Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Made in the image of God and yes it matters

I know what it's like to be different. When I was a kid, my eyes were crossed. Corrective surgery helped, but I wore glasses long before anyone else my age did. And I had the big, thick Coke bottle glass lenses, too. So that earned me lots of hurtful nicknames. Lots of people in the world make different a bad thing. But my mom loved me the way I was. In fact, she said we are all different in one way or another, and that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of people in the world who have not gotten that message. Muslims, Arabs, Christians, Jews, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Koreans, Turks, Iraquis, Syrians, Afghans, men, women, teens, gays, straights, trans, Republicans, Democrats and Green Partyers too ... we are ALL fighting. Heck, even Taylor Swift and Kanye West are trash talking again. We cannot seem to get along. We are either trying to force everyone to think and do things our way, or else we are trying to wipe the other off the face of the planet. When it comes right down to it, much of the violence in the world has to do with the way we see each other. For too many of us, different means bad.

But the book of Genesis tells us that God created the entire universe and everything in it. And human beings have been given a special place in the creation. It is WE who bear the image of God. We are like God, and that makes all of us super special. Human beings are the best thing God ever made. Think about it. YOU are the masterpiece in God's gallery. You are the crowning jewel in God's crown. You are the best of the best. The cream of the crop. The apple in God's eye. You are God's finest achievement. When God made you, God looked down and smiled and said, "Now, that is good!"

The psalmist reflects on this in chapter 8:
I often think of the heavens your hands have made, and of the moon and stars you put in place. Then I ask, 'Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings? You made us a little lower than you yourself, and you have crowned us with glory and honor.
How do you feel when you hear those words? We are just a little lower than God?!?! Are you filled with awe and wonder and amazement? Are you sitting straighter in your seat? Is your chin raised a little? If you feel a little better about yourself and your neighbors, I think that is just what the psalmist intended. We have been made in the image of God! Those words raise us up and put us just under the perfection of the Almighty God! Wow!

The creation story in Genesis teaches us that every human being is made in the image of God, but we do not see that! We do not see God in ourselves. We do not see God in our neighbors. And we do not teach our children to see God in their own faces. And it is our responsibility. It is our responsibility as parents. It is our responsibility as citizens It is our responsibility as a Church. It is our job to teach children to value life. It is our responsibility to teach children to treasure their own lives, and it is our responsibility to teach children to value the lives of other people.

We MUST teach children to value themselves as persons of great worth. They are made in the very image of God! Each one is precious! Each one is special! Each one is sacred! And it is our duty to show them just how valuable they are. If they do not value their own lives, they are not likely to treasure any other life. And we have seen what awful things happen when we do not treasure human life.

A few years ago, I read, "Unbroken," which is the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who became a Japanese prisoner of war during WWII. The book includes some  horrifying details about the abuse the prisoners suffered. One reason the Japanese soldiers could treat the Allied prisoners so badly is that the Japanese people believed that they were superior to all other races. They had been taught to believe that Anglo-Saxons were devils. Beasts. Sub-human. They did not see God in their captives. And, when we do not see God in the people around us, it is easy to dismiss them. It is easy to ignore them. It is easy to hurt them.

That is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. They are not saying that other lives do NOT matter. They are trying to tell the world that THEIR lives matter, too.

We may believe that racism and prejudice are a thing of the past, but the truth is they are not. When I get stopped for a burned out tail light, police officers gently point it out and send me on my way. I never have to worry about my safety when I am in the presence of police officers. Never. The same is not true for our neighbors with darker skin. And that is not right. That is not fair. That is not justice. And we, the white community, must do what we can to make things right.

Don't misunderstand me. I admire police officers. I know they have an incredibly difficult job. And I believe most of them do what they do because they want to help people. Their lives matter, too. But we must find a way forward that acknowledges the sacred worth of EVERY life.

Right now, our neighbors are hurting. Police officers are hurting. The black community is hurting. They are wounded. They are angry. They are fed up with injustice. And it is our job to help them. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that we will be held accountable for the way we treat one another. When we mistreat one another, it is just like we are abusing Jesus. When we make fun of people who are different from us, we are taunting Jesus. When we take advantage of the weak, we are cheating Jesus. When we use ugly names for people, we are calling Jesus ugly names. When we  yell at people, we are screaming at Jesus. When we hit people, we are throwing punches at Jesus. When we aim a gun at people, we are targeting Jesus. And God will judge us for it.

God will hold us accountable. God will judge us for what we do, and God will judge us for what we refuse to do.