Thursday, September 20, 2012

SERMON: IMAGES OF GOD... September 20, 2012

                                                              September 20, 2012
Hebrews 2:5-12 ;Job 1:1,9:24,28-35, 10:7-9, 40:4-5 ; Genesis 1:27, 2:18, 22-24; Mark10:1-16

One of the most heavenly and yet most down to earth images of God in the Bible is the expression we read in Hebrews this morning...' He(Jesus) is not ashamed to call us humans his brothers and sisters.' This can rightly be at the heart of our  present day Christian image of God. That God actually sees us and seeks to relate to us as our Brother or Sister rather than a dominating master, judge or patriarch is a profound religious announcement of 'good news.' Unlike some of the Old Testament images of God this describes God not having a dominating demeanor or some kind of egoistic  power need which demands to constantly  receive praise and honor. But depicts God and God's Will as seeking a more mutual relationship, where God and Human are co-workers with each other and  mutually  need each another.
Unashamed Brothers And Sisters

To better appreciate this perhaps unexpected but inspiring way of viewing God, other readings this morning may seem somewhat foreboding compared to it. Many Bible admirers better understand the more negative images of God and God's ways by realizing these were the impressions of God which these ancient people had. And that they do not always well reflect what the actual ultimate God of all life is like. Biblical writings even can help us  see how the image of God and God's will changed for people over time, generally moving toward such a  view of God as  'not being ashamed to call us imperfect humans brothers and sisters.'

1. In the book of Job, probably written as a play to be performed, it seems rather clear the author is placing before the reader an image of God which Shows the faithful human creature being more dependable, consciously aware and ethical than the God the writer has Job trying to deal with. 10:7-8. And though Job consistently declares his innocence to a God who seems totally out of control, undependable, unjust and self-absorbed, Job is cautious enough and trusting enough to only 'put his hand over his mouth' in the presence of such a demanding, unappreciative and grotesquely powerful god figure 40:4-5. Notice the contrast between the God in Job and the God who gladly trusts the human and is not ashamed to call us brother and sister. How Job longed for such a God.

Jehovah Intimidating Righteous Job- Wm. Blake
2.  In the Genesis readings, there are two separate versions of the creation story in Chapters one and two which were eventually placed side by side. The finest Bible scholars discovered this many decades ago. The first creation story  depicts God as crowning his creation with 'man and woman'-- simply 'male and female' it says he 'created them' in God's own image. This implies the two sexes are fully equal with neither above the other in rank, power or importance.

Then how did both the Hebrew and Christian religions develop such seriously negative beliefs and practices that led to women being second class citizens? For more than 2500 years this disparity in the sexes was  fed by how the second creation story was interpreted. Because parts of that creation account imply that woman was created as a kind of afterthought to meet the male's needs. And that her identity was not to live mutually and equally with the man but as his subservient. The same creation story depicts woman as more easily led into errors in judgment and  sin than the man and woman is even somewhat pictured as the male's excuse for his own moral failures.

These images set the stage for centuries of destructive sexism both inside and outside the church. Such images were fully internalized in Western culture and in our churches, both Catholic and Protestant. We can be encouraged today to see this serious spiritual problem has finally begun to be corrected in  our collective thought. As many of our Western churches and secular cultures, especially the past fifty years, have been able to move to the higher picture in Genesis which shows man and woman created equally and intended to live in fully mutual relationships.

So how we read these stories and what aspects  of them we see as the ultimate image and will of God means everything to human living. Present-day believers are challenged to exercise  responsible and sincere discernment about the emphases we select from these stories. For what we take away from Bible stories is so much a part of us and guides, even at unconscious levels,  how we think and act regarding ourselves , God and other people.

3. The gospel reading today raises these same conflicting points of view, including  again the issues of the equality of male and female. Mark's author shows Jesus doing some of the difficult work of discerning and even reinterpreting for his hearers the Old Testament passages regarding men and women. Note the context in which Jesus addresses what was in his day, and still in ours, a very emotionally loaded subject, marriage and divorce. The subject starts by a question from the reigning male religious patriarchy(Pharisees). They raised this emotional issue attempting to trick Jesus and accuse him of  heresy or evil.

The rules in the Law of Moses were far more strict on women than men, especially those regarding sexual intimacy and  of  marriage and divorce. Adultery in the Old Testament  is presented as being wrong not because of hurting a spouse but because it violated another man's property rights, the husband's or father's owing of the woman. Most modern people ascribe a higher level of morality in these areas than the Law of Moses, considered then as God's ultimate law, did. And the traditions that developed from these male favored laws were even more harsh on women. A man could divorce his wife for most any reason.  A woman had nearly no religiously or culturally approved path to divorce her legal husband no matter how abusive the relationship. And a man could have as many wives as he could afford to have. Again wives  were defined as the property of the husband in Old Testament Law.

If Jesus said, 'yes, a man should be able to put away his wife with no consequences.' This would make him approve a harsh anti-woman view  of God and God's law. If he said ,'No', it would mean he is assigning both men and women to live by religious force in relationships that are not ones where love and mutual respect have been found. Jesus, as always, is not setting up some new law regarding marriage or intimate relationships. Such digressions using  gospel phrases are in opposition to the the overall body of Jesus' words and actions. Law can never solve the problems of love or the lack of its presence. Jesus is acknowledging the harsh reality and sadness of  lost love and divorce.

I hear him saying that when formal marriage fails to find its intended mutual intimate meaning usually two persons experience a harsh blow to their own sense of innocence and loveability. Anytime mutual love is lost in close human relationships whether friendship, family or love partners, it often crushes ones sense of personal innocence and loveliness.
Jesus Receiving The Children
Mark then intentionally and immediately injects the picture of Jesus insisting that the innocence of children is always accepted by God. It is as if Jesus is assuring us humans in the harshness and sadness of our ended relationships that we can, by Gods grace, discover again our own innocence and lovability. God makes such awareness of our innocence possible by seeing us as trusted and beloved 'brothers and sisters' to God. By that grace we can again view ourselves as acceptable, lovely and lovable.

Mark shows Jesus carefully and wisely saying something which not only  declares how wrong it was that men could legally mistreat women in many of the divorces of his day but he was also able to teach the crowds that the ideal of any intimate love relationship is like that described in parts of the Genesis creation stories which he selectively quotes. Mark has Jesus quote the parts that teach us that human intimate relationships hopefully always move toward the ideal of being equal and mutual.

Unashamed Brother and Sister
Conclusion: How encouraging to our human status and to our view of our self and others that the image of God which shines consistently in the Jesus of the gospels guides us to believe that all humans are intended to relate in relationships that are equal, mutual and cooperative rather than with dominance, condescension and superiority. In God declaring us humans as God's 'brothers and sisters' we are made co-workers and somehow co- creators with God. How amazing is that?  This awareness is the basis of our UCC advocating for equal and mutual human relationships and  for saying our ideal is ' no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.' We certainly have found it much easier to say this than to consistently practice it. But it is truly a solid  Christ inspired way to want to relate to each other and to all others. It is a way of life which we understand can only be fulfilled in us mortals by the power of God's Spirit living within and among us. This expresses our desire as a people to put into practice that we serve a God who is not ashamed to call all of us humans God's own 'brothers and sisters.'

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