In the Image of God
Once upon a time, some 3000 years ago, there was a poet who wandered out to look at the night skies. That poet saw the brightness of the moon, and the stars that were too many to count, and she was overcome with awe and wonder at the beauty and the immensity of the heavens above.
And as she marveled at the vast beauty of the universe, the poet couldn’t help feeling a bit small and insignificant. Her thoughts were drawn to the Creator who brought everything into being, the one that her people called Yahweh and she asked the question that so many people have asked, in the centuries before and in the ones that followed: Could it be that God really cares about us? Or, in the language of the psalm that the Hebrew poet wrote all those years ago, “What are human beings, that you are mindful of them?”
The passage of time has, if anything, made the poet’s question even more pertinent. We now know that the universe is orders of magnitude bigger than the poet ever imagined. The awe and wonder that we rightly feel when we consider the cosmos prompts us to ask if there is a power or intelligence or spirit, the one that we call God, who brought this universe into being. And if our response is yes, as it is for those of us gathered here, then sooner or later, there is another question that we ask: Does the Creator care about me?
The creation story from Genesis that Stephanie read for us this morning was first spoken and eventually written down to address that question. Who are we? What is our relationship with our Creator? Does God, the Creator who made the universe and all that is in it, in all its beauty and wonder and majesty, does God care about us? Do our lives matter in God’s sight or are our joys and sorrows simply fleeting and trivial? What is our relationship to the source of all life?
The Genesis story is about creation, but it’s also about relationship. It tells us that God the Creator made humanity for a purpose, as a steward to care for every living thing, something, if truth be told, we have not been doing so well.
Genesis tells us that God created humanity in the image of God.
As the scripture says,
God created humanity in God’s image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female she created them.
There is much we could say about this, but what strikes me this morning is that in order for God to create humanity in God’s image, humanity had to be made in more than one person. God created not one human, but two. Because to be in God’s image means to be in relationship. To love, to forgive, to do justice, to be intimate, to be in communion – all of these require not just one human, but two.
The Genesis story tells us that the Creator of the universe made us as relational beings. God the Creator wanted to be in relationship with humanity, and in order to do so, he first made humanity as more than one, so that we could be in relationship with each other.
Relationship is what makes us human, this is what it means to be in God’s image.
But if this is what it means to say that humanity is created in the image of God, wouldn’t that mean that God is, in essence, a relationship?
Welcome to Trinity Sunday, the day of the year when we celebrate the idea that the best way we can picture God is not as an individual, not as a being, but as a relationship. Ever since the early days of the church we have imagined God as one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One in three. Three in one. And ever since the early days of the church, people have found this a bit confusing. But the key I think to working out the idea of the Trinity is simply to remember that it’s all about relationship.
Jesus kind of nudged us in this direction, didn’t he? Jesus was an individual human being, like you and me. But when people around Jesus encountered him and were amazed by him and asked the question “Who is this,” what sort of answers did they give?
They said, he is a prophet, that is one who speaks the word of God. They said he is the Messiah, the one who is chosen and sent by God. They said he is the Son of God. They said he is the Word of God made flesh. They said he is the one who calls God Father, Abba.
To those around him, it became quite apparent that it was nearly impossible to talk about who Jesus was without talking about his relationship with God. The essence of who Jesus was as a person flowed out of his relationship with God the Father. Jesus himself talks this way, saying things like “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” So too with the Spirit, the Spirit of God which swept over the waters in the beginning, the Spirit breathed into the disciples by Jesus on the day of resurrection. It’s all about relationship.
One in three and three in one, Father, Son and Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. God is a relationship and we are created in God’s image. We are created to love and to give and to receive and to share in each other’s joys and sorrows, to understand ourselves as relationships, as relational beings.
Now I’m well aware that understanding ourselves this way, and also understanding God in this way, can be a bit difficult for us.
Part of our difficulty is that in this world of ours, we tend to view ourselves as autonomous individuals, competing and surviving and striving for success in a world of scarce resources and limited opportunities. We value our independence. We define ourselves by our differences.
This way of seeing things comes from our modern individualized sense of identity: what makes me me is that I’m not you.
But suppose we change our vision. Suppose we listen closely to the Genesis story. Suppose I was to realize that what makes me me is my relationship with you. Suppose I was to realize that my very identity, my meaning and purpose in life is to be found in relationships, in community.
Would that make a difference? Would it make a difference in how we live? I think that it would. We were made for relationship, in the image of the God who is relationship, of the God who is love.
In the gospel we heard today, Jesus gave his disciples what is often called the Great Commission, to go make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the God of relationship in whose image we were created.
And when we are baptized, each one of us makes the following vow which is intrinsically bound up with the image of God in us. We vow
“to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.”
This is our commitment. It is our commitment to honour and respect the image of God found in each and every human being.
It is also the enabling condition that allows us to enter into relationship, to live more fully into the image of God and to reclaim the fullness of our humanity as God intended. How are we doing with that?
Like so many, I was sickened and angered when I saw the video of the killing of George Floyd, and the knowledge that this was not an isolated incident. I can only try to imagine the pain and anger of those for whom the fear and violence of police brutality and other racist acts are part of their daily lived experience. We need to listen to their voices, the voices of black people across this continent. The protests that have swept America and beyond give voice to that pain and anger, calling for an end to the systemic racism and the injustice which has plagued the United States, and Canada, for far too long.
The protests in response to the killing of George Floyd are a call for us to reclaim our humanity, to reclaim the humanity that was given to us when we were created in the image of God
We were made for relationship. But relationship doesn’t just happen. There are forces in this world that would prevent us from being in relationship, sinful forces which would drive a wedge between us. Racism and especially the systemic racism which is embedded in our history, our culture, our social structures, our biases, our assumptions, our unconscious inclinations, our language, our education and our churches is a force that dehumanizes us – and systemic racism dehumanizes not just the one who is oppressed, but also the oppressor and the bystander. Because racism prevents us, all of us, from being in relationship, and that is the very essence of our humanity.
Our faith, our Creator, our humanity and our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being oblige us to name, learn about, root out, resist and overcome the forces, including systemic racism, that divide us.
Because respecting the dignity of every human being is what makes relationship possible. And relationship is what makes us fully human. We are made in the image of God, a God who cares, a Trinitarian God who is relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Homily: Yr A Trinity Sunday, June 7 2020, St. Albans
Readings: Gen 1:1-2:4a; Ps 8; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Mt 28:16-20