Created in the image of God: An MLK reflection

Genesis 1:26-27 & 31

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them… 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

 

Galatians 3:23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

 

A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew. She

would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “but no one knows what God looks like.”
Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

            Have you ever wondered what God looks like?  I’ll give you a hint, God looks something like you and me.  But we do not look exactly like God; we are marred by sin.  Today I want to look at the passages above and see how we were created to bear the image of God, how sin has broken that image, and how that image can be restored again through Christ Jesus.

We put my sister-in-law on an airplane to Guatemala yesterday where she will be doing a 6 week medical rotation working in a Guatemalan clinic.  She is planning to go into Family Practice after she graduates from Med School this spring, and we are all glad to hear that.  Not that we are glad that she is going into Family Practice, but more that she chose not to go into surgery.  You see, she is a little bit of a klutz (and I do have her permission to tell this story J).  She tends to break things…often.  And it usually seems like those things are ours.

A few years ago Stacy bought us a small sculpture as a gift.  It is something that she picked up at Ten Thousand Villages, and it depicted a man and a woman embracing.  Notice, I used the past tense “depicted”.  She broke it.  The embrace shared by the man and woman had to dcome to an end and they became individual entities.  This image of man and woman had been cracked, broken, and left as a vague reminder of what it had once represented.

I thought of this little sculpture cracked, separated into two pieces, as I read our scripture for this morning, because I believe that we are cracked sculptures as well. 

Our passage from Genesis talks about God’s greatest creation: humanity.  We know that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them.  Then God moved on to create the most involved, most complex organism on all of the earth.  God created humankind.

And God wasn’t just going on nothing or working from an idea in His head when God created human beings.  God had a clear design from which to form humankind, a clear pattern to make humans from.  Because God created us in His own image.

Some of our older translations read, “God created man in His image” (NIV).  This use of the word man is not referring to a male but to mankind or humanity.  This is where my years of studying Hebrew actually pays off!  The Hebrew word for an ambiguous man is “ish” and female is “isha”.  God didn’t just create males in God’s own image; both males and females bear the image of God. 

We don’t really know what God looks like, but since the Bible tells us that humanity was created in God’s image, we can assume that God looks something like us.  Somehow, together, men and women bear the image of God.  As Scot McKnight says, we are all eikons, image bearers.  Eikon is the Greek work for image, and it is the word used in the Septuagint in Genesis 1:26 when it speaks of humans being created in the image (eikon) of God.  This is where we get the word “icon” from. 

So after God had created all of creation, God sits back, puts his feet up, and he announces that all of creation is good.  Extremely good.  Including human beings.

But things didn’t stay that way for long, did they?  Sin entered into God’s perfect system and marred the image of God that human beings bear.  We became cracked eikons, cracked image bearers.  And since that time humanity has reflected varying amounts of God’s image.  I say that we reflect varying amounts of God’s image, because even though we are cracked eikons, cracked image bearers, we still all reflect this image of God because we were all created in God’s own image.

I have really appreciated the works of NT Wright in helping me to understand what sin is.  Wright says that sin is failure to reflect the image of God or failing to recognize the image of God reflected in others.  That means that when we are not acting like God would have us act, we are sinning.  And when we treat others as less than the image of God bearers that they are through any number of dehumanizing activities, we are sinning.

Some of the greatest atrocities in the history of the world have been enacted by human beings.  The Crusades, nuclear war, the Holocaust.  The list is endless.  Just a few weeks ago we spoke in Sunday School about what we seemed to agree to be one of the lowest points in the history of the United States, and that was the period where the ownership of slaves was an accepted practice.  Sadder still might be the fact that people misused and abused the Bible to justify slavery and many Christians didn’t think anything of it.  Christians owned other people created in the image of God.  Christians owned other eikons.

I don’t think that I need to convince you today that slavery is wrong.  It clearly fails to recognize the image of God reflected by other people, and people’s actions in abusing our fellow human beings fails to reflect the image of God.  We are a bunch of cracked eikons.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our scripture from Galatians talks about how the Jewish people had been imprisoned by the authority of the law.  It was through observance of the law that the Jews were justified with God; through the law they were able to come closer to bearing the image of God that they once reflected so well.  But now there was something else that trumps the law, something revolutionary, something we call faith.  And it isn’t just any old faith that now is justifying people with God and allowing them to bear the image of God once again.  It is faith in Jesus Christ.

So I come back to this sculpture given to us by my sister-in-law.  She has dropped it, cracked it into pieces.  It now only vaguely resembles the image of two people embracing.  It is a cracked eikon.  There are two options that I see for this broken sculpture.  We can throw it out and forget that it had ever adorned our bookshelf.  Or we can take super glue and put it back together again.  We chose the latter.

This sculpture is not perfect.  There are still cracks and chips in it.  But now it does more closely resemble what it was originally intended to resemble.  It does bear the image of two people embracing.

God had the opportunity to throw out humanity when we became cracked eikons as well.  But rather than throwing us out and forgetting that we ever adorned God’s creation, God sent Jesus to redeem us, to be the glue that holds us back in the shape that God had intended for us.  In Christ, we can reflect the image of God perfectly once again.

