What Does God Think of You? Genesis 1:26-2:4
Trinity Sunday 2011
If there is one story that is repeated over and over in our lives both by us and those closest to us, it is the tale of our birth. Begin any conversation with a new acquaintance about their upbringing, and usually it will begin with the statement, “I was born in . . . “ (I would invite you to take a minute and share with someone seated next to you know, your answer to this question).
My maternal grandfather, a life-long southerner and resident of Kentucky, regularly recounted to my cousins and I the story of how he came to be as a northerner—an unusual fact for his 1930s upbringing.
His pregnant mother accompanied by his father was aboard a train heading home from visiting friends in New York when she began to get contractions while the train was rolling through in Pennsylvania. The contractions got worse and worse near Altoona, PA. The parents to be got off as quickly as they could and minutes later, George Ellis Duncan came to the world. And in a couple of hours, they were back on the train so that the rest of his first day of life could be spent in his home state. It was epic entrance at best, especially the way my tall tale storytelling granddad lined up all the details that marked his birth as an occasion of great triumphant.
There’s something about birth stories, whatever they may be that define us that hold an exalted place in our lives (in most cases) when everything was good.
One of my favorite movies that I watch every time I need a good cry when it’s playing repetitively on cable is the Julia Roberts/ Susan Sarandon 1998 film, Stepmom. If you haven’t seen it the basic premise is that divorced mother of two, Jackie Harrison finds out that she has cancer about the time that her ex-husband, Luke has proposed to Isabel, played by Julia Roberts. The family deals with the tension of the illness, the changing family dynamics and the ups and downs of raising young children.
As you might imagine with the idea of death on the mind of Jackie, she savours much of the conversation time she can gather with her kids, Anna and Ben. Especially, with Ben, he frequently asks Jackie, “Can you tell me again about the time when I was born?” Ben, as a curious seven-year old, want-to-be magician, loves to hear the story of his arrival into the world. He adores hearing how he looked like a little magician as soon as the blanket was wrapped around his newborn skin—the blanket became like a cape! And, then, Ben wants his mom to go on to tell him, what the nurses and the doctor who attended to his birth, and all the visitors said about him as they looked into his deep brown eyes: he was the most spectacular, handsome baby they’d ever had in the hospital. He was strikingly made in the image of his parents with the world of amazing possibilities ahead of him!
Though Ben was not old enough to articulate why he loved hearing his birth story so frequently, I can imagine later that he would say that upon hearing it, he gained confidence not only in knowing how beautifully he was received into the world in which he came, but that he had a relationship with one of the two persons who welcomed his creation into being. And, it was a moment when all was right with the world—no pain, no hurt, no sorrow.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, taken from the Torah, one of the five most sacred books in the Jewish faith, we find a birth story—a creation tale that has been exalted too, a tale that speaks of the relationship between a Creator and the created. God, Creator, seeking to tell us something about our human birth story. . . .
Though countless teachers and scholars—maybe even some that you have had have sought to make this story about science—proving or not proving some theory of creationism or evolution, the long day or short day theory, I beg us to take a different route to understanding this text this week. Considering Genesis 1 and 2 as a love story, as a birth story given to us by our Parent for us gathered around this community table asking again our heavenly Father, “Tell me about when I was born.”
And in doing so, answering that burning question as we dive into it a bit more this morning in the back of many of our minds, “What does God think about me? What does God think about us?”
As many of you know, there was a group from Washington Plaza Baptist who had the opportunity to share the good news about our loving and welcoming congregation last Sunday afternoon at the Capital Pride street festival. Some of your might have already heard about some of the remarks we received while passing out info and stickers about our church at the booth, but for the sake of all of us, I’ll share it again:
On numerous occasions, I observed gasps as people walked by our sign that included the word “Baptist” and “accepting” in the same sentence.
“I had no idea that churches loved people like me,” one woman whispered across our table.
While another said, “I attended a Baptist college for four years. That was enough church for me. I’m through with you people.”
Such comments were a good reminder to me as to why the presence of the church, a representative of the Divine, has gotten such negative ideas into the heads of many of what God thinks of us. Damage has been done both in the larger secular landscape, no matter if you a part of the gay community or not, when we as worshippers of God have painted a picture of an angry God, who lords over those of us who make bad choices, more often than not.
We have created structures for telling faith story that involve things such as “Thou shall not or thou shall get out” or “God only rewards those who always cross their t’s and dot their I’s.” Somehow grace has gotten completely out of the picture.
But when we go back to Genesis and consider again why this text was written in the first place, what we discover is that the confusion of identity—who is God and how does God really feel about humanity—is nothing new under the sun. For in the time of the Genesis author, while his culture highly influenced by Babylon saw God as bloody, violent and utterly against humanity, there was another tale to be told: a good one that did not begin with specific conditions of behavior.
