Finding the Image of God Within

March 3, 2019

Rev. Dr. David Clark

Senior Minister

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Christmas and Easter are our big holy days. But we have several others that are sprinkled through the year and today is one of them, Transfiguration Sunday. It refers to the accounts of Jesus ascending a mountain to pray one morning and to his disciples reported that his appearance changed, he radiated light and was affirmed by God. And after that moment, he began a trek to Jerusalem where he was confronted by the powers of his age, was crucified, died and buried and on the third day he rose.

So what we do is we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus, that moment on the mountain and then we set our sights on Jerusalem and begin the season of Lent. Today is our celebration and Wednesday we officially begin Lent. There is a nice rhythm to it.

Jesus’ transfiguration–or change in appearance was on the Apostle Paul’s mind when he wrote our scripture passage for today. He talked about how long before Jesus went up on that mountain, Moses had a similar experience. Moses got to behold the full glory of God which was so blinding he had to veil his face. And so traditions emerged that when you read scripture you should veil your face. Paul was trying to speak metaphorically saying the problem is that people put veils over their hearts and refuse to listen to what God is saying to them.

We can be mindful of our own tendency to veil our hearts, shielding ourselves from God’s word by coming to worship and greeting every morning with the prayer on our lips: Open me, Lord. Open my heart and mind to joyfully receive all that you would share with me today.

When we open ourselves to God’s word, to the glory of God all around us and the glory that God has planted within us, something glorious happens to us, Paul says. We are transformed, transfigured, if you will. Our closing hymn picks that up in the fourth verse we sing about changed from glory into glory.

Paul has a bit in there where he says we see the glory of God as if it were reflected off a mirror. A lovely image. Of course if you are going to look into a mirror, the glory of God you see is yourself.

Irenaeus said the glory of God is a human being fully alive. When we get it, when we embrace the ways of love and justice and peace and gratitude and service and a sense of awe and wonder, our spirits become fully alive. Seeing God’s grace and glory all around us. We look for it in nature in acts of grace and love and we find it. We can even look within.

Looking within for God’s image is a notion that many Christians cannot fathom because they’ve been taught that they are not good, but at the nub of the nub they are inherently evil, from birth. Many theologians are saying that Christianity’s preoccupation with the doctrine of original sin has been like a veil that shields us from recognizing the full glory of God within us.

The concept of original sin is a doctrine developed out of how one guy, hundreds of years after Easter, Augustine of Hippo, interpreted what happened in Genesis 2 in an extremely literal way. The idea is that as human beings we carry a stain on our souls, that we are inherently unacceptable to God. By definition sin is something that is part of our DNA something we are born with, not a matter of individual choices. Original sin is not a biblical concept but an interpretation and then you go to the Bible and read everything through that lens. Because you see what you expect to see. If you are looking at everything through the premise of original sin it can distort everything you read.

And it results in some extreme kinds of beliefs. Fox, while writing as a Catholic priest argued that the Catholic theology of thinking you have to baptize in utero in if there is a danger of a stillborn birth so he or she can be accepted by God is just nuts. He got kicked out of the priesthood for saying that we shouldn’t let Genesis 2 overpower the truth of Genesis 1 where it says we are born in the image of God. We are originally blessed.

Look at the child’s innocence, purity. What kind of God cannot accept that unless a ritual is performed? Crazy making. When we baptize a child like we did last week it’s about being marked and claimed by God and the church community not that William is unacceptable to God unless we perform the ritual.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you start from a premise of original sin, that our essential nature is flawed, stained, corrupt, evil–it leads to a bummer religion obsessed with sin and guilt and shame.

It’s not just Catholic doctrine. To varying degrees it’s a concept that pulses through the whole Christian tradition. John Calvin talked about the total depravity of the human soul. I think about a clergy colleague telling me about how he takes middle school confirmation students to a landfill, a dump and says, “Kids, that’s what you are to God until you confess your sins and accept Jesus.”

OMG. What are you doing? Really? Don’t you know that if you tell someone they are rotten they are going to be more likely to live into that expectation?