This does not mean that we appear perfect on the outside.  This does not mean that we have it all together, that we don’t still have our problems, that we don’t still have our cracks and chips like this sculpture.  But it means that God no longer sees those cracks and chips.  That we reflect the image of God perfectly to God once again. 

And I believe that this is what Paul is saying in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  It doesn’t matter what race you come from, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, it doesn’t matter what your status in society is.  In Jesus Christ, we are all whole, united as one.  And as people united by Christ, we do (or should) bear the image of God.

Tomorrow we as a nation will observe a holiday known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  His actual birthday was January 15th, and he would have been 80 years old this past week if he was still alive.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an ordained Baptist minister who grew up in the poverty stricken south where segregation by race was common in the schools, stores, and even on the buses.  Racism was as common as the air we breathe and the water we drink.  It was everywhere.

King knew that this was not right, that this was not honoring God or honoring the image of God reflected by God’s people.  King knew that Christians should not treat anyone as anything less than people created by God in God’s own image.  So as King grew older he found ways to combat racism, poverty, poor working conditions, and war, all in the name of Christ.  And through methods that he believed to be in line with his understanding of who Jesus Christ was and who Christ was calling him to be as a Christian, King was able to make a significant impact to the society in which he lived.  King’s work led him to be the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35, along with countless other awards. 

King knew that his work was dangerous and that his life was always in jeopardy.  A bomb threat had delayed his plane to Memphis the day he delivered his last sermon.  And in his last sermon on the night before he was killed, King said that yes, he would like to live a long life, but that wasn’t the most important thing to him.  What was important?  King said, “I just want to do God’s will.”  He was shot and killed for doing just that less than 24 hours later.

A recording of King’s last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church entitled “Drum Major”, which had been originally given in February of 1968, was played at King’s funeral. In that sermon King had made a request that at his funeral that no one would mention his awards and honors, but that it simply be said that he tried to “feed the hungry”, “clothe the naked”, “be right on the war question”, and “love and serve humanity” (Wikipedia).  King knew that when you do these things for people created in the image of God that you are doing them for Christ himself.

Have we made progress since the days of Martin Luther King in the areas of civil rights, racism, and overall honoring other people created in the image of God?  Yes, I think we have made progress as a nation.  That should be clear to us as the first black president of the United States is inaugurated the day after Martin Luther King Day, this Tuesday.  We as a nation have come a long way from the lynchings, the segregation, and the lack of respect of other people that my grandparents’ generation lived with.  But we have not fully arrived at where we need to be.  Not as a nation, and not as Christians.

This past fall we as a country were in the middle of an exciting presidential race.  John McCain and Barack Obama were running against one another in the closest race we had seen…in four years, I suppose.  People were divided on who was the better choice.  Christians were divided on who was the better choice. 

And of course there was no shortage of mudslinging going on.  Some of it was even amusing.  But some of it really broke my heart, especially the defamatory remarks made by “Christians”. 

One woman told Sonya and me, “We Christians need to vote for John McCain because we can’t let that black guy get elected.”

How do you reply to that?  No reason was given.  I could have respected her opinion if she had said, “We need to vote for McCain because he is pro-life” or “he will create more jobs” or insert what ever other political reason you want.  But this woman, first of all she dehumanizes Obama by not even bothering to call him by his name and simply referring to him as “that black guy”.  Second of all, she doesn’t give any reason why “we Christians” need to vote for McCain and I’m left to believe that she didn’t want Obama to be president simply because he is black.  Even worse, I’m left to believe that she thinks that as Christians we should not vote for a black man because he is black.  I’ve read the Bible, I’ve studied Systematic Theology, I must have glossed over that section.  Yes, we have come a long way since the days of Martin Luther King, but we still have a long way to go.

Do we believe Paul when he says that there is no longer slave or free person, Jew or Greek, male or female but instead we are all one in Christ?  If we believe this, then we must act like it.  Sure there are still differences between people.  You and I are not literally one and the same.  But when we allow ourselves to be divided by ethnicity, gender, and social status, we are not honoring the image of God reflected in others.  Sure, people reflect the image of God in varying quantities, but as God’s most prized creation, we all reflect the image of God.  And when we fail to recognize that in all people, we become less of an image bearer ourselves.  We are cracked eikons becoming more cracked.

But I come back to this sculpture, broken by my sister-in-law, but repaired by the grace of super glue.  And it reminds me that Martin Luther King was not the only person who had a dream.  God has a dream as well.  God has a dream that one day his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  God has a dream that one day sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of fellowship.  God has a dream that one day all of humanity will recognize their sinfulness, will recognize their status as cracked eikons, shattered images of God, and return to the one who can make them whole again.  For in Christ there is no such thing as a shattered humanity.  There is no such thing as a Jew or a Greek.  There is no such thing as a slave or free person.  There is no such thing as a man or a woman.  But instead God’s dream is that we all be one; one gathered body of believers perfectly reflecting the image of God.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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