Not a White Dude in the Sky


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Our thinking about the image of God can have a major impact on our ability to love all people equally. One translation of Genesis 1:27 says, “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.” Through uplifting music and message, we’ll explore the beautiful descriptions of God in Scripture and what they mean for us today.

 

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scriptures

Genesis 1:27
Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”

Isaiah 66:13
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

Psalm 131:2
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

Luke 15:8-10
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

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It was Christmas Eve, and my colleague was getting ready to pray after a Scripture reading. He had prayed in public many times, but someone’s presence was raising his anxiety level. You see, he was serving at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood and the person reading the Scripture was the one and only James Earl Jones!

Some of our very young friends may know him as the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies (Think, “Luke, I am your father.”)

James Earl Jones has that “voice of God” quality exhibited more recently by Morgan Freeman, who also happens to be producing the Story of God, a fascinating series on the National Geographic Channel.

What do you think God looks like?

How does God sound?

What can we learn from historic depictions of God as fair-skinned in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel?

Long before Morgan Freeman or Alanis Morisette or Whoopi Goldberg played the role of God in film, Groucho Marx, Charlton Heston and George Burns all represented the Creator.

Why does it matter that we have most often seen God depicted by white men?

This continues to Jesus, God incarnate, in nativity scenes.

A recent article in The Atlantic explores the approach.[1] In “Your Christmas Nativity Scene is a Lie,” writer Jonathan Merritt reports on the challenges presented by the presentation of the Holy Family as fair skinned, often with blue eyes. This problematic trend really took off in the mid-19th century, according to Edward Blum and Paul Harvey in The Color of Christ: “The transformation of Jesus from light to white in the young United States made him . . . a cultural icon of white power.” While I’m at it, I have to point out that as beautiful as our stained glass windows are, I wouldn’t bet a lot of money that Jesus looked quite so much like a Southern California surfer. As a Middle Eastern man, his features would have been darker than the typical Euro-American depictions.

We all tend to create mental images of God and Jesus that work for us. Merritt concedes that this can be good, allowing Jesus to be accessible to everyone regardless of background.

I strive to approach this subject with humility. I still remember when I started attending church regularly in my twenties and first heard a Scripture reading in which the leader referred to God as She. It was jarring and something I hadn’t ever considered. I hadn’t thought about how much God and Santa Claus looked like brothers in my mind.

In our Scripture readings today, you heard some examples of feminine imagery in the Bible. Whether you are a longtime student of the Bible, or are just getting started, it is quickly evident that the majority of the God language in the Bible is masculine.

In the book She Who Is, professor and faith thinker Elizabeth A. Johnson explains that “Western language has focused on male symbols to the virtual exclusion of female and cosmic ones, and has further restricted even male naming to the work of ruling men and the patriarchal relation of father. Remembering the Christian and indeed the world tradition of the many names of God opens up space for the renewal of God-language . . .”[2]

My goal for today is not to convince you that God is a man or a woman. I do hope you will consider the possibility that God transcends gender and any categories our limited human capacities can understand.

If we make God in our image, we will make gods in our image too.

Speaking for myself, I tend to find it all too easy to make God or Jesus into my buddy, who laughs at my jokes, agrees that I am a better driver than others, likes the same music I do, has the same politics, and definitely roots for the Warriors and the Giants.

To paraphrase St. Augustine, if we have fully understood, then what we have understood is not God.

Thankfully, Sophia is always breathing and revealing Herself in unexpected ways.

Though Jesus was and is the Son of God and referred to God as Abba, Father according to the Gospels, he went out of his way to empower and involve women in world changing ways. From Mary, mother of Jesus, to his earthly ministry, to the day of the resurrection, the first Easter, God’s revelation through women is remarkable.

And it continues today.

While in Cuba with our Calvary team of seven last week, we met dozens of incredible brothers and sisters in Christ who have persevered through decades of challenges.

One of our hosts and translator was Alexi. He told us that when he was a young boy he found a gold cross and proudly showed it to his father. “Throw it away, it’s shit,” his father replied. “But it’s gold and it’s worth something,” little Alexi protested. “No, it’s shit.”

Over the course of the trip, we learned how Alexi and our driver, a 6-foot-6 man named Juanny came to faith in a culture that told them that Christian faith was worthless.

As we traveled from Presbyterian Church to Presbyterian Church in Cuba, we met strong leaders including Consuelo and Leticia, Adriana and Yasmilka.

Alexi explained that is was strong women like these who held the Church together when it would have been easier to throw the cross in the garbage.

And now the perseverance of these incredible women is helping to feed senior adults left to fend for themselves, provide clean drinking water, and lift up the name of Jesus Christ through all situations.

They have not made gods to suit their image, but have reflected the Imago Dei, the image of God, by the example of their lives.

The same Jesus who appeared to the women at the tomb appears to them and through them.

Genesis 1:27
“Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”

Benediction:
Go forth, reminding the world that Sophia is still creating and breathing, and Jesus is still walking and we are his hands and his feet!

[1] Jonathan Merritt, “Your Christmas Nativity Scene Is a Lie,” The Atlantic, Dec. 13, 2015.

[2] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: the Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, 10th ed. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002), 120.

 

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