1. General Christian

June 6th sermon: Being Made in God’s Image


Jeremiah 18:1-11

Genesis 1:26-31

Luke 14:25-33Top of Form

We have three scriptures today that look at who we are in relationship to God.  The Jeremiah passage appears condemning – saying that God will tear down and destroy the evil nation.  And then we have the passage from Luke which seems to say that we cannot be accepted as disciples unless we give up all we have, including our families.  And finally we end with the passage from Genesis that reminds us that we are made in God’s image and made good.

So how do we reconcile these three passages together?  How do we understand who we are to this God who loved and created us good, in God’s own image, who knows us inside and out – with passages that appear to condemn who we are, our limits and our failings, as completely unacceptable?

Our self-esteem in the Western World is very fragile.  And I think there are a lot of reasons for this.  For one thing, we are slow to forgive.  We like revenge.  We like vengeance.  We are not just slow to forgive others, we are slow to forgive ourselves.  Despite the Lord’s Prayer that we say every single week, and for some of us a whole lot more often than that, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, none the less, we don’t actually do this….with others or with ourselves. And this changes everything about how we see the world.

I want to give you an example.  There is a story of an old sheep farmer whose neighbor’s dogs were always killing his sheep.  It became so horrible that he knew he had to do something about it.  What are the options that come to mind when you think about how he should have dealt with this?  Chances are that if you grew up here your first thought would be to call the police, to ask for their intervention.  Maybe the second thought would be to sue the neighbor for the loss of the sheep.  We go to these revenge, punishment, payment scenarios here because that is what our culture has taught us to do.  We go there so quickly that we have a very hard time thinking outside of these particular boxes.  But these are not the only solutions.  Can you think of something else?  Perhaps your second thought is he could build a stronger and higher fence so that his neighbor’s dogs could not get in.  And that’s a solution, for sure.  But still there are others.  In this particular instance, the farmer took a third option.  He chose to give two lambs to his neighbor’s children.  In due time the lambs grew into sheep and had other sheep and then the neighbor and his children got to see the sheep not as just something their neighbor had, but as something they valued as well.  They soon penned their dogs.

I also, though, think there is a second reason why we struggle here with self-esteem.  Passages like today’s passage from Jeremiah and today’s passage from Luke are part of a larger group of writing that simply makes us feel that there is nothing we can do that is “enough”.  Looking specifically at the Luke passage, from Feasting on the Word, “Three times in this passage, Jesus says that without definite decision, a person cannot be his disciple. First, he requires a person to hate parents, spouse, children, siblings, and even one’s own life. Second, he commands carrying the cross and following him. Third, he demands the giving up of all possessions. Even if we soften his word “hate,” Jesus still leaves us with his requirement that we make family ties and normal self-preservation subordinate to following him. The pastoral work of the Christian community involves a clear and frank acknowledgment of the great challenge, the fearsome requirements of becoming and doing what Jesus expects of us.”  Jesus also declares that we shouldn’t even begin becoming his disciples unless we are prepared to go all the way.  Discipleship costs. In fact, it will cost us everything .  So much for family values.  And so much for loving others as yourself.  It feels when we read passages like this that there is nothing we can do to be accepted and acceptable.  How many of us are able to “hate mother and father”?  For those of us who take passages such as this seriously, these words hit, hard.  Are we ever going to be enough for God?  Will we ever be accepted or acceptable? 

And then we read passages like the one from Jeremiah.  And it would seem that maybe the pain we undergo is a punishment because we aren’t enough, because we haven’t given up enough, because we still love our families.  So we ask, are the things that are happening punishments for what we have done?  When we are going through difficult times is it because we have done evil?  And what makes it even harder is when we don’t know what it is that could have led to such pain and punishment.  When we search and search our souls but cannot find what it is that we have done that would deserve the hardships we endure.  “What did I do to deserve this?” we ask.  “Why me?”  And it is not just we who do this.  We want life to be fair, so we can impose on others reasons for their suffering as well.  For example, when my family was going through our terrible time, I had a person inform me that the reason we were struggling so much must be because I did something horrible in a past life.  The person is familiar with the life I had lived up to that point, couldn’t find a reason why all of this would have happened to me based on anything I’ve done in this life, and so has made it “fair” in her mind by declaring that I did wrong in my last life.  I get it.  And passages like the one from Jeremiah make it all the harder to accept that sometimes things just happen because life is not fair.

