This Sunday's Sermon
SUNDAY, JUNE 4th
Genesis 1:1-2a and Matthew 28:16-20
Melissa and I found accommodation at a hotel, in Madrid, during our recent visit with Christopher. There, as in the USA, the front desk staff handed us two disposable, plastic card keys for room entry. When it came time to shower, I used the disposable bar of soap wrapped in a disposable wrapper, placed on the counter-space next to the disposable, single-use bottle of shampoo/conditioner. Having returned to the United States, I went to the grocery store to replenish the perishable food that we’d finished up before heading to Spain. Into single use plastic bags, I placed a dozen eggs sold in a disposable carton, not to mention fruit juice in disposable bottles. When looking forward, I’ve scheduled on Wednesday, with the Red Cross, a blood donation during which a staff person will use a disposable lancet to take a finger-stick sample of my blood for testing, prior to letting someone else stick a disposable needle into my arm for the collection of blood into a disposable IV bag.
So who’s knocking the convenience and sanitary benefits of so much disposable stuff? And yet… do you want tons of disposable refuse being buried out behind your property or washing up on the beach at Ocean City? The consequences become much greater when we consider an even more perilous dimension of a throwaway society. Richard Nixon was half way through his first term in the White House when the author of a popular book warned Americans of an increasingly disposable lifestyle populated with increasingly disposable people (Alvin Toffler, in FUTURE SHOCK). In the decades since, his argument still holds: infants are abandoned; youngsters and adults are mindlessly gunned down; impoverished and otherwise troubled young people have become as so much meat in the global marketing of virtual slaves; and we know what they’re being marketed for, don’t we? Nor does a person need to look far to realize that human relationships, too, have become increasingly temporary. Apart from statistics regarding broken families, we’re aware of the great masses of humanity who’ve changed employers, changed communities, changed friends, and changed churches, among other things. We’re becoming, in the opinion of social scientists, a generation of people who feel disposable. Feeling unloved, unnoticed, unappreciated, or unworthy, a great mass of humanity therefore begins to treat themselves as disposable. They become debilitated, demoralized, despondent, and depressed.
Is there good news for folks living in a time and place where notions of human worth are steadily eroding? Check out the first chapter in the first book of the Bible. "God stepped out on space,” wrote the poet (James Weldon Johnson) in a famous paraphrase of Genesis 1, "[and God] said "I’ll make me a world.” And then, I say, God looked around on all that God made; the rivers and the valleys, the green grass and the mighty oak, the birds and the beasts, the fish and the fowl, and "God said ‘Let’s make human beings in the Divine image’… so God created human beings in God’s image, in the image of God did the LORD create them; male and female God created them.” And THAT is absolutely cause for celebration in all of God’s heaven! What, after all, does the Psalmist pray? – "When I look at your heavens, O God, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8: 3 - 6). Why, then, do people envy the angels? WE are the uniquely distinctive part of God’s Creation that says something astounding about the reality of God.
So what, then, does it mean for you and me to be created in God’s image? Some people believe that the "image of God” has everything to do with being able to think, reason, and solve problems. Yet I once had the pleasure of offering ministry in my role as chaplain to troops of Boy Scouts, including several troops of special scouts – that is, boys living with Down’s Syndrome. Everyone on staff at Hawk Mountain Boy Scout Reservation agreed that you could never find a more appreciative, more joyful, more caring, and more delightful group of young men. Surely they are no less endowed with the image of God within!
Other people, on the other hand, have identified the image of God with our capacity to make moral judgments. Ah! But have you ever known moral people who’ve done things and spoken words that are un-Godly – people who’ve gossiped; people who’ve sown discord and division; or people who’ve judged other people as less worthy and disposable for the silliest of reasons, like culture of origin?
Is there a template, then, for what it means to be created in the image of God? Well! Yes! It’s found in the Book of Colossians, chapter 1, verse 15, which says, "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (NEW LIVING TRANSLATION). So what is it that makes Jesus’ humanity the One true humanity in God’s likeness? It’s not his wisdom or his morality – although he is absolutely wise and wholly ethical. Nor is it to be found in his dominion over the earth and the things of the earth, for Jesus has said it of himself: "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10: 45)
Even as God spoke to Jesus and listened to Jesus, so does God speak to us and listen to us. Between God and humanity there is – or can be, to all who desire it – a depth of dialogue, caring, and companionship. "How great is the love God has lavished on us,” writes John to Jesus’ followers in the Book of 1st John, "that we should be called children of God” (3:1).
