Two weeks ago, after I told a joke about the bear praying before eating, one of you reminded me of two campers who come upon an angry bear in the woods. The first camper says, “I’m glad I wore my running shoes.” The second says, “Why do you bother with running shoes, we can’t outrun the bear.” The first camper responds, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” I promise that is the extent of my bear jokes.
Too often in our world we don’t treat each other as we should. But as we run the race of life we eventually recognize that it is only through love that we experience real happiness. That is because it is through love that we experience the image of God within us. Let us pray.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God made humankind in God’s image. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Does it mean we have a soul? Or can reason? That we have a conscience? That we have dominion over the rest of creation. Our text tells us that when God made us in God’s image, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image. The plural words us and our are significant. Most Reformed commentators agree this is more than a Trinitarian construct; God is entrusting authority to us. We are invited to participate in the on-going creation. God is not up in the clouds, but in human relationships and chooses to share creative power with us. So we have special responsibilities in the world to care for creation, for example. Being made in the image of God, we can know God through what we see in ourselves.
When we look within ourselves and others, we don’t always see the image of God. One of you brought in a cartoon this week that was a takeoff of the Dos Equis advertisements. The cartoon has the first humans, Adam and Eve, in the garden, and Adam brags to her, “I am the most interesting man in the world.” When we think too highly of ourselves, we blur God’s image.
Raymond Foss writes that we have been gifted with great capabilities, and we can use those gifts for hate and evil as well as for love. There is enough hate and evil in the world that who among us has not been hurt. Perhaps you arrive here this morning having been hurt. We look at the pain of the world and discount ourselves. We might say that Jesus is fully human and fully God but that we are just human – imperfect and full of sin. Don’t give up. We might desperately want to be something different. A different job. A different relationship. We might be going through a transition in life. And be asking – where is God? Sometimes, like the lead character in the book, Eat, Pray, Love, who travels around the world searching for her true self, we may need a significant departure from our status quo. But when you are made in the image of God, you may find that looking inward is where you find your answer. So rather than leaving your relationship for a different life, or searching for greener grass in another neighborhood, or taking the higher paying job over the one you love because of someone else’s expectations, know that your greatest satisfaction will come when how you spend your time is consistent with your deepest self.
The 2008 movie Kung Fu Panda is one of my kids’ favorites. In one scene which I love, the wise turtle Oogway is instructing his pupil, a mouse named Shifu, about how to train the kung fu panda. Oogway says, “My friend, the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours until you let go of the illusion of control.” “Illusion?” asks Shifu.
Oogway says, “Yes, look at this peach tree; I cannot make it blossom when it suits me nor make it bear fruit before its time.” Shifu fires back, “But there are things we can control: I can control when the fruit will fall, I can control where to plant the seed: that is no illusion, Master!” To which Oogway responds, “Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.” A dog can’t become a cat. A bird can’t become a plane. You are made in the image of God. So what will you become?
Our Chancel Players began today by proclaiming that being made in the image of God we humans are able to be “transformed.” The root of the word transformed comes from the same root as the Greek word for metamorphosis. In the Aristotelian tradition it derives from a word that means “from something or someone’s heart.” So when you undergo transformation, metamorphosis in the image of God, you reveal what is at the heart of you. You get in touch with your deepest self. The transitions of life can be difficult. But like any metamorphosis what emerges can be beautiful.
What we are meant to become is more and more like God. And as we mature in life, one of our opportunities is to become more and more holy. Eventually, as work and child-giving responsibilities give way, we can let go of things that get in the way of our engaging our deeper and truer self? Your truest self is the image of God within you.
For us to really discover our truest selves, we may need to review and renew our image of God. We are made in the image of God, so to really understand ourselves it helps to understand God. This is where Jesus is so important. If you want to see what it means to be a human truly made in God’s image you must look to Jesus. Jesus reveals God’s nature more clearly than anyone or anything else. John writes that “God is love.” And that “God’s love was revealed among us in that God sent God’s only son (Jesus) into the world so that we might live through him.”
