Read Genesis 1:26-31
We are made in the image of God.
You may have heard this story before, but it’s perfect for today. A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. The teacher walked around to see each child’s work. 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.”
What would your picture look like?
Maybe your drawing of God would look like Jesus. Jesus said, “When you have seen me you’ve seen the father” (John 14:9). Colossians 1:15 says that “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” But what did Jesus look like? I found a website that has 200 pictures of Jesus, but most of them look European or American, not Middle Eastern.
Forensic anthropologists created this picture of what Jesus might have looked like.
One notable difference is the short hair. Researchers say that it’s actually more likely that Jesus would have had short hair. Maybe we thought he had long hair because Nazirites had long hair, but they also didn’t drink wine, and Jesus drank wine.
In our scripture reading from Genesis 1, it says that humans were created in the image of God. We are made in the image of God. So then, does God look like us? In our minds, maybe yes, because we all have a tendency to make God in our own image, to project back onto God our understanding of ourselves.
It’s important that we acknowledge this so that we can see when we are expecting people to be like us instead of like Jesus. At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey all that he has commanded (Matt. 28:20). Looking more deeply at that verse, we find that the word “make” isn’t actually in the Greek wording. Disciple is the verb being used. Go and disciple people, no matter what they look like. “Make” sounds rather forceful, and in reality we ourselves do not change hearts and make disciples. God does that. And sometimes we do better at discipling people to be like us, more than like Jesus.
We make disciples by being disciples.
What would people be like if they were to become disciples of you? If you were to be a disciple of me, of Melissa, I think that you would . . .
- learn to drink coffee and appreciate music with a deep groove, both of which I actually learned as a disciple of Rob Krabbe.
- You might become a collector of books and frogs, and a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek and Jimmy Fallon.
- Hopefully you would also become a reader of the Bible and someone who prays.
Only the last two would be about following Jesus, though, and it’s important that we not get those mixed up.
God is not made in our human image. We are all made in the image of God, regardless of what we look like. We are all equally human, and equally loved by God. (I talked about that a few weeks ago.) But as we’ve been hearing so much more this past week, our human experience is quite different depending on how we look. I think we agree that’s not right, and it’s not what Jesus taught us when he told the story of the Good Samaritan to show that we are to love all people (Luke 10:25-37).
Regardless of what we look like on the outside, we are all human beings created by God in the image of God. Regardless of what we may or may not have done, we are all human beings who are part of the world that God loves so much that he gave us Jesus so that we could all know God’s love.
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? An image is a representation or a reflection of something. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians in his second letter that this means we reflect God’s glory. He says:
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)
Most of the translations of this passage are almost identical except when it comes to the word “reflect.” Half of them say “reflect” and half of them say “contemplate” or “behold.” The commentators are equally split, and lexicons give both definitions. Beholding and reflecting can be two very different things. How can it be both? One means you are looking at God and the other means you are looking at other people and reflecting God to them. The Bible tells us we need to do both, but how do we do both at the same time?
We can be like telescopes.
Not the smaller ones that we look straight through, but the bigger ones that serious stargazers and scientists use. These are made with mirrors. When we look in through the eyepiece, what we’re actually seeing is the reflection off the mirror. This mirror is both looking at the heavens AND reflecting them at the same time. Both are important.
We reflect God’s glory when we are ourselves turned toward and focused on God.
To make a telescope work at all, you have to turn it in the right direction. If you want to focus on a particular star, you first have to point the mirror towards that star. But if you want to keep looking at that star, you’re going to have to reorient and refocus because the earth is constantly turning. We need to keep reorienting. Even a little bit of wrong focus can be a big problem.
When the Hubble telescope was first launched, it had a focus problem. One part of the mirror was off by 1/50th of a human hair. That’s so small we wouldn’t even be able to see it.
