9-13-15 Humanity Sunday

Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us. Let them be stewards of the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and everything that crawls on the ground.” Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them. God blessed them and said, “Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth—and be responsible for it!  Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things on the earth!

Let me tell you what I was trying to do this morning, and why it didn’t happen exactly the way I expected. We’re celebrating the gift of creation this month. Last week was easy – celebrating the planet Earth. This week, celebrating humanity is a different task. It is easy to be thankful for humanity in a way.  It’s easy to be thankful for the human body. It’s easy to be thankful for the human creation but this sermon turn to different direction when I thought about celebrating the humanity itself.

Tennessee Williams said, All of us are guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.

Jerry Limn said it more bluntly: Humans have not fully evolved from idiots yet.

Today for our second reading, we read one of the oldest writings from the New Testament, possibly taken by Paul from an early hymn of the church or an early affirmation of the place of Christ in creation. We are going to consider the words of Genesis and Philippians this morning to think about humanity’s place in God’s creation.

Philippians 2:1-8 If our life in Christ means anything to you—if love, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness or sympathy can persuade you at all— then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind.  That is the one thing that would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit, but everybody is to be humble, value others before yourselves, each of you thinking of the interests of others before your own. Your attitude must be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Christ, though in the image of God, didn’t deem equality with God something to be clung to—but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind: born into the human condition, found in the likeness of a human being Jesus was thus humbled—obediently accepting death, even death on a cross!

Sept. 13, 2015

Loving God’s Creation: Humanity Sunday

When I was in seminary I remember getting into a somewhat heated conversation among a few students about whether the world was going downhill or going forward, i.e. whether we might be able to discern ways in which the hand of God was moving history forward to a new day & a more whole and fulfilled creation. I was surprised at my fellow seminarians who were so pessimistic about the future and particularly pessimistic about the place of humanity in God’s creation, who felt like the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

I don’t know why I was surprised really. We Christians have as many opinions as we have churches. I’m sure that within this church, we would have many opinions of whether there is a positive trend to history or not. Since that day, I’ve learned that my willingness to assert that the hand of God is still at work in human history was influenced by my own privilege in the world, yet I still hold out that hope and read that word of hope in our most foundational words of scripture, like the first chapter of Genesis and the second of Philippians.

Last week we began this September sermon series on “Loving God’s Creation” by looking at the description of God’s creation of the Planet Earth. Remember the repeated phrase in that reading that God saw that it was good. These Israelites, exiled from the homeland, asserted that they worshipped for one of the first times in human history, the one and only God, creator of everything, not just of their own nation, but the whole Earth.

Today, Rachel Hickey finished this reading from Genesis which goes on to describe the creation of humanity. God said, “Let us treat humankind in our image, to be like us.”  Let’s think about the word “image” for a bit. You know that creating images of God was taboo for the Hebrew people, right? No golden calves or sculpted gods. In Genesis we hear about the only way God is imaged – in the creation of humanity. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, “God is not imaged in anything fixed, but in the freedom of human persons to be faithful and gracious.”

Humanity has a role in creation, – “to see to it that the creation becomes fully the creation willed by God.” [Interpretation: Genesis, Brueggemann, p. 33] You may have heard this passage with the King James language that humankind is created to have dominion over the creatures of creation. The misinterpretations of that word have led modern translators to use the word “steward” for the role of humans. Let them be stewards of the creatures and the creation. That sounds a little different, doesn’t it?

Genesis presents an amazing image of this creator God, inverted from our usual understanding. Here is God who does not rule by fiat and in remoteness, but one who cares for creation, and entrusts the creation to those who are created. Humanity is portrayed not as servile chattel of God, but as agents meant to live out God’s will in the world, to be co-creators with God of what is to come.

The passage also celebrates human beings as sexual beings – not in a restrictive or embarrassed way, but as a community of beings made in the image of God. Humans are made with sexual identity with God’s approval of that sexuality. I’ve learned in recent years that some people interpret this passage as the first statement that God created people for heterosexuality, exclusively for procreation. I think adding exclusivity into the passage is adding something that is not there. The passage is a celebration of creation, creativity, procreation, and human’s place as stewards of that creation in connection with the Living God.

Why we want to take the Bible and use it to beat each other over the head is beyond me sometimes. I guess over time it has made me less optimistic about humanity as I watch us treating each other so poorly, so easily lured into bitter contention with each other. My dad was part of a group called the Optimists Club when I was growing up. That always sounded like a really good thing to me, but I tell you what, I am no longer an optimist.

I love this passage and the mission it gives to humanity of creativity and procreation. We do pretty well I guess on the side of simple procreation. But I see precious little reason for optimism about humanity’s fulfillment of our calling to care for, steward God’s creation.

Cornel West declares that he is not optimistic about our future, which is beset by racial division, unregulated global greed, social breakdown and individual depression. Optimism is a position of standing by and judging whether things are getting better or not. He calls himself instead a “prisoner of hope,” accepting God’s call to look directly at the evidence and the despair, and struggling to change the situation, to be a steward of creation, to live out a vision of a world made whole and fair and sustainable.

This attitude is what Paul is calling us to in Philippians: “Your attitude must be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Christ, though in the image of God, didn’t deem equality with God something to be clung to—but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind: born into the human condition, found in the likeness of a human being Jesus was thus humbled—obediently accepting death, even death on a cross!” Christ was a prisoner of hope, identifying with the poor, working to change the evidence and the conditions for hope.

People like Dan Wolk and Cathi Tillman who visited us last week are prisoners of that kind of hope and give me hope as they work with immigrants and advocate for solar energy. The folks at POWER are prisoners of hope and they know that we are with them in that struggle for hope. We at St. Luke are prisoners of hope – in our limited and halting ways, we are stewards of God’s creation, growing God’s garden among our children, in our community, and toward the wholeness of God’s creation.

Responsive Hymn: ∫ 369 Blessed Assurance ∫