God is love. If you know God you know love. Jesus showed the love of God. When you realize you were created in that God’s image and you get to know that God, then you discover what it is to love. John writes, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
To be human in the image of God is actualized in community. It is in relationship with God and with other humans that the image is made more clear. That is why John writes, “If we love one another, God lives in us.” It’s why Blaine sings to Kurt in this week’s season premiere of Glee that “all you need is love.” Why we’ll sing in a few moments that we should “let inner love guide every deed, by this we worship and our freed.” It’s why Jesus commanded that we are to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and strength.” And that “We love our neighbors as ourselves.” It is in love that we discover what it means to be truly human, made in the image of God.
You all don’t only suggest jokes and cartoons to our staff; you also suggest books and ideas. This month one of you suggested Matt Haig’s recent novel, The Humans. In it an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth. He takes over the body of a professor and begins his mission of learning about humans. When he is finished he is scheduled to return home to his planet where he enjoys superior intelligence and immortality.
The alien’s views of humanity at first are not positive and his initial attempts to fit into human society or to understand them are unsuccessful. The alien doesn’t like how humans look or act or eat. He is confused and repulsed by them. He is uncaring and cold. He struggles with human actions and customs, even our liking to read poetry, listen to music, and watch each other on the news. We get the feeling he is uncaring and cold.
But over time he grows to appreciate humans. As the tale goes on, the alien is transformed. He grows sympathetic and begins to change. He grows to appreciate the odd lives humans lead. He forms bonds with the professor’s family. He begins to see humor in human quirks. He begins to question the mission that brought him to earth. And especially he begins to appreciate the human feeling of love.
The alien writes, “Love is what the humans are all about but they don’t understand it… All I know is that it’s a frightening thing. And humans are very frightened of it, which is why there are quiz shows. To take their mind off of it and think of something else. Love is scary because it pulls you in with an intense force, a supermassive black hole, which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know.” Later in the story, when the alien professor is beaten by a thug and wakes up in an ambulance, his wife holds his hand and says to him, “I love you.” And the alien professor reflects, “I knew the point of love right there. The point of love was to help you survive. Its meaning was to hold the hand of someone you cared about and to live in the present. Past and future were myths. The past was just the present that had died and the future will never exist anyway, because by the time we get to it, the future will have turned into the present. The present is all there is.” The ever moving, ever changing present. And the present was fickle. It could only be caught by letting go. So I let go. I let go of everything in the universe. Everything except her hand.”
In experiencing love, the alien in the human body goes through a metamorphosis and develops a totally new attitude towards humans. So at the end, looking up at the sky, he recognizes that he no longer desires the life he knew on the planet above far away. He no longer desires the advanced, but uncaring intelligence and long, but cold, life.
He concludes, “What I wanted was to live with people I could care for and who would care for me. I wanted family. I wanted happiness, not tomorrow or yesterday but now.” In the final sentences, the alien concludes that his home was not back on another planet, but here on earth. Through love the alien becomes human.
This week the spirit moved one of you to email me your experience understanding the love of God. One of you wrote, “I was reading a paragraph in a book written by Nietzsche, “God is the dead wood and people believe the dead wood…” I went into depression and I decided to ask God to guide me by answering the question, “How do I know that God is a true being?” I decided to fast for five days to receive an answer. Believe in God or not believe in God?
I went to Sunday worship and listened to the sermon delivered by a visiting Methodist missionary. After the service, I approached him and asked, “How do we know that God exists?” He was a man of humility and invited me to come to visit his residence. A few other teenagers and I sat down. The missionary asked me to open the Bible to 1 John (the passage we read today). It was in that moment that I learned that God is love.”
In our most authentic selves we humans love. It is that part of us that is most like God. When we shed the parts of us that keep us from realizing the divine love inside us, we become more loving. We become more human. We engage our image of the divine. We deepen our connection to God. We too come home. Amen.