Now anyone who’s a son or daughter of God can hardly be disposable, right? Notice, too, that Jesus Christ never, ever treats anyone as though they’re disposable. He touches the "unclean” lepers. He forgives his most unrepentant tormentors. He harbors saving compassion for what everyone else regards as no-good thieves, harlots, misers, and other assorted sinners. If you and I should live out our destiny as sons and daughters created in the image of God, we will reflect the mind, the words, and the actions of Christ as they apply to all of humanity.
Here’s the bottom line: our human capabilities to care and to share, to love and to forgive, to sacrifice and to build up is what it means to be created in the Divine image.
But I know what you’re thinking. How does the imprint of God on all human flesh explain war, violence, and ethnic cleansing, among other atrocities? How can the image of God in humanity be consistent with racism and exploitation, with greed, deceit, and decadence, with jealousy and murder? The truth of the matter is that God gives us freedom to make our way in the world; and love, by definition, must be freely chosen. If we had no choice but to love, we’d be just another PC software innovation. Yet when people use their God given freedoms in choosing to define themselves by the money they make, the stuff they possess, the comfort they deserve, the prestige they garner, or the people they control, then neighbors become disposable, community becomes disposable, integrity becomes disposable, higher purpose becomes disposable… GOD becomes disposable.
I’m moved by a true story that illustrates the Power of Grace to lift up and carry human beings to a place of honor and glory. It happened a few years ago that the softball teams from Western Oregon University and Central Washington University faced off in a game that would decide participation in the Division championship competition. Sara – a senior at Western Oregon – stepped into the batter’s box at the top of the second inning with two runners on base. A petite young woman at the height of 5 foot, two inches, Sara had never been a power hitter. Indeed! She’d never hit a home run in her competitive career. Unless Western Oregon could pull off the win, she’d never again have the chance to hit a long ball. Wouldn’t ya’ know it? Sara connected! The ball sailed over the outfield fence! But in her excitement, she failed to tag first base. When turning to head back to make the tag, a ligament in her knee snapped and she fell to the ground, writhing in pain – unable to get up and finish rounding the bases. The team coach asked the umpire if a substitute runner could complete her victory lap. The answer was "no” – nor could her team-mates so much as touch Sara without the umpire calling it an out. A substitute runner could take her place, but would have to stay put on first base – meaning that Sara’s blast would be ruled a two run single. That’s when Central Washington’s power-hitter – a young woman named Mallory, holding the conference record for most home runs -- approached the ump with an astonishing question: could members of the opposing team pick up and carry their injured adversary? After a lengthy period of thought and consultation, the umpire nodded "yes.” So Mallory – with the help of a team-mate named Liz – carried carried their opponent around the bases, stopping long enough for Sara to touch second base, third base, and home plate with her uninjured leg. Why did they do it? Because – they said – Sara deserved it; she and her achievement were not disposable. So it is that compassion and mercy, integrity and sacrifice won the day; even as Mallory’s team lost the game. But who cares about hits, runs, and errors? It was Grace-in-action on that softball field that made grown men cry and a whole nation take notice.
Who, then, will lift up and carry the injured souls who feel as though they’re disposable? Can WE do it in the name of the Crucified and Risen Christ? Who is it, after all, who has walked with us and sustained us in seasons of joy and trouble? When a person receives Christ’s loving-kindness and Living Spirit into their hearts, minds, bodies, and souls, then does Jesus become their help and their Advocate. Then shall the image of God shine brilliantly before all people.
Are you a friend and follower of Master Jesus? Then THE MESSAGE is targeted on you: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you,” says the Master: "Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, THE MESSAGE).
Pray that our ministry together may be motivated and sustained by the Presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who – in not even knowing what a disposable person looks like – yearns to treat you and me and every dear soul on this Good Earth as precious treasure.