It becomes all about following rules and having the right beliefs. It leads to judgment against people who don’t believe like you believe. It becomes a faith that is all about the negatives and distorts the whole message into just getting forgiven.

Instead of assuming we are inherently bad, depraved, flawed, trash. We can look at Genesis 1 that says we are created in God’s image and when God made us said, “It is good.” We are good. There is this image that sin may obscure but it cannot remove. Underneath whatever bad stuff may lurk in our hearts is something created by God that remains.

In her book Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place Danielle Shroyer writes, “Original blessing is the idea that God has chosen to be in a relationship with us, and God has chosen to stay faithful to that relationship no matter what.”

She says, “Before anything else is true about us—before we can talk about what we are good at or what we are bad at, what we loathe and what we favor, before we can talk about gifts or struggles, virtues or vices, before we can even begin to talk about what it might mean for us to be saved—what is true is that we are in a relationship with God, and God started it. And God is sticking with it.”

And the Christian life is to live more into that image than the one of the sins. What if instead of focusing on saying we are born sinners deserving God’s wrath, we recognized that we are born blessed with the capability of great good, filled with transcendent beauty and rich promise, filled with divine presence?

How many of you are like me with Methodist roots and connections? I grew up as a Methodist and pastored Methodist churches for 23 years. Have you seen what they did this week? They voted on a measure that is very hostile to LGBTQ people and punishes clergy and churches who push for full inclusion. I spent much of my life working for a different outcome for them. My LGBTQ friends say the action feels like emotional violence. To be told they are so flawed that they don’t belong, that their nature is evil an shameful and unacceptable is crushing.

In an op-ed yesterday titled “We Queer Clergy Begged our Fellow Methodists to Love Us: They Voted No.”, Rev. Hanna Bonner said:

“In the most powerful moment of the General Conference, a gay college student named J.J. Warren, who plans to become a pastor, spoke about sharing his faith at his secular campus: ‘We have brought people to Jesus, because they say they have not heard this message before. They didn’t know God could love them because their churches said God didn’t.’”

So many are hurting. Told they are trash. Methodists who don’t buy into the position are trying to figure out what to do. The Western Jurisdiction says they won’t comply with their church law. If you know any Methodists who are saying it’s a step too far you can remind them. Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are always welcome at Bay Shore Church. We open every service with that line because there is a church on every corner of America eager to tell you how bad you are and how you need their set of beliefs, their prayer, etc. to really find salvation or happiness.

We aren’t one of them. Our focus is not on how bad you are. I’m sure you already have a sense of your faults and shortcomings. We encourage you to look within yourself self, find the goodness you already have, that you were born with, and let it out. Shame and badgering people doesn’t lead to transformation. It doesn’t lead to the changed world, the better world Jesus envisioned.

There is sin, no doubt. We are all caught up in it. There is forgiveness. The word for sin in the Bible is like an archery term that means missing the mark. We miss the mark. And usually when we do so it’s because we act out of shame and fear and anxiety but the more we open ourselves to faith and love and joy, in other words the more we become like Jesus, the more we can let go of what causes us to sin, we are transformed.

Jesus didn’t just die for sins, he is a guide to finding that goodness within. Embracing it. You were born to be a blessing. When he ran into the tax collecting, sinner Zacchaeus, Jesus didn’t tell him he was trash. He accepted him. Ate dinner with him. The goodness of Jesus coaxed out the goodness that was within Zacchaeus and he changed his ways. He transformed from glory into glory.

One friend of mine talks about trusting what God has put in you already. He says Christian life as working out what has been worked in. That is, when God created you, God worked some things into the depths of your soul. If you would only realize it, and act upon it, you can take what is inside out.

Love is in you — work it out. Live it out.

Joy is in you — work it out. Live it out.

Peace is in you — work it out! Live it out.

Patience is in you — work it out! Live it out.

Gentleness is in you — work it out! Live it out.

Goodness is in you — work it out! Live it out.

Faith is in you — work it out! Live it out.

You are meant to embrace the glory that is within you so that on Transfiguration Sunday, you will find yourself beginning to shine—radiating glory. Shine. Shine. Shine on. Amen.