Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2020
“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
You know, you don’t have to read very far into this book to come across one of the most challenging ideas in the history of the world. In the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, there is a proclamation, a revelation of a divine mystery that is so profound we have never been able to fully comprehend it. It has always challenged us. Now, it is not the story of God creating the heavens and the earth and the beasts of the earth out of nothing, that is not all that challenging. I don’t find the belief in a divine creator of the universe to be all that hard to understand, and throughout the history off the world most people haven’t had a hard time believing that either. It might take some faith to believe that, but it doesn’t take a whole lot.
No, I think one of the most challenging statements in this entire book, which is full of many challenging statements, comes at Genesis chapter 1 verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” I can’t think of many other verses in the Bible that are harder to comprehend than that. Now it may sound easy at first. We may be able to say it over and over again like we understand it. That verse may roll off our tongues very easily; we may give it limp service, but have we ever really comprehended it? Have we every really understood what it means? Well I think history has proven that we haven’t.
Think about this: what this verse is saying is that this force that created the entire world out of nothing; this all powerful being that is at the center of the universe and that is the source of all life and all that is good in the world, that God has gifted human beings with his image.
Every human being walking the earth today, every human being that has ever walked the earth, has within them a reflection of this divine creator. No doubt God loves all his creatures, but this one, this human creature is special. God has given this creature a part of his divine image or being. And Christians believe that God loves this one creature so much that when they had fallen away from him that he was born as one of them, and was willing to die as one of them, just to bring them back. That is how much he loves them. And Christians also believe that God is continually pouring a part of himself into them in ways that are just unfathomable. Sure, God loves all of his creation, but this one is special. This one bears God’s image. Now don’t hate me dog lovers, I’m a dog lover too. Animals can reveal God’s love to us in unique and surprising ways. You can see God reflected in all of creation, but why is it that the one place that God has told us that he has placed his image is so often the last place we go looking for it?
We are willing to treat other human beings in ways that we would never treat a dog.
God has told us that human beings bear his image. We christians believe that that same God was willing to die as one of these human beings to save them. And we believe that our bodies are, as Paul says, temples of the Holy Spirit, but somehow we manage to find reasons and excuses to talk about and treat other human beings as if they were less than animals.
So I think I can confidently say that Genesis chapter 1 verse 27 is one of the hardest verses is all of scripture, because we have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we just don’t get it. We want other human beings to be just another part of creation that we have dominion over. We don’t want other humans to be equal to us, and we sure don’t want to have to recognize that the God we profess to worship is also present in them too, but from the beginning that is the challenge that God gives us.
What makes it so challenging is that people are not simple, people are complex. Nobody you have ever met in your life is just one thing. Nobody is just black or just white. Nobody is just a cop or just a criminal. Nobody is just a Democrat or just a Republican. Nobody is just a man or just a woman. Nobody is just gay or just straight. And with the exception of our Lord Jesus, in whom there is no darkness, nobody is just good or just evil. We are all a swirl of sometimes very contradictory things. People just do not fit into neat categories. People are a mystery. It is when we start trying to look at other human beings as anything less than a mystery that we really get into trouble.
I grew up quite literally at my grandfather’s knee. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as a child, and I was close to both of them, but I was particularly close as a young boy to my grandfather. We would drive around town, sometimes we would go fishing or exploring, sometimes I would help him in the garden, but most of the time we would just sit in the corner of his little den, he would smoke his pipe and either read his paper or watch wrestling on the television and tell stories. I loved his stories about the war and about growing up as a dirt poor farmer in Georgia. Sometimes the stories were heroic adventures like crossing the Atlantic on a transport ship bound for the war in Europe. Sometimes his stories were a bit darker though. He had an alcoholic and abusive father that left him and his mother and siblings for a while when he was young. To survive my grandfather and his brother would sort through the town dump looking for food for the family. Or they would try and raise money anyway they could, which sometimes their father would “borrow” from them and never give back.
