The Image of God
By Charles Rush
March 8, 2009
Genesis 1: 25-31
(mp3, 7.0Mb) ]
e spiritual insight that we are created in the image of God, or as we learned from Jesus that we are all children of God, is tremendously important. It has so deeply shaped Western Civilization in our self-concept- in politics, in art and culture, in religion, in psychology- that we take it to be common sense. That was not always the case. Indeed, it is not today which is one of the principal reasons we have such a difficult time getting a universal recognition of the need for human rights.
Not long ago,
archeologists made a fascinating discovery in Australia. It probably escaped
your notice. Out in the middle of the desert, on the face of a cliff wall, they
found a pattern etched in stone. The best estimate is the work is about 75,000
years old. When you consider the fact that civilization is only about 10,000
years old, this is an important find. Just to imagine our ancestors 75,000
years ago, etching this intricate monument.
interesting still was the design. It was a series of grooves cut into the
stone, in the shape of a large square. I believe some of them also were cut
into concentric circles. It formed an elaborate design that looked quite a bit
like a complicated maze. It was like an elaborate doodle that you would make on
your paper during a very boring Chemistry class. You remember Chemistry class.
Listen to lecture, glaze over, peer over at Katie Cochrane (Oh what a beauty),
doodle on paper, listen to lecture, glaze over… I only made a Cee in Chemistry but
I had some very fine doodles to show for it and some lovely memories of young
was actually stunning. Why? In the period of early civilization, from 6,000 bce
to 4,000 bce, we quite a few archeological remains. It was very common to see a
concentric sworl that was used as part of a religious ceremony. We can fairly
well guess what it symbolized from a number of different sources. It was a
symbol of the ever-changing, yet predictable rotation of the universe.
of course, were fundamentally oriented by the rhythms of the world- day and
night. The cycle of the moon and its correlate menstrual cycle. The changing of
the seasons. Most especially, since they spent so much time looking into the
night sky, the regular rotation of the heavens.
heavens were assumed to be the realm of the gods, the presumption was that they
contained portents for our world. Rare astral phenomena were the subject of a
great deal of speculation. Even in the bible, when the prophets want to use a
metaphor of impending doom, they will say, “when the moon turns blood red”.
They are speaking of a lunar eclipse which were generally thought to be a bad
omen in the ancient world. Lunar eclipses are relatively rare. Ancient people
thought that through this natural occurrences, the gods were trying to
communicate something to them.
There is a
spiritual teaching that goes part and parcel with the observation of the
regular rotation of the heavens. It was the notion of “fate”. These sworls were
not only symbols of the heavens, they were also symbols of our spiritual lives.
The idea is that things have been laid out in a destiny by the gods, which may
be inscrutable, but is there nevertheless. We may not be able to understand why
we have been given the lot that we have been given but the spiritual object of
living is to fulfill the destiny that we have been assigned.
called it our Moira. It is the shape of our finished fate, our appointed end,
the task that the gods have allotted us. In one of her wonderful novels, Mary
Renault describes how this played out in real life.
She tells the
story of a tribe in Greece.
In their ancient past, when they were hunter/gatherer’s, they lived through a
series of droughts that threatened their very existence. On the brink of
starvation, the King of the tribe had a spiritual moment, and decided to cut
loose the lead stallion from the herd of horses that the tribe used. The tribe
followed the stallion who smelled the air for food and water. The stallion
guided them to water and they were saved.
Before he was
loosed, he was dedicated to Poseidon, the god of water. So after the tribe
found their way to a fresh supply of water, and the horse had fulfilled the
task that the gods had allotted him, the stallion was sacrificed in a religious
ceremony, and thanks was given to the gods for the good fortune of the tribe.
This was not
only done for animals, it was also applicable to humans. Certain leaders were
called out from the people and dedicated and after their leadership had been
fulfilled, they too were sacrificed to the gods. They accepted their Moira.
It is a deep
running religious idea. At root, it under girds the only living ancient
religion, Hinduism. Hinduism teaches that we are reincarnated to a specific
caste as a consequence of our actions in a former life. The spiritual object of
this life is to accept the station to which we were born, to fulfill the social
and religious obligations that attend our caste, for in fulfilling them, we
will be reincarnated to a higher caste in a future life.
problematic, it is understandable. I remember talking to a mother who had been
in a horrible car accident that had killed one of her children. The scene of
that accident unfolding before her replayed in her mind for years afterward. As
it replayed, she began to speculate on it. How is it that the cars all managed
to be in just the right alignment so that a car in the far lane would swerve
into the right side of our car? Why did we go back home to pick up those
directions, since we knew where we were going and didn’t really need them,
because if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have been at that place at that time?
