” because we are one people beautifully created in the divine image of God.

As we remember the visit of the Magi with their gifts on Epiphany let us also remember the gift we were offered, in the beginning, as part of the diverse Imago Dei from the moment of our birth as part of God’s “good” creation. Let us also remember that with that gift comes the gift of responsibility to welcome in the marginalized of our world celebrating our differences rather than ignoring them.

Like Mary of Bethany and Mary, the Mother of Jesus let us dare to break the rules we are handed that say there is only one “right” way to act or to believe. Let us celebrate and be challenged by a God who will not be encapsulated by a single gender identity nor the roles often prescribed to gender binaries, for God is far greater than the boundaries we place on God. As God created adam in God’s image, both male and female, let us continue to look harder at what we believe, always asking questions in the place of a disciple with a willingness to be transformed, with the courage to examine how our beliefs could hurt our neighbor. A New Year offers countless possibilities. Make your resolution count.

[1] Genesis 1:1

[2] Hosea 13:8

[3] Deuteronomy 32:11-12

[4] Isaiah 42:14

[5] Deuteronomy 32:18.

[6] 2 Samuel 22:47, Psalm 89:26.

[7] Psalm 36:9.

[8] Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13.

[9] Isaiah 25:4.

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