For in fact, scholars think that “Genesis one was written as a statement of faith in the midst of horrific times, NOT as an answer to the question of how God created the world. The time was either exilic or immediate post-exilic period. Jerusalem, the temple, and the major cities in Israel had been attacked by Babylon and its leaders had been taken off into exile.”[i]
It was the time when the children of Israel needed to know some things for sure. They needed to know what God thought of them. Did God look upon them with any joy, any pride, or any protection when everything they had trusted around had long fallen away?
Or, as Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor describes the story, it’s a “counter cultural protest of the people of Israel against the creation story of their Babylonian captors. While their oppressors saw the origins of the universe as violent and bloody, the Israelites told their children a different story, a story rooted in goodness and blessing.”[ii]
Rather then, believing that the world was formed in disorder and humanity was nothing special, we read in verse 26 of our text that the crowning moment came when God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” That in the beginning, God thought of us, as part of God’s very own self, different from the rest of creation, we were given an image of the divine light!
Today is Father’s Day and on an occasion like this, when we remember, give thanks for or even bemoan a little the person who gave us half of our DNA, it is easy to channel these personal experiences of our own lives and think that this is all there is: that our story is isolated and is based solely on the luck of the draw as to what kind of Father and how long he was with us on earth. We think of our story of coming to being only in terms of our biological families or those who have chosen to raise us.
It has been said in countless circles that if you want to know what a person thinks of God, then ask them about their father. Was he kind? Was he loving? Is he hateful? Is he rude? Is he forgiving? Was he actively involved in his children’s lives? And, with the answers to these questions, you paint a picture of what a person believes God thinks about him or her.
“My daughter: why did you get a C on that paper? If you had just studied harder, you would have gotten an A. I always thought of you as the smarter child: just do better.”
“My son: why in the world did you marry her? You could have done so much better? I always knew you’d be the one to make bad choices.”
“You need to lose 50 pounds if you ever think you are going to get a date! Why don’t you think about growing out your hair.” “You’d be prettier if you did.”
Yet, with all of this true in our experiences somehow, how much more do you and I need the message of hope from Genesis 1.That there is a larger story of our own versions of “in the beginning” and there is a heavenly Parent whose looks at us and says with great pride and joy, “It is good. It is very good” and continues to tell us this without end. To go back to this place of the beginning helps us remember the original intentions of God for human life before the poor choices humanity made, kept us from being able to see this truth clearly.
Such a journey of truly believing what God thinks us of us is a tough one to take: for it is a lot easier to receive all of the natural, negative messages that bombard us every day in our culture (no matter who tells them to us): that we are too tall, too fat, too thin, too old, too young, too flamboyant, too smart and the list could go on.
Yet, if we are going to claim our identity as children of God, then, we are going to have to commit to surrounding ourselves with voices that remind us of what God thinks of us: beloved, yes, beloved no matter what happens our life through. And, such voices, I pray can come from this community for each of you—a place you can come each week to hear the good news of this God and to be received in loving fellowship by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, as we do, I hope that we do not fall to the temptation that we are the best thing since fried chicken either. For just as we are created in the image of God, so is everyone else around us too.
Popular author, Marianne Williamson writes about how we understand our own belovedness in the context of the rest of creation this when she writes: “We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. . . .”
If you’ve ever walked the streets of Las Vegas as I did several months ago with a group of my pastor friends from seminary (strange, yes, I know), you know that the diversity of creation certainly doesn’t hold itself back in Vegas. There you find people of all kinds and I really mean people of all kinds. It can be mesmerizing especially if you people watch. While on our way to dinner, one of my colleagues leaned over to me and said, “Have you ever stopped to think that all of these people are made in the image of God?” And, I was caught dead in my tracks. Of course she was right but it was completely shocking in a setting like Vegas to think about this. But, so true: all of these people were made in the image of God. And, wow, our God must be pretty amazing!
So, today, people of faith gathered here as beloved children of God at Washington Plaza do you know what God thinks of you? Do you know how amazing our God truly is? Do you know that you were born to manifest the glory of God? Do you know that there is nothing you can do to change the fact that you were created, named and cherished as good, very good? Do you know that by believing truth about yourself it gives others permission to believe the same about themselves?
So, this morning, let us exalt the name together of a God who thinks of us and does nothing but smiles. Yes, smiles when the birth story is told time and time again to the heavenly choirs. So no matter what this day hold for you and whatever type of relationship you have with the parents who birthed you, know that you are cherished by a parent who is longing to tell you over and over again, “In the beginning, I created you in my image.”