Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
Date: October 5, 2014
The other day I heard that someone has put out a new watch that not only tells you what time it is, but also tells you how much time you have left in this world. You know, this might be the greatest example yet of technology run amuck. But this new watch will calculate your health history, your age and weight and exercise patterns and project your life expectancy and will begin to calculate and countdown by the second how much time you have left on this earth. And it is only going to cost you $79. What a small amount to pay to know when you’re going to die. Now I got to wondering – if you bought this watch and it started counting down to sometime next week as your time of death – would you be able to take it back and get your money back? I think about those things. But the article said that the point of all of this is to let people know how much time they have left to make their life matter, to live a life of significance. Now I find it rather absurd that anyone would buy a watch that would essentially remind you every day that you are dying, that the seconds of your life are ticking away. It will be interesting to see how many buy it. I’m thinking it might become one of the “must have” items for the upcoming holiday season. Because it taps into one of the deepest desires of human beings – and that is to live a life of meaning and purpose, a life that matters. At the end of his 7 book Chronicles of Narnia series, which I have always contended is more for adults then it is for children, C.S Lewis taps into this very question when he says this of the children that have experienced the wonders of Narnia in the previous stories: “For us this is the end of all the stories . . . But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world . . had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before.” You see, that’s the major problem with the death countdown watch – it presumes that our life on this earth is it. And so if we don’t find our purpose before our time is up, then we have lived a life that did not matter. And so, presumably, if we have lived a life of faith, it was a faith that did not matter. But as Wesleyan Christians we know that is not true. That life goes on beyond our life on this earth. Rick Warren, in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, writes this:
God has a purpose for your life on earth, but it doesn’t end here. His plan involves far more than the few decades you will spend on this planet. It’s more than the opportunity of a life time. God offers you an opportunity beyond your lifetime. The Bible says, “God’s plans endure forever; His purposes last eternally.”
And how do we know that? It is told to us in the very first words that God speaks about humanity. We find it in the 26th verse of the entire Bible. Genesis 1:26. “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over (all creation.)” What a statement that is. God created all of this world and then made us in His image so that we would care for all He had done. What an awesome responsibility.
So, how’s that working for us? Or perhaps, even more to the point, how is it working for God?
I love the title of the third chapter of The Wesleyan Way: A Faith That Matters book: It’s A Good World With Issues. In fact, I think it’s a little understated. Because I believe that God created a great world, a perfect world, but it has a lot of issues. Now that seems like an oxymoron doesn’t it? How can a perfect world have issues? But we only have to look around at the beauty of creation unfolding all around us to admire God’s handiwork in creation. Everything has it’s place. Everything works together in a cosmic pattern. Everything has its season. And it doesn’t really matter whether it happened in six days or as the result of a big bang, the detail and the variety and beauty speaks so loudly of a divine creator who makes it all happen. But yet there are issues In our world, aren’t there? How did that happen? How did imperfection intrude upon a perfect creation? Well, that too, is answered in this 26th verse of the first chapter of Genesis: Let us make man in our image, our likeness, and let him rule over (perfect) creation. It’s a perfect world with issues. And we, all of us, humanity, are the issues. A perfect God creates a perfect world that is now wallowing in imperfection. Why? Because humanity was created in the image of God.
Now stay with me here. Because I believe the key to understanding everything that has gone wrong in this world really lies in this one passage of scripture. Let us make man in our image. If we understand what that means, then we will understand how God intends to put the Holy, the perfect, back into His creation. Now there is a lot that we can talk about when it comes to the image of God. But John Wesley, speaking to people in a world that had a lot of issues, essentially emphasized three aspects of God’s image.
First, if we are created in God’s image, then every human being who has lived, or who will live, has the Spirit of God within them. Now that’s a hard concept to really grasp when we think about some who down through history have been responsible for unspeakable atrocities against other human beings. How can we understand that the Spirit of God lived in Adolph Hitler for instance. Or how can we understand the Spirit of God lives in these terrorists who behead others and perpetrate all types of atrocities on innocent people because they don’t believe the same as they do. But we are made in God’s image. Not to look like God but to be to be the vessels through which God’s Spirit lives and works in this world. Now I know exactly what you are thinking. If that’s who God is, then I don’t want any part of God. But image is not intended to describe how we act. It describes who we are. We are ALL God’s children. But there are times when we don’t act like God’s children. Parents. Think about our own children. They are created in our image. They possess our DNA within them. We do our best to impart to them our values. But sometimes, in spite of all of that, they make bad choices. They deny who they are, who they were created to be, and go in other directions. Some children go to such extremes that’s it’s hard to recognize that they are their parents children at all. That they were raised to know better. But yet our DNA is still in them. The values that we imparted to them are still there somewhere. And as parents we hope and pray that those will rise to the surface and they will embrace their creation once more. You see, no matter how much human beings might try to deny it, no matter how great evil’s control over us becomes, no matter how intent we are to deny that we are His children, God’s spirit is always present in each one of us. He never abandons us. And how do we know? Let us make man in our image.
