Ahh but something happens as we grow up and live in the adult world and we look around at people….can we still see this image of God?
I remember when my daughter was young maybe around 10, we were talking about what God might look like and she said, “I think God is male and female, black, white, yellow, young and old, God is everyone!” Immediately I got an image in my mind and wanted to commission an artist to create this beautiful vision. Somehow it’s not hard for a 10yr old to imagine the image of God.
Today when everyone returns from our summer adventures and the church is more full of children it’s easier to see the image of God.
But like I said as we come into adulthood it’s harder to look around and really believe this is the image of God.
Yet scripture tells us, And God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…in the image of God…God created humankind.
What is it you think of when you imagine the image of God?
Clearly when we talk about the image of God we are not just talking about what God looks like as if God had human features but we are talking more I think about the character of God…what is God like and what does it mean to be created in that image?
As I was meditating on this scripture I couldn’t help but think the spark of God is in all of us…the divine spark!
I consider getting married a conversion experience really. I had been away from church for a very long time… not just church but God. I had grown up being taught that God is judgmental and watches your every step waiting for you to mess up…that’s what it seemed like to me. God was a rule maker…a judge…quick to punish…and you were always messing up and couldn’t measure up to this God. When I got married I felt such complete unconditional love that I could now imagine that maybe just maybe this is really what God is like….unconditional love! 1 John 4 says…”God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God.” The priest who would officiate the wedding, having listened to my journey of all the ways I had strayed looked at me and said “welcome back…God is a loving and forgiving God and is glad you’ve returned!”
Now don’t get me wrong…this was not an immediate conversion it wasn’t like Paul who was knocked off his horse blind for several days and comes to see himself as a completely different person…no it was more like a gradual unfolding that I began to understand the power of unconditional love and the power of one priest’s kind words. The spark was ignited and the image of God was shining through.
Paul’s words, it seems to me are important. He says be imitators of God…live in love…put away all bitterness and anger and malice….be kind to one another…tenderhearted and forgiving. Paul is not talking about our physical characteristics but our moral compass. He is talking about the way we act, the words we speak, how we treat others. It’s hard I think…allowing this image of God to shine through it doesn’t seem to come natural does it?
Just thinking of my example of my marriage how many times in 32 years have I been unkind, unforgiving, and angry. It takes work and awareness to stop yourself and say wait this is not how I want to be…this is not who I was created to be….the image of God is barely noticeable…the spark is faint. BUT then through grace we begin again and again becoming aware that we are created in God’s image and in this image we seek to live.
It’s hard in the day to day grind to live and act as created in God’s image but when tragedy happens the spark seems to be naturally ignited and it seems easy to live created in God’s image. Today as we remember the anniversary of 9/11 what I was remembering was how everyone came together to help and support NYC. I remember first responders who sacrificed their lives helping and continue to live with illnesses related to their helping. Not just NYC first responders but responders that came from around the country to help. People came forward with help both big and small. There was an outpouring of love and compassion for NYC. In an article in the NY Times from 2011 Stephen Jay Gould said his wife and daughter collected face masks and shoe inserts for first responders. People donated batteries and hard hats. He tells the story of a restaurant that donated brown betty desert. He says:
“As we left a local restaurant to make a delivery to ground zero late one evening, the cook gave us a shopping bag and said: ''Here's a dozen apple brown bettys, our best dessert, still warm. Please give them to the rescue workers.'' How lovely, I thought, but how meaningless, except as an act of solidarity, connecting the cook to the cleanup. Still, we promised that we would make the distribution, and we put the bag of 12 apple brown bettys atop several thousand face masks and shoe pads.
Twelve apple brown bettys into the breach. Twelve apple brown bettys for thousands of workers. And then I learned something important that I should never have forgotten -- and the joke turned on me. Those 12 apple brown bettys went like literal hot cakes. These trivial symbols in my initial judgment turned into little drops of gold within a rainstorm of similar offerings for the stomach and soul, from children's postcards to cheers by the roadside. We gave the last one to a firefighter, an older man in a young crowd, sitting alone in utter exhaustion as he inserted one of our shoe pads. And he said, with a twinkle and a smile restored to his face: ''Thank you. This is the most lovely thing I've seen in four days -- and still warm!''
One small act of kindness can mean more than we ever know. One kind word. One soft touch.
Out of the rubble of 9/11 the Random Acts of Kindness movement flourished in honor those whose lives were lost…to honor those who sacrificed so much. One man walked from California to NYC doing acts of kindness.
How easy kindness springs forth in tragedy…how easy unconditional love is extended.
St Benedicts told his monks to live always with death in your view, not as a morbid fearful way to live but as a way to shape and form our thoughts and actions and words. This is why tragedy seems to bring out the best in people death is close by and we respond from love and kindness because I think that’s who we are but it gets lost in all the ways that life has worn us down…the pain and suffering, betrayals, disappointments, rejections, illnesses, depressions…We can become guarded and bitter. But if we live with death in our view we know we do not have forever…we know the people around us do not have forever. So how do we want to live? What are the words and actions we want to be remembered by? Will we let this spark of God be ignited within us to shine? Will we remember we are created in the image of God? The image of unconditional love, kindness, and forgiveness… Will we be imitators of God?
Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the Genesis reading found in the Message says it this way:
“Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
I invite us to ponder this phase and let it sink into our hearts and allow it to shape and form our thoughts, our actions and our words. Amen