I was thinking about my grandfather this week, because after he married and had kids, he eventually moved his family to Florida, where he got a GED and eventually a job at the Space center. Not a high powered or glamorous job at all, but still he was a part of something amazing. He went from looking for food for his family in the town dump to looking for rocket parts to send men to the moon.
I have also been thinking a lot about my grandfather this week, because in many ways he was something of a mystery too: he could be loving or he could be harsh, he struggled mightily will some really ugly personal demons like alcoholism and depression and he was also a practical joker with a great sense of humor. He could be the best neighbor you ever had, unless of course you were black.
You see, my grandfather was incredibly racist. A man who was very much a swirl of contradictions himself, wanted other people to be either this or that.
I don’t know if he ever committed any acts of violence against a person of color, he certainly never told me if he did, but I do know that for him black people, which is not the world he used, they were all just one thing.
Now my parents were very clear with my and my sister, that this was not OK. We needed to learn to respect everyone and to treat people equally. I could see my grandfather’s prejudice and recognize it as evil, but still I loved him very much.
I learned from an early age what it means to love someone, really love someone, that is deeply flawed, that did and said things that I thought were wrong. I learned that people are complicated; that people have pain and hurt in their lives that you probably know nothing about. Not only was my grandfather in many ways a mystery, I think that his response to the mystery within himself was to try and simplify everyone else. Mystery can make us uncomfortable. Certainty and precision feels better. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would like to see my grandfather as simply one thing or another, but I loved him enough to know that its just not that simple. I wish I could say that he taught me to be color-blind, but that’s just not true. What can can say though is that inadvertently at least, he taught me that people are complicated.
People are complicated and it is hard to live in a world with complicated people, so we create categories to make everything easier to understand. We find ways to lump people together and make them just another creature that we have dominion over instead of a little divine mystery. We find ways to make sure that people stay in these categories. But the problem is real human beings don’t fit into neat little categories, they weren’t meant to. That isn’t how God created us. God created us to be little, individual bearers of his image. But of all the things the scriptures tell us, that is surely one of the hardest things to believe, because most of the time that’s not how we treat other people. We keep trying to make people simple, when they just aren’t.
And maybe that right there is proof that we really do bear the image of God. You see Christians believe in the Holy Trinity. There is one God with three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is what we celebrate today, Trinity Sunday. At the heart of our faith is the idea that God is a mystery that is beyond our understanding. God has revealed himself to us in certain ways, but ultimately God is beyond our understanding. God is not simple. God is not just one thing. Every heresy over the past two thousand years has usually come when someone has tried to make God or Jesus too simple. Too much one thing or another. But God will not be put into a neat little box like that and neither will those that bear God’s image. You cannot understand or comprehend the Holy Trinity, but you can live in relationship with it and you can love it. And that is how we are called to live with everyone that bears that image in their soul: living in relationship with them and loving them. Part of the doctrine of the trinity is that a loving relationship is part of the very essence of the creator of the universe. It is part of the image that we have all been marked with. And if that is true then we will not fix the world by trying to simplify it and everyone within it.
This dumpster fire of a world we’re living in didn’t just happen over night. We have come to this point because we have never been able to grasp, since the beginning, Genesis chapter 1 verse 27. We have never been able to fully appreciate the divine image in our fellow human beings. We have either used power and influence to try and force people into simple categories that we can neatly classify and have dominion over like fish and cattle, or we have had people try and force us to be one thing or another. But people aren’t fish or cattle. People aren’t simple. I don’t fit neatly into categories and I’m guessing most of you don’t either. We are each and every one of us, a little mystery.
Now if it were up to me, I probably would have given up on the world and humanity long ago as “not worth saving.” It would be such an easy classification to dump the whole world in and just start over, but fortunately for us, God’s not that simple. God sees in every human being a little mystery, a reflection of himself, a life that is worth saving.
Maybe someday when it is all over and we stand before the throne we will be able to see each other the way that God sees us, but still I can’t help but hope that we don’t have to start living in the Book of Revelation, before we start to appreciate what God created in the Book of Genesis.