Sunday, September 11, 2005

In the Image of God

So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.
Genesis 1v27

Lincoln Six-Echo is a resident of a seemingly utopian but contained facility in the mid 21st Century. Like all the inhabitants of this carefully controlled environment Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to The Island... reportedly the last uncontaminated spot on the planet... until he makes a terrible discovery that everything about his existence is a lie... and that he is actually more valuable dead than alive...

The Island, one of this summers big blockbuster films. Its fairly mindless action, but there are some interesting ideas at work. Cloned beings, kept alive to be used as resources from which real people can draw at their time of need. A body that you can dip into for a spare kidney or an arm or a leg....

A world in which man plays god like never before... How did we get here? What are we? Are we here by chance? Are we the result of millions of years of mutation? Where does human identity come from? How should we treat each other? And how can we know these things?

This is the territory that we find ourselves in this morning. Almost inevtiably we strike these issues as we turn to the opening pages of the Bible. But we must let God set our agenda. We must let his word speak....

This morning we come to 22 words of God speaking. Twenty two words of information. God has news for us. God has something to tell us today. News about reality. News about how things really are. News that first informs us and then transforms us.

Earlier this summer I was in Bulgaria with my work. As we approached Sofia airport we were informed that it was now 3pm in Sofia. My watch told me that it was 1pm. My body told me the same. But regardless of my feeling, and all the prior information I had... it was 3pm. I could try to insist that it was 1pm but that would do me no good. I needed to conform my thinking, and then my action to reality. And the reality was that it was 3pm.

Today's word from God concern a time that we don't remember. They concern the true origins of our species. It's contraversial ground. But its not presented as just “Christian belief” but as reality. These words from God fly in the face of our education and the media. But God is speaking here. God is telling us who we really are. And such information should begin practical transformation is us.

This small part of God's word comes to us with some poetic structure. Much like the rest of the chapter in which it is found – the material is carefully structured. 22 words. 22 content-packed words.
So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.

The content is clear isn't it? Like the rest of this chapter in Genesis 1 its carefully arranged. There is structure and much repetition. In our 22 words we have the phrase “God created man” or “He created him” or “he created them”.... three times... twice we find “in his own image” or “in the image of God”.... and then thirdly we see a distinction... man and him, becomes “male and female.”
Three things this morning:
Firstly, “We are created by God”
Secondly, “We are created in God's image”
Thirdly, “We are created male and female”

“We are created by God”
The very idea of creation and God as creator sends some people into a frenzy of argument and confusion. But that is not the point here. God is speaking to us and stating that he created us. Spoken into existence by Jesus himself, as the Bible will later clarify.

God is the Creator. He created everything. And that includes us. Not simply Christian belief, but objective reality. Such statements, if true, must be universal. If God made everything, then no-one else did....

And that means that anything we've ever been told to the contrary is a lie. Scientists may have their theories but God has spoken. Believe it or not... we are created.

This surely means that we are not sovereign over our lives or other peoples. God is. A creator owns his creation. So we are accountable to God. He has rights over us. We are deliberately made by God to live for God, in deep knowledge of God. Made to bring glory to God. Made to delight in him. Made to enjoy and proclaim him.

Yet this is not the world we see around us... created... and yet deeply in rebellion against the creator. And the more we consider of Genesis 1v27, the worse it seems to get...

“We are Created In the image of God”
“you and me aint nothing but mammals, lets do it like they do on the discovery channel” so sang The Bloodhound Gang. Wrong. We're not just mammals – we're made in the image of God. Granted Genesis 1 doesn't really define the image of God - this really isn't it.

I used to work for a human resources company... People. Human Resources. Just a small step from the view that the film THE MATRIX proposed. People as batteries? Are we just energy sources? Are we just chemicals?
When I worked at the Natwest bank in the centre of Reading people routinely viewed treated me as a machine to achieve sales targets or process money... or a face to release their anger against. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

But its not just in productive ways that this happens. We find ourself in a time when people are also viewed as vehicles for destruction by some. Surely today's date sticks in our throat doesn't it? 9/11.

For years to come we'll remember today as a day when many lives were thrown away. Distant from us but drawn so close to us by the media. A day when wrong views of humanity led to the end of many lives. People as weapons of war? Wrong. Life is not this cheap.