And then secondly, being created in God’s image, refers to the intellect. The ability to reason, to think, to make choices. God said, Let us make man in our image and give Him dominion over all of creation. And that implies making choices on behalf of all creation. Now there have been those who have argued that it was at this point that creation became flawed. That if God had not given humanity the power of free will, the power to choose, that our world would not have developed as it has, and we would not be in the condition we are today. And while that may be true that would imply that God does not have the ability to make choices on our behalf. You see, the problem is not the ability to choose, the problem lies in the poor choices that humanity has made, and continues to make, that has led us through an often troubled history and to the place that we are today. In the Biblical story, our poor choices began in the perfect garden when Adam and Eve chose to eat of fruit that they weren’t meant to eat. We call this original sin. Now through the centuries we try to define sin in many different ways but I think what it really comes down to is that sin is choosing to embrace that which is not of God, when our thoughts and actions seek to deny that we were created in God’s image. And all of creation suffers as the result of the bad choices that we have made. It’s a perfect world with issues because humanity made the choice to not live in perfection. Almost from the moment of creation, we have made imperfect choices. The issues aren’t with the creator or the creation. The issues are with the created. God created us in perfection, but we chose to live in imperfection. We have denied the image of God within us.
And then thirdly, being created in God’s image, means that we are created to love, because God’s nature is love. I said last week that having a Faith that matters means that we love God and we love one another, our neighbors. And why do we do that. Because God is love and we are created in His image. When human beings are living in the fullness of God’s creation, then we love perfectly. But so often we choose not to act lovingly. And here’s the irony. It is this loving part of God’s nature that kept Him from reseting Creation once humanity had corrupted it, and start all over again. But He could not bring Himself to destroy humanity because He loved humanity. In the sixth chapter of Genesis, we find these words:
God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil – evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that He had made the human race in the first place; it broke His heart. God said, “I’ll get rid of my ruined creation, make a clean sweep: people, animals, snakes and bugs, birds – the works. I’m sorry I made them.
But then watch this. The writer goes on to say this:
But (then God saw that) Noah was different. God loved what He saw in Noah.
Scripture is clear, it was because of God’s loving nature that creation was spared and from that moment on God’s focus shifted from the destruction of humanity to the salvation of humanity. That’s really what all of scripture is about – God’s desire and tireless efforts to redeem His creation – to restore humanity to perfection. One of the more controversial beliefs that John Wesley taught was the idea that human beings were “moving on to perfection” (He called it sanctification and we’ll talk more about it in coming weeks) but really it’s what all of scripture points to. You and I moving back towards the perfect state into which humanity was created in the first place. And why, because God is love and we were created in His image. It’s in our DNA. I think that’s what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote to the church at Corinth, the members of whom were having trouble embracing the perfection in one another and themselves. This is how Paul describes the loving part of God’s image into which each one of us were created.
If I have not love I am nothing. Love is perfect. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects us. It always trusts us. It always hopes for us. It always perseveres. Love never fails. And when everything else fades away, love will remain. When all that is imperfect has gone away, perfect love will remain. For now we reflect God’s image within us very dimly, but when the greatest of all remains, then we shall see and be seen as we are, in the fullness of God’s image.
We are created in God’s image, but our sin has distorted that image and made us less than we were intended to be. There are a lot of moments in our lives when we choose not to act lovingly, when we seek to deny who we were created to be. And we call that sin. And it doesn’t matter whether sin was brought into this world by a serpent or by our own choices, because God loves each one of us so much, because His love is perfect, and always hopes the best for us, He is still seeking to redeem and save and restore every one of us, into His perfect Kingdom. Before John Wesley started the Methodist movement, he had his own experience of redemption and salvation. Remember what he said about his Aldersgate experience that I talked about last week. He talked about his heart warming experience and that’s what we focus on, but he goes on to say:
I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins. Faith that matters does not come from a life that is without sin. It comes from a life that has been redeemed from, saved from sin. A faith that matters is a faith that witnesses to God’s redemptive work in our lives because it offers the assurance that no matter how far you have drifted from perfection, no matter how many bad choices we make, no matter what we do to try and deny God’s spirit within us, that God has not given up on you or anyone else for that matter.
And so as His plan for our salvation, for our redemption unfolded, God sent Jesus, His own Son, to show us once and for all what we were created to be and to save each one of us from what we have become. This Sacrament is all about our redemption. We come to this altar to suffer the consequences of our sin, only to discover that Jesus has already done that for us. He has redeemed us. He has saved us. “He will save the people from their sin.” Wesley called this sacrament a means of grace. And so we can rise from this altar today, after feasting on His love, with the assurance of salvation, with the confidence that we are journeying on to perfection, and go into this perfect world with issues, to share a faith that redeems, a saving faith, a faith that matters.