Sunday, October 9, 2016 – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Sermon Series: LORD OF THE HARVEST
Scripture: Genesis 1:26-27; Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 8:34-35; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
You are important! As a community of faith and as individuals committed to God, you are important! I do not tell you this for mere emotional encouragement; but because you have something in common with the Bluefin Tuna and Black Rhino. You belong to the endangered species list: you are among the few persons living with an awareness of bearing God’s image.
FIRST, let me explain why you are important and why you are endangered.
You know there is a great deal of need in the world. And you know you cannot meet all of these needs or heal all of the pain and suffering. Yet, you have responded to Jesus’ call to follow him as disciples of active faith and to be laborers in the Lord’s harvest.
When Jesus looked out upon all of the needs in the world, he noticed two things:
(1) He saw many people like sheep without a shepherd – not bearing God’s image; and
(2) He saw the need for more persons to bear God’s image toward others.
Earlier in worship, Allison read the Genesis story about the creation of humanity in God’s image. The ancient Hebrew people were not concerned with scientific facts. They were concerned with Truth. The point of these Genesis stories is Truth; not history.
In the Genesis story of creation, you find the Hebrew word, ‘tselen,’ which is translated ‘image;’ meaning, ‘to carve or cut or chisel out.’ In other words, an image derives from something larger. The Hebrew idea is that humanity is carved out of the relational God.
Bearing the image of God is based on the concept of a relational deity. Because humans can experience a revealed God – a God choosing to be known or choosing to be relational – a human can pursue a relationship with this God. As humans, you can know God because you derive from this God choosing to be known, a living God choosing to be relational.
In Hebrew thought, we are relational beings chiseled out from the very nature of a relational God. So, first, you are important and rare because you realize you bear the image of the relational God who chiseled you out to relate with God and all creation.
SECOND, bearing the image of God precedes and supersedes the reality of sinfulness.
Especially since the Protestant Reformation, the concept of human sin has been over-emphasized and the idea of bearing the image of God has been de-emphasized – often ignored. Of course, the reality of human sin defaces the image of God in humanity. Sin is the human propensity for – inclination toward – capacity to – fall short of bearing God’s image. When we fail to bear God’s image, we fall short of God’s will for our lives. Yet, the image of God is to be the main emphasis, not the sin.
Diverse ancient Hebrew traditions developed the stories of creation and humanity bearing the image of God as well as the stories of disobedience and refusing to bear God’s image. Yet, in biblical theology, although sin, pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, rage and hate pervert, distort, fracture and stain the image of God within a person, the image of God is still within the person seeking to be redeemed and transformed so as to be reconciled with God.
Through theological and biblical filters, you see that today’s preoccupation with ‘self-care’ is wonderful, yet incomplete. Any actions you take to promote good physical and mental health is good. Yet, unless your self-care is centered on your relationship with God, it is deficient! Just as you must exercise physically and mentally, you must exercise spiritually. Spiritual self-care shapes you to bear the image of God in your daily living.
THIRD, when you practice spiritual self-care, what does this look like?
Pauline read a scripture describing the church as people living in relationship with God who gives freedom to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus day by day. It is as if you see one another as imperfect mirrored reflections of Jesus. In your homes, you have pictures of loved ones. These pictures are not your loved ones; they are reflections of them. You are reflections of Jesus in the world – bearing the image of God.
I remind you of Diettrich Bonhoeffer’s words: “The Church bears the human form of Christ in his death and resurrection. The Church is his image and through the Church all her members have been refashioned in his image too. In the Body of Christ we become ‘like Christ.’ He is the only pattern we must follow. It is only because he became like us that we can become like him. By being transformed in his image, we are enabled to model our lives on him.”
This morning, Janie read two passages of Jesus’ teachings about spiritual self-care.
First, spiritual self-care includes caring for your relationship with Jesus. When Jesus saw people who were spiritually weary or burdened down, he was troubled. They were seeking to please God by obeying hundreds of religious laws and expectations. They were weighted down with obligations and the shame accompanying their incapacity to ever measure up to a long list of requirements. SO, JESUS CALLED THEM TO A RELATIONSHIP. He asked them to come to him, learn of him and be yoked with him. Jesus lived in a relationship with The Living God..
So, the first practice of spiritual self-care is to tend to your relationship with Jesus. There is a burden in being yoked with Jesus in discipleship. Yet, it is much lighter than the weight of legalism, guilt, shame and fear. Consider investing one year following the red letters in your Bible. These are the teachings of Jesus and they will help you practice spiritual self-care.
In the SECOND teaching of Jesus, he says that to follow him – to be yoked or linked with him in a relationship – you must deny yourself (leave your individualistic path), take up your commitment to God and follow him. You cannot follow Jesus by merely living your life as you want to live. To bear the image of God, you must put down everything that prevents you from following Jesus.
Many stories are told of how an artist explains how to chisel a block of marble into a horse. The artist explains, “I simply chisel away everything that doesn’t look like a horse.”
When people see your life, they see how you bear the image of God. They may see your sin. Yet, they also see your vision, patience and compassion; your discipline, commitment, and capacity to forgive; your hospitality, investments in peace-building and your work in the mission of God. REMEMBER, YOU ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT YOU BEAR THE IMAGE OF GOD. TAKE CARE! Amen and AMEN!