Especially in a great metropolis like New York, you can extrapolate out the
infinite variety of things that had to converge all to make your destiny
And destiny is
not all negative, though most of it is. I know a guy who literally bumped into
a lovely young woman at the Metropolitan
Museum and was struck
with her immediately. As he was picking up the things and they were talking,
his heart was going ‘boom, boom, boom.’ Three weeks go by. Then he sees her leaving a restaurant in the West Village
and they have another short but clicking conversation. Then he sees her again
out jogging and finally he asks her for a date. He calls me on the phone,
bubbling, and says “Chuck, this is God… I run into her 3 times… not once but
three times… what are the chances of that happening… Isn’t 3 big in the
bible-Father, Son and Holy Ghost? This is large. This is good.” I’m thinking,
Jimmy, this sounds more like lust/enfatuation/budding romance. They dated and
when they got married, when he took his vows, he was certain that God had sent
this wonderful woman from the foundations of the universe. Sometimes it all comes
together, it all just clicks, and you are overwhelmed with sheer gratitude for
life. The stars just lined up.
this morning give puts some brakes on this line of logic. It gives some shape,
focus, qualification. In the first place, if you are looking for the divine
spark, look not into the heavens for primary communication. Look rather into
the face of your children, your neighbors, the person sitting next to you right
More than that,
in the midst of the very powerful forces of nature, the very powerful social
forces that define the horizon and limit of our existence, we also have the
divine capacity of choice and self-direction. We are not completely defined by
our contexts. We have a moral imagination. We have resident spiritual capacities.
We can change the situation.
More even than
that, each and every one of us is important. Take yourself seriously. Believe
in yourself. God believes in you. I have no way of knowing this but I suspect
that most of us suffer from a corrosive low self-esteem from time to time, even
very successful people.
I heard from a
young lady, a freshman at Amherst
College. The Provost at
Amherst is quoting all these statistics about the average SAT’s (12,000) for
the entering class, the GPA (6.2), how few students are admitted, how many are
athletic, how many were class presidents (121%). She is sitting there thinking
“what AM I doing in this place”.
The first two
years at college, I had a recurrent dream that all 4500 students were gathered
in a large auditorium and the Dean is talking to us with his cap and gown, when
an assistant hands him a note. He stops what he is doing and says, “Apparently
there has been a mistake. Charles Rush, you don’t belong here.” And two
agents from the Secret Service come down the aisle and usher me out in front of
all my peers. You ever have a dream like that?
Jewish/Christian message is this “You are sacred.” You have the image of God in
you. Shape your world spiritually and morally. Pass it on.
One of the most
moving sermons I ever heard was in the dustbowl in Louisville, Kentucky.
The dustbowl is a series of basketball courts in the middle of the Ghetto. By
the way, Sports Illustrated has rated it in the past as the best place in the
country for a pick-up basketball game. Jesse Jackson was there giving a sermon
to a great group of black teenagers. Over and over, he kept coming back to his
theme “You are somebody.” He is right about that.
There is a
Baptist Mission in Thailand
called “New Life”. It was started by a woman, an American missionary, who was
teaching in Bangkok.
She was having a hard time focusing on her work because of the sex trade that
was all around her. She found it particularly galling because the prostitutes
were getting younger and younger, the thought being that young prostitutes were
less likely to have AIDS.
investigation, she found out that the pimps that ran these houses of
prostitution would travel to the remote villages throughout southeast Asia and
buy these young girls, usually from impoverished peasants. Girls were
particularly vulnerable because they were considered an economic liability to
their families (Their parents had to raise a dowry to get them married, whereas
boys took care of their parents in their old age). Furthermore, girls were
taught from the time that they were born that they were inferior, that they had
to accommodate themselves to this patriarchal world, that their own needs were
not nearly as important as fulfilling their duties, particularly their duties
to men. This was their fate. It is their moira.
conspired against them. In a city, hundreds of miles from anyone they know,
without any economic resources, watched very closely, children that wouldn’t
know how to run away even if the opportunity presented itself, what could they
do? Nothing. They just had to accept their fate and do the best with it.
was talking to one of the pimps. She asked how much it would cost to buy one of
these young prostitutes? $50 was the answer. The woman went home and prayed
She came back
to him the next day with $50. Missionaries don’t have much money, of course.
But this woman just couldn’t handle the fact that one of these children, a
sacred life with the divine spark, could sell for $50.
She wrote to
other people and got some more money. She bought a dozen of these girls and
brought them all to her home. She worked with them to begin to heal some really
horrific experiences that they had lived through.
missionary, she shared the Bible with them, the story of Jesus, his teaching
that God loves us, each and every one. This spiritual insight was so important
to them, it not only changed their lives, it gave them a foundation to rebuild
from. “If God loves me… then I can; if God loves me, then I should stand up for
myself; if God loves me, then I am worthy of respect; if God loves me, I can
overcome shame; if God loves me, then I can…”
figured out that any real healing was going to have to have an economic basis
to it. These girls faced big cultural challenges. If they were to return to
their villages, it is not likely that anyone would ever marry them. In many
cases, their families would not even take them in. They had to be economically
self-reliant in order to be spiritually whole. Most of the girls wanted to
eventually return to their homes. So she needed to teach them an economic
self-reliance that would actually work in their context. She taught them
Each day, they
spent some time in regular education, in bible study, learning how to sew and
market their crafts. She also taught them to sing. Protestants love to sing.
They formed a choir and in the evenings they would sing.
A few years
ago, a group of them came to the U.S. I got to hear them sing. It
was very beautiful. They were radiant. It is so spiritually uplifting to see
faces full of self-esteem, self-respect, self-worth, all singing together.
The sex slave
trade in Thailand
has not come to an end. But for those girls, life has opened up in a whole new
way of growth. You get the feeling, that maybe we actually can alter fate,
maybe we can really redirect the river of destiny.
morning when you wake up and look into the mirror I want you to remember that
quite in spite of your weakness and your virtues, God lives in you. God loves
you. You are going to make a difference. Amen.
A version of this sermon was preached by Rev. Rush on June 3, 2007.
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