Monday, June 12, 2017

In the Image of God

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you
from the One who is
and who was
and who is to come.

Welcome to Holy Trinity Sunday!
Every pastor’s nightmare.

Why? You might ask.
it’s because no matter what I
or any other pastor tries to say about the Trinity,
it is inevitable
that we will lapse into some form of heresy.
So, I am not going to preach today
about the Trinity--
the Triune God,
the Three Persons of the Godhead,
or whatever other name
you want to give our God.
I will let the two-and-a-half pages
of the Athanasian Creed
attempt to do that shortly.

I am going to the beginning.
The very beginning.
To the beginning of all time.
Because that is where our Genesis reading begins.
“In the beginning
when God created the heavens and the earth.”

In the original Hebrew,
the word used for God is Elohim.
this is a plural word.
The singular word for God is El.

It’s also helpful to know that the word,
is a simple, ordinary word for God.
It can be used to identify any deity.
It’s not a personal name.
Its use implies
that this God is not just the God of Israel,
but God,
the creator of the entire universe.

in just the first phrase,
we have a sense
of not only the plural nature of this God,
but also the sovereign nature
of this creator of the whole world--
of a sovereign God
who creates effortlessly,
and with no limits.

So, God goes about creating the world.
God thinks,
God speaks,
God births,
God prevails,
God creates,
God builds,
God arranges,
God shapes,
and, then,
God delegates.
We read in verse 26,
where God says,
“Let us
(Do you once again hear
the plural nature of God there?)...
let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness.”
Two early church fathers,
Gregory of Nyssa and Chrysostom,
called this phrase--
”let us”--
the divine deliberation
among the persons of the Trinity.
Luther wrote
that it confirms the mystery of our Christian faith,
that there is one eternal God,
in whose divine essence
there are three distinct persons.

It was the eternal Triune God there,
fully present at the creation of the cosmos.
And it was the eternal Triune God
who made humankind in God’s own likeness.
In the image of God.

The image of God.
That’s an interesting expression,
isn’t it?
We use it often,
but I wonder if we know what it really means.
In the image of God.
All of humanity,
created in the image of God.
We read that in Genesis 9
as God is instructing Noah
upon exiting the ark,
“Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in his own image,
God made humankind.

It would seem to me that,
if each of us
and all of us
are created in God’s own image,
there is great dignity in that.
Great dignity in what it means to be human.
For me
and for you
and for every person we meet.
How does it change your reaction
or response to someone
if you understand that they,
like yourself,
have been created in God’s own image.
That homeless person on the street?
That next-door neighbor
who makes you a little crazy?
That person
who just cut you off in traffic?
President Trump?
Hillary Clinton?

Does it change things for you
if you view each one in that list
and of all humanity
as made in the image of God?

There is great dignity
for all people
in being created in God’s image.
It is the same dignity,
and glory and honor,
that the psalmist writes about in Psalm 8…
“When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars
that you have established;
what are human beings
that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them
a little lower than God,
and crowned them
with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion
over the works of your hands;
you have put all things
under their feet…”

there is dignity
in being created in God’s image.
there is also great responsibility.

There is this fancy word in theology
that I really like--
Theologians often talk
about the perichoretic relationship
of the Triune God.
Perichoresis is a word
that describes this relationship:
as co-indwelling,
and mutual interpenetration.  
Alistair McGrath writes that
“it allows the individuality
of the persons
to be maintained,
while insisting
that each person
shares in the life
of the other two.”
In this relationship of the Triune God,
there is separation,
yet there is togetherness.
There is individuality,
yet there is community.

How the three persons
of the Godhead
live in relationship to each other
is how God has created all creation to live.
Not just humanity,
but all creation.
Respecting the gifts
and individuality of the other.
loving and caring for each other
and all creation
in full relationship,
in community.
A community of being
in which each person
maintains its distinctive identity,
yet is interconnected to the other.  

we know
that we are not now perfect representations
of the image of God.
In our fallen state,
we constantly dismiss this
in others and in creation.
We ignore those who we think are unimportant,
or disrespect those with no power.
We manipulate others for our own ends.
We pollute and damage creation,
using it for our own selfish needs
instead of how God desires.

The good news,
as we read in Colossians 3,
is that our new selves
are being “renewed in knowledge
according to the image of its creator.”
This renewal,
this creative work
doesn’t happen by our own understanding
or strength.
Instead it happens through God,
through the redemptive work
of the Son on the cross
and through the sanctifying work
of the Holy Spirit
that begins in our baptisms.

And, it happens here
in this place.
In community.
inside these walls,
with each other.
It is here
where we continue to be shaped
and formed
through the Word
and in the Sacraments,
in relationship with each other,
to become the people who God desires us to be--
people created in the image of God.

This is God’s desire for us.
This is God’s desire for all humanity.
God is determined
that we will all be reshaped
into God’s image,
just as God intended us to be
from the sixth day of creation.
as the church,
is our task.
It is the same task given by Jesus
to the disciples:
to participate in God’s mission.

Did you hear that?
To participate in God’s mission.
Notice that it is God’s mission
and not ours
or that of the church.
It is God’s mission
that we will all be reshaped
into God’s image.
We are called to give witness
to that mission--
how we have experienced God
so that others might see
and wonder how God is working.
To witness through word and action
to what God is already doing
in our neighborhood,
our community,
and our world.
God is always ahead of us,
and renewing.
Our task
is to join God in that work--
in God’s mission--
and to testify to God
as the source of all grace,
all love
and all community.

To join the dance of the Trinity.
To jump into that relationship of mysterious,
yet, unbelievable
Three in One.
To be freed
in hope and love
and to be woven into full relationship
with the Triune God
and with all humanity
and all creation.

How else can we respond
except in the beginning
and ending words of our psalm today:
“O Lord,
our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name
in all the earth!”


Preached June 11, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran, Goshen, KY.
The Holy Trinity
Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

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