Brian Konkol, Chaplain of Gustavus Adolphus College confronts these ideas.  He said it this way, “One of the intellectual foundations of Western thought is “Cogito ergo sum,” or “I think therefore I am.” This statement from René Descartes has greatly influenced modern life, especially in the west.  It assumes that human existence can be self-reliant, and gives birth to various terms in the English-language with “self” as a prefix. For example, we often hear of self-confidence, self-conscious, self-expression, self-criticism, self-deception, self-defeating, self-denial, self-discipline, self-esteem, self-expression, self-importance, self-improvement, self-interest, self-respect, self-restraint, self-sacrifice—and the list goes on! Amazingly, the equivalent of these “self” words cannot be found in many non-Western languages, which reveals a great deal about our continued fascination with (and celebration of) the so-called “self-made woman” and/or “self-made man.”  In wonderful contrast to “I think therefore I am,” the African philosophy of “ubuntu” states, “I am because we are.”  Among other things, ubuntu recognizes that individual autonomy is impossible; a person is only a person through being in relationship with other persons.  In other words, all people are products of their environment, and thus all people have to rely upon others each and every day. While ubuntu recognizes personal initiative, drive, and the ability to shape our surroundings, it also acknowledges that relationships shape existence, and thus connectedness is essential to a full understanding of life.  

The “clay” that Jeremiah describes in today’s passage, the clay that is remolded and remodeled in this is communal.  It is not individuals who are being molded, remolded, plucked down and built up, but God’s will for God’s people in community.  God’s will is being remolded for a community as the community responds or fails to respond to God’s call.  God is the same, but God’s actions and plans change, or as today’s scripture said, “If that nation turns from its evil, I will change my mind.”  God interacts with us according to how we interact with God.  Additionally, the image we are given today from Jeremiah is of a potter who took the clay and did not throw it out when it became marred, but rather shaped and created it into something new and beautiful, something God thought it was best to be.  God does not throw out the community, but recreates it, using the clay that already exists – the people who already exist – and making God’s will for it into something better.  I’m reminded of the Japanese Kintsugi: pottery that is broken is reworked with gold into beautiful new objects.  The belief behind it is that things that have been broken have the potential to be much more beautiful and that this can be shown through this amazing art work. 

Still, this may still sound harsh.  But the God of punishment isn’t the God I experience, which isn’t to say that there aren’t consequences for our actions.  I do think life hold us accountable.  There are consequences for our actions, and sometimes those are devastating and hurtful.  We make mistakes with people and those mistakes can deeply affect our relationships, no matter how much we apologize or strive to make amends, for example.  We live in a world that sometimes we cannot fix the mistakes we make.  But it is also true that many of the bad things that come to us as individuals are undoubtedly the results of the world we live in, the communal world, the world of our communities and our nations and our earth.  Bad things happen all the time, not always because of the things we have done, though we can remain affected. 

Where is God in this?  Well, that’s the other part of this.  I do think that God calls us, every time, to learn from the painful experiences, to grow closer to God and closer to what God calls us to be, what God intends for us to be, through our experiences, all of them.   I can’t put that in a context of punishment, because for me God’s call to make us better, God’s desire for us to grow, is out of love and out of grace.

 Malachi 3 reminds us:   But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”  Because God loves us, God will call us to change, God will remold us, God will refine us.  Not comfortable.  But if we can see our trials as opportunities for growth, they can be gifts and blessings.

Looking once again at the Luke passage, we need to remember that discipleship is a process.  We are all “becoming” disciples, which means that there will be times when we put the needs or demands of other people or ourselves above God.  Eventually, we hope not to do this because, as we will discover, when we put God first, the needs of those around us get met.  But this really is a process of becoming a disciple.  It takes time, it takes commitment to love both God and God’s people.  But also, as Bonhoeffer says, “The call to discipleship is a gift of grace and that call is inseparable from grace.”  Therefore, even as we struggle to be disciples, it is God who gives us the ability to do that, to grow in discipleship and faith.

So, returning to the self-esteem question, are we enough?  Are you enough?  Well, we are enough that God created us in God’s own image.  God loved us into being.   There is a wonderful praise song called “fingerprints of God”.  Here are the words:

I can see the tears filling your eyes, And I know where they’re coming from.

They’re coming from a heart that’s broken in two, By what you don’t see

The person in the mirror, Doesn’t look like the magazine

Oh but when I look at you it’s clear to me that:

I can see the fingerprints of God When I look at you

I can see the fingerprints of God And I know it’s true

You’re a masterpiece That all creation quietly applauds

And you’re covered with the fingerprints of God.


Never has there been and never again Will there be another you

Fashioned by God’s hand And perfectly planned

To be just who you are And what he’s been creating

Since the first beat of your heart Is a living breathing priceless work of art and

Just look at you. You’re a wonder in the making

Oh and God’s not through no, In fact he’s just getting started and

I can see the fingerprints of God When I look at you

I can see the fingerprints of God And I know it’s true

You’re a masterpiece That all creation quietly applauds

And you’re covered with the fingerprints of God.

Who are we to judge ourselves as unforgiveable?  Who are we to judge ourselves as not good enough?  Who are we to fail to love ourselves as our neighbors when God loves us more than anything?  So hear the Good News.  You are loved.  By none other than GOD!  That makes you valuable, and worthy and wonderful.  God loves YOU.  God has created you in the Divine image.  You are covered with the fingerprints of God.  And that is an amazing and wondrous blessing indeed.

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