- It doesn’t seem like much, and if you were drawing a line on a piece of paper that was off by 1/50th of a hair’s width, it wouldn’t be, but imagine how much farther off that line gets are you draw it out over a longer distance—say a few thousand light years. The further you go, the farther off it gets. It wasn’t enough to make the Hubble a total failure—they could still see a lot more than they could see with telescopes down here on earth—but it kept them from being able to see fainter objects. It kept the Hubble from doing all it was designed to do.
It’s the same with us. We need to keep working on our focus so that we are able to do and be what we were created to do and be, so that we are reflecting Jesus, and not just ourselves. It’s challenging, especially when the world keeps changing. We need to keep praying, keep reading the Bible, keep having spiritual conversations, keep learning, keep growing, keep following Jesus.
Another way we are like a telescope: our lenses and mirrors get dirty and need to be cleaned. With a telescope, we might use glass cleaner. For ourselves, we use confession and repentance: Repenting and returning to Jesus.
1 John 1 says, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
We admit our errors, receive forgiveness and make adjustments to get back on track.
When I was in college, I learned about a website called Genocide Watch. It’s a coalition of 75 organizations that are working to prevent genocide. Over the past sixty years, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists have done tons of research to try to understand how people become perpetrators of genocide. They’ve identified patterns and precursors – ten stages. When I looked at their watch list 10 years ago, I was surprised to find that the United States was on it. At that time the researchers listed us as having only one of the early stages of genocide – denial. When I looked again this week, I found that the United States is still on the list and now they list six signs of genocide. The one that stands out to me as we talk about the Genesis creation story is dehumanization. That means that the language being used and actions being taken show that a particular group of people are being thought of and treated as less than human.
I know we’re all in different places about what’s been going on this week. I am thankful that we make a point of being respectful of each other’s different opinion. For me, I have realized that I had been hanging out in that first stage – denial. I didn’t think the mistreatment was happening as much as it is. I didn’t think words and actions that seem small mattered so much. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.
Lots of organizations have been making new policies and statements about racism this week. Our denomination, the PCUSA, has been talking about this for a long time. The Confession of 1967 in our Book of Confessions is from one of those times. Our current PCUSA statement on antiracism was adopted in 1999. It says:
“Racism is the opposite of what God intends for humanity. It is the rejection of the other, which is entirely contrary to the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. Racism is a lie about our fellow human beings, for it says that some are less than others. Because of our biblical understanding of who God is and what God intends for humanity, the PC(USA) must stand against, speak against and work against racism.”
We are in the middle of an amazing and unprecedented time. We had thought it was just about trying not to spread a virus, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves during this time just because of that. We already know that COVID-19 will go down in history as a life-changing, world-changing event. Now we have another history-making event, civil rights demonstrations that remind us of what was happening in the 1960’s, that are happening around the world.
We’ve talked before about considering what it is that God might be teaching us during this time. For me, learning to be more like Jesus means now more than ever being more aware of the ways people are being treated. We can be a part of that in big and small ways. Our denomination has a web page with 21 steps we can take. The first one is to read the PCUSA statement that we just read, so we already took step one. Many of the steps are simply to read or watch something to increase our understanding and awareness.
We are also working on a series of small group opportunities to do some reading and discussing. Andy Giorgetti is going to get us started with a zoom group. If you want to be a part of that, message me or the church office and we’ll make sure you get that information. We’ll also be putting it in our newsletter email.
We are all, every one of us, made in the image of God. We reflect God’s glory the more we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit as we follow Jesus Christ. We are like God, but we are not God. But we forget and we get off track. And so we come together to bow before God and acknowledge our need of God’s mercy and the forgiveness that we have through Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Loving and holy God, we confess that we have not done the things that we ought to have done, and we have done things that we ought not to have done. We have not always loved our neighbors as ourselves. Loving God, we do not always see clearly. Forgive us. Help us to refocus on your son Jesus Christ. Transform us with your Holy Spirit. Make us a bright reflection of your love and grace and glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 Sally Stephens, “The New and Improved Hubble Space Telescope,” (The Universe In The Classroom, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1994), http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/26/26.html, (accessed Feb. 12, 2011).