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Image and Likeness

A sermon preached by the Reverend Michael Anderson Bullock

at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, Massachusetts, on 17 July 2022 [Proper 11]:

Amos 8:1-12; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

From the Book of Genesis:

[Then] God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature.”

[Genesis 1:28/Message]

From this morning’s epistle:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… Colossians 1:15]

It is only mid-July. The “dog-days” of summer still await us; but if the forecast is correct, they are near at hand. Nonetheless, the larger news of these last few months has been as oppressive and draining on the human heart and soul – as the nearing weather’s heat and humidity will be. So much chaos. So much confusion. So much anxiety. So much violence. It’s hard to know where to turn for some semblance of balance, some semblance of peace, for some semblance of orienting safety.

In this vein, I find myself resonating with the Prayer Book collect For the Human Family [BCP., p. 815], one I find myself using often when I officiate at St. Philip’s nightly offering of Compline. It goes like this:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth…

Quite clearly, the prayer’s sentiment indicates that there is no shortage of material for God to work with, given that we and the world are neck-high with struggling and confusion. Yet, amid all the exhausting and numbing political, economic, social, and medical turmoil of our time, the collect also contains something for us to hold onto, something that sheds light in all the darkness. In particular, the collect speaks to the basic reality of our lives. And that is, we have been made in God’s image. The truth is that this fundamental fact can make all the difference in our living, if we are willing to put its meaning into action.

So, what does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness? What does it mean for Jesus to be “the image of the invisible God”? I ask you to think about these questions, but here is the simplest and most direct answer I know. It comes in the form of a prayerful chant whose purpose is not only to proclaim the biblical truth that we are made in God’s image and likeness; but also in the chanted repetition (which is chant’s method) our souls are centered and quieted so that we can experience our connection with God.

This is how the chant goes. I offer it to you as something to take with you as a reminder of who you are and Whose you are: [singing]

Let my life reflect your light, Lord,

as the moon reflects the light of the sun in love

– always in love.

We are made in God’s image and likeness. At its core, this means that we are made with the conscious capacity to reflect the creative, redemptive, and transforming life and love of the Maker of heaven and earth. Like the super full moon of this past week, we have the capacity to reflect God’s life, God’s brightness, God’s presence through our own presence. It is what God’s partners do, which is what being made in God’s image means. As today’s Eucharistic Prayer so poignantly puts it: “In your infinite love, you [Holy God] made us for yourself.”

Especially in the times of struggle and confusion, can we – will we remember to reflect God’s life, God’s hope, God’s presence? Will we choose to be God’s partners and like the moon reflect the Life-Source’s light and illumination?

And it seems to me that most of us are called to image God, to reflect the life of God, to reflect what life with God is like not in great, earth-shaking ways but in the ordinary moments and in the small times of daily living. What I mean is this. Can we -- will we -- strive to see in those we meet another whose is made in God’s image and likeness? Can we -- will we -- remember that what is between us is meant to be of God? Can we -- will we -- recall that we are made with the same purpose: to reflect God’s light and God’s life?

Let my life reflect your light, Lord,

as the moon reflects the light of the sun in love

– always in love.

But what does it mean to be made in God’s “likeness”? The answer is revealed in that stunning description of Jesus in the Epistle to the Colossians:

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…

This is much more than a metaphor. On the face of it, this description is a paradox: that is, something that initially appears to be a contradiction in terms but upon further exploration reveals a deeper and richer reality. Made in God’s image is the sacred paradox that speaks to wondrous mystery that we are to become “like” God.

Of course, being “like God” is the great temptation, if we opt for taking shortcuts, without doing the work and participating in the transformation – what the Orthodox tradition calls “Theosis”; what the western tradition calls “sanctification”. And Christ Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”, the image of the Holy One who transcends all categories and measurements. Yet, the wonder is that the “invisible God” comes among us as one of us. Christ Jesus stands with us and for us; and in his life we see what God-life truly is, which is the reason folks like us do what we can to follow Jesus, to grow into what we see in him, to be changed – bit by bit – into being God bearers – each of us.

So, in these demanding and confusing times, we can cling to an enduring purpose. We are called to be reflections of God and the God-life. We are called to be God’s partners in creation. Yet, as Robert Frost reminds us, we have “miles and miles to go before we sleep” – before our reflecting work is done. And this is the reason we keep our eyes on Jesus, following “the pioneer and perfector” of the faith until we are like him and able to be in Communion with all that is holy, good, and life-giving.

We are always reflecting something. Why not God? Remember: Everyone is religious. The problem is what we worship, what we hold at the center, what we choose to reflect.

So,. don’t give up the ship. Amen.

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