Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
“Made in God’s Image”
I speak to you in the name of the blessed and undivided Trinity, whom we name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
We human beings tend to create God in our image because that is what we can imagine. I remember one of the earliest pictures of Jesus I ever saw as a young child. It was a Victorian era watercolour painting that hung in an church nursery. Jesus had blonde hair and blue eyes. He was blessing a black child in his arms. Now probably the artist wasn’t trying to convey a racist image. He or she was intentionally or unintentionally painting Jesus to reflect the majority of the people around at the time (although Jesus was wearing what looked suspiciously like a white nightie). Perhaps the purpose was to show that God loves everyone, no matter what the colour of one’s skin. The artist had probably never met someone of Middle-Eastern heritage, even though intellectually he or she knew that Jesus was born of Jewish parents in 1st century Israel. Probably most of those who looked on the image wouldn’t have noticed the historical inaccuracies. They might even have been offended if Jesus was painted as coloured and blessing a white child. Christ can be portrayed with any skin-tone and any ethnicity even though the earthly Jesus happened to be incarnate in a particular body. God isn’t white.
That’s looking from the wrong way around. God isn’t made in our image. We are created in God’s image. Each of us. All of us. Our identity goes back to our roots in the Biblical story of origin. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “let us make humankind on our image, according to our likeness”. There’s no mistake in the text when God says our image. This is more than what we call the ‘royal we’, with God commanding from the throne of heaven. The Hebrew word for God is plural: Elohim. That doesn’t mean that there is a group of deities like the ancient Greeks or Romans thought of ruling over mortals. Right from the beginning of the cosmos, the One who created everything reveals community and diversity. In the very first verses of the Bible, there are clues to the three-fold nature of God. God creates, the Word is spoken, and the Spirit sweeps over the face of the waters as a holy wind. God the Father, God the Living Word, and God the Spirit. What is brought to being in the richness and diversity of humankind is a reflection of the community that pre-exists at the core of the Divine.
God says that creation is good, creatures are good, humankind is good. In fact, everything is very good because what has been created in its entirety echoes the Creator. When human beings deny part of that richness and diversity, they are denying part of what God intends as necessary to the whole. Racism is a denial that those of different skin colours are equally made in God’s image and equally carry the love, wisdom, and creativity of God. God didn’t designate some humans as better than others. Men are not better than women. White are not better than black. Straight are not better than gay. In verse 27, it is written that “male and female God created them”. This is not an either/or statement but a both/and. We each carry a reflection of God’s goodness. We can recognize it in ourselves when we look in the mirror and see a beautiful and beloved human being. And we can glimpse God in each others’ eyes.
But no one person or group carries the whole image of God. God is not an old, rich, white male on a cloud making judgments for the rest of humanity, especially for those who don’t match his skin-tone. Old, white, rich males should not presume that they carry God’s authority and power over those who do not look like them or have opportunities or resources like them. Those who have the courage to open up the first page of the book called the Bible can check their privilege right away.
Some faiths have prohibitions about making images for God at all. To capture the Divine in a single representation is seen as blasphemous because the Holy cannot be reduced to an artist’s individual vision. There is shared uneasiness about pinning down the One to an earthly shadow. But our hearts respond to beauty and to imagination. And we need words to speak of what we believe to be true. God carries many names because we seek ways to describe how humankind interacts with the Creator. So how can we point to that which is beyond ourselves without confining it to what we think we know?
Love is at the heart of God. And it is at the heart of how we try to express what we believe through the Trinity. We look to a God who created the world in love, who redeemed the world through love, and who sustains the world by love. Any time we narrow the working of love, we lose part of the image of God. We also lose part of our humanity.
This week we have all seen powerful images of violence and horror in the death of George Floyd, a black man murdered by Minneapolis police officers. You likely have been grieved and angered and moved by the demonstrations and joined cries for racial justice and change. Perhaps you have prayed and found ways to be allies with neighbours and groups so that this isn’t yet another racist act covered up by systems of power. Each of us comes from a different place of privilege, and each of us can help to change patterns and structures that value some more than others. Love of neighbour is the way we demonstrate love of the God in whose image we are made.
This is a call to come before God with humility and grief and hope. If enough of society bends the knee to acknowledge each other in love, we have a chance of changing the path of history. It’s not about one group having the right to dominate another. God told the first peoples to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it,; and have dominion”. There have been powers throughout human civilization who have taken these words to mean that they can impose their values and will on minorities, indigenous peoples, and other races. But if we are really made in God’s image, how can one group treat another as slaves or property? The translations of this verse that we have, in English at least, miss the sense that we are to be stewards of creation. Not destroyers or consumers. Stewards who work together for the love of the One who created us to be partners in this mission.
I am not saying that racial differences don’t exist, or that there are not profound divisions in understanding amongst peoples of different experience, privilege, and abilities. We are not all the same. But in God’s sight we are equal and we are equally loved. If we can only take this opportunity to listen and learn more and to assume less, we have the potential to be changed further into the image of God in whom we are made. Amen.