And yet, in the four years since 9/11 – there are around 800,000 people missing from the population of the UK. Enough to create a city over three times the size of Reading... missing, aborted for the sake of a “woman's right to choose”.... aborted, in most cased, for for the sake of human convenience. It is tragic. Human life is not expendible. Life must not be so cheap.

All of thse stem from us disregarding what God has said. From a disregard of Genesis 1v27.... Life is not cheap. Applying this may be costly but it is essential. What will it cost us to give people basic dignity in the work place? What will it cost us to stand peacefully against those who would destroy life for political gain? What will it cost us to stand alongside those who see abortion as the only way out of a painful situation?

If we're not reduced to the status of animales, then we find refuge in self-help and ego massage.... Dirt or deity seems to be the choice.... People reduced to objects for glory or gossip.

God's design is not for the destruction of people or their deification. This is not the glorious picture of humanity we see in Genesis 1. Something has gone horribly wrong. We have our origins in God – we are not dirt, and we are not deity.

O, How we need forgiveness for our defilement of humanity. How we have destroyed and deified what God created... This is not what we were made for. The unfolding of God's story reveals that God always intended for us to live as those who truly reflect his image. Those who live in him.

A new creation is required to restore our image. A second creation. O how we need it. How we need Jesus Christ. Jesus who is God. Jesus who is the image of God. Jesus the true humanity. Jesus the rescuer.

Our only hope rests in our lives being hidden in Jesus. Only if God would look on him instead of us could we have any lasting life at all. Only in him will there be freedom from our apparent obligation to destroy each other and rebel against our creator. Only in him any relief from the disfiguring of God's image in us. Only in him is there any hope of us bringing glory to our Creator.

In Jesus, we're told in Colossians 3v1-4, we find new life. Where Jesus – The Image of God – becomes our life. A life where our rebellious life is dead. A life where Christ is our vision in life. A life where God's word again rules. A life where Jesus Christ again gets glory.

“We are Created Male & Female”
We are created by God. We are created in the image of God. And, finally, we are created male and female.

We live in a time where gender is a big issue. It is viewed as changeable. Flexible. A mere sociological construct. Not only is gender under fire but the nature of human relationships is a matter of hot debate. And even the church appears to be bowing to cultural pressures to endorse the opposite of what God says here....... historically when the creator was denied it was easy enough to see that male and female might also be denied. But now people are prepared to say “yes” to creator... but re-write the rest... and we find “created male and male” or “created female and female”... It is incredulous that people debate this isn't it? Basic biology makes it clear that men and women are diffferent.

We are in deep rebellion against our designer when we find gender denied and we find human relationships marked by mocking, by destructive humour and gossip... bickering.. arguing... hating... treating each other like dirt.... How far from the mandate of Genesis 1v27 we've come...

We desperately need a rescuer. A saviour who will free us from this and bring us to true humanity as we see it in Genesis 1v27.

We're often told that religion is about personal preference and private devotion. But Genesis 1v27 argues differently.

God's rescue of us to be his people will bring freedom from our old obligation to rebellion... freedom from sin... but this is not just a private matter... rather Colossians 3v5-21 tells us that it is fundamentally worked out in relationships... to God but also to each other.

Where the old was marked by hate, self-interest and argument... now love, bearing with each other and forgiveness are the norm. This isn't easy. The need to bear with each other should indicate that the new life we find among God's people wont be easy to live. You don't bear with the lovely but the unlovely... we bear with those we disagree with... rather than pushing forward our own agendas. God says in Christ we are free to be wronged and to love each other. Our new life plays out in the relationships of the people of God.

And it plays out in marriage. Wives submit to your husbands as it fitting in the Lord... Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them. I take it from this, and from my own experience... that the old fractured self is naturally self-serving not submissive.... naturallly hating not loving... naturally harsh not kind. Our new life plays out in the relationships of the people of God.

Ultimately this rescue plays out in our restored relationship to Jesus. God's created people no longer in rebellion, but rather hidden in Christ, reflecting the glorious image of God. Colossians 3v10 - the Image of God being renewed within us.... as we relate to God and each other.

In Christ, a new community – a new humanity no longer in rebellion against God. In Christ, a new community being transformed by the Holy Spirit to display the glory of God.

A new community where together ...whatever we do, whether in word or deed, is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.... the one who spoke and said:
...God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.

Extra Reading Colossians 3v1-21