June 3rd, 2018

The Spittin’ Image of God
Genesis 1:26-27

I wish you could have known my brother-in-law Barry. He lived in Georgia, and to be honest, he was more like a brother than a brother-in-law. He died five years ago and I still miss him terribly.

I especially loved Barry’s sense of humor, perhaps because it was often unconventional. Let me illustrate.

Some of you may remember the name Sam Nunn. For 24 years, Sam Nunn served as a United States Senator from Georgia. He was extremely popular in the state and in the country. At one time, he was considered as a possible running mate for Barack Obama.

When Nunn was at the height of his political career, he and my brother-in-law Barry could have been identical twins. Barry was the spittin’ image of Sam Nunn and Barry played the part to the hilt. On regular occasions people would come up to him and say, “Senator Nunn, I’m so honored to meet you,” and Barry would politely say, “It’s my pleasure to meet you, too. Why don’t you stop by my office whenever you’re in Washington.” At times, Barry would pose for Sam Nunn pictures, and on a few occasions he even signed Sam Nunn autographs. Yes, Barry was the spittin’ image of Sam Nunn.

Perhaps some of you are the spittin’ image of someone. When I was younger, people thought I looked like Grady Nutt. These days, people often mistake me for George Clooney, or Brad Pitt – well, maybe not!

Conventional wisdom tells us that everybody in the world has a double, and whether that’s true or not, the Bible tells us that all of us are the spittin’ image of someone. The Bible tells us that we all were created in the image of God.

Listen to these words from Genesis 1:26-27. I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Yes, according to these scriptures, all of us are created in the image of God. So what does that mean?

Obviously, being created in the image of God has nothing to do with our physical appearance because God is spirit and not a body with human form. Being created in the image of God goes much deeper than blood, flesh and bone. Being created in the image of God speaks to the image of our souls.

Being created in the image of God means that, at the very core of our being, we were created to think like God, to feel like God and to act like God.

Since God is a being of freedom, we were created to be free, to be creatures of choice and to live by the choices we make.

Since God is a being of love, we were created to be compassionate people, people who see a need and rush to meet that need.

Since God is faithful, we were created to be faithful, to be people of integrity and honesty.

Since God is a being of justice, deep in our souls we hunger for justice. We hunger for all persons to be treated lovingly, respectfully and fairly.

Since God is a being of beauty and truth, we stand amazed at the beauty that surrounds us and thrive on finding the truth.

Yes, justice, beauty, freedom; truth, faithfulness, and love. These are some of the traits we share with Our Creator. These are the things that make us in the image of God.

Of course, you probably know people who don’t exhibit these attributes. You know people who are unloving, people who are unfaithful, people who seem oblivious to the injustices done to others, people who seem to lack any real appreciation of beauty, truth and love.

In fact, people like that are scattered all over our world. Some are terrorists, some are criminals, some have their souls warped with greed, others become ugly because of their lust for the power or political control.
In fact, if we look at ourselves, we discover that, at times, we all seem to lack the stuff of which God is made. At times, we all are unloving and unfaithful. At times we all act in ways that are ungodly.

So that begs the question. If we were, indeed, created to act, think and feel like our creator, what happen to us? What happened to God’s image in us?

The Bible tells us that sin is what happened to us. Sin has distorted God’s image in us. That’s why we don’t look or act like God, even though we were created in God’s image.

Back in the 1980s and 90s one of my favorite rock singers was Michael Jackson. Not only did he create interesting music, but his provocative choreography had few equals.

Yes, I liked Michael, but I quickly became weary of the way he tried to change his appearance. In the 1990s, Michael had plastic surgery on his face about every two months. After Jackson’s death, his plastic surgeon said he had 12 facial surgeries over the span of two years. Sadly, Michael went from being an attractive African American man to looking like a deformed freak.

Sadly, Michael never realized that people could care less about the shape of his nose, the height of his cheeks or arch of his lips. People liked Michael because of his music; because of that God-given gift that resided at the core of his being.

Sin does the same thing to us. Because of our sin, we become deformed, looking less like God and more like a sin-scared freak. But despite our external deformity, deep inside of us resides that eternal gift, that divine image of God, and no matter how much we do to deform our outside, God’s image still remains at the core of our being.
So if I am to believe the Bible, I must believe that all of us – from the American Christian to the Mid-eastern Muslim, from the devout Jew to the dubious Atheist – all of us are created in the image of God.

Yes, you and I are created in the image of God - and so is everyone else. And you know what? Because we all are created in the image of God, God expects us to look for that image in others. God expects us to look for His image in:
- those who agree with us and in those who disagree,
- those who treat us kindly and in those who treat us with disdain,
- those who embrace our religion and in those who hold it in contempt.
- in those who understand morality as we do and in those who understand morality in a different way.

Instead of looking to find the faults of others, instead of focusing upon their sin-damaged ways, God tells us to look for His image, that divine image that lies deep within.

Let me give you an example. When you think about the people who masterminded the terrible events of 9-11, how do you view those people? If you are like me, you view them with contempt and disdain. But what if I told you that each one of those sin-damaged souls was created in the image of God? What if I told you, that in God’s eyes, they are nothing less than your spiritual brothers and sisters? Would that change the way you think about them?

If you stop to think about it, that’s what Jesus did as he walked the face of the earth. While others looked at one’s worldly image, Jesus went about looking for the image of God in everyone he met.

While everyone else saw Zacchaeus as nothing more than a squatty, tree-hugging tax collector, Jesus saw in him the image of God.

While others saw the woman at the well as nothing more than immoral harlot, Jesus saw in her the image of God.
While the Pharisees viewed the adulterous woman as nothing more than a sleazy, immoral lawbreaker, Jesus saw in her the image of God.

While others saw the thief on the cross as nothing more than a common criminal, Jesus saw in him the image of God and therefore offered him paradise.

Granted, each of these people was severely damaged by their sin, but underneath their sin-scared exterior, each still possessed the image of God.

Interestingly, when Jesus called out the image of God in others, he totally changed their lives. Zacchaeus changed from a cheating tax collector to a benevolent benefactor. The woman at the well changed from a wonton woman to a winsome evangelist. The adulterous woman changed from a soul in bondage to a saint set free, and the thief on the cross changed from a hell-bound sinner to a heaven-bound saint.

You see, when we call out the image of God in others, it does something miraculous. It reaches down past the damage of their sin and brings to the surface the image of God. And when that happens, even the worst person is changed. Yes, Jesus changed a sin-damaged world by calling out in others the divine image of God. And he calls upon you and me to do the same; to look at others and see them, not as mere sin-damaged humans, but to see them as the crown of God’s creation, lovingly created in the image of God.

Let me ask you a question. Do you look for the image of God in others?

The image of God is easy to see in people who love us and treat us respectfully, but what about those who hurt us and treat us disrespectfully. Do you look for the image of God in these people?

The image of God is easy to see in the people who attend our church, but what about those who criticize us, those who refuse to believe our message about Jesus? Do we look for God’s image in them?

The image of God is easy to see in those who bravely defend our country, but what about those who are intent on destroying us. Do you look for the image of God in an ISIS terrorist or Al-Qaida extremist?

So often, we look at the people we don’t like and focus on what is wrong with them. But what would happen if we decided to look for the image of God in them? I’ll tell you what would happen. We would begin to change their lives, because something miraculous happens to a person when he or she comes face to face with the divine image of the indwelling God.

I’ll never forget the day our children were born. They were two of the most joyful days of my life. I can remember taking pictures of those new born infants and showing them to everybody who would give me the time of day.

You know, people are nice when you show them your baby pictures. They say nice things like, “Oh, how beautiful,” or “what a pretty baby.” Then they start comparing the baby to its parents. They’ll say, “I think he’s got your nose,” or “he’s got his mother’s hair.”

Yes, nothing is more beautiful to the parents of a new born child than that newborn baby’s picture.

But you know what. Every now and then I’ll go back and look at those baby pictures. And while I still look at them with a heart of love, I’m able to be a bit more objective. Today, when I look at my children’s baby picture I realize they weren’t really that pretty after all. Their poor heads were misshapen. The little bit of hair was unruly and, for the most part, their faces were drawn up in a way that made them look like they were in pain.

So how come I thought these babies were so beautiful? I thought they were beautiful because in them I saw the image of me. Jeff was my son. Ginger was my daughter, and their beating hearts echoed the beating of my own heart. You see, because they were in my image, I was able to see things about them that only a father could see.

When God looks at us, he sees us the same way. When he looks at us, he looks past the ways we’ve been misshapen by sin and sees his own pure image, his image of beauty, image of truth, image of grace, and image of love.

And our heavenly father calls upon us to do the same. He calls upon us to look at our brothers and sisters and see in them the wondrous image of God.

So who do you look like? Probably not George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts, but that’s okay. They look good on the outside, but on the inside, they are no more or less beautiful than you. You see, on the inside, all of us are created in the image of our Father; and if you take the time to see that image in yourself, it will remind you of how much you are loved. And if you take the time to see that image in others, it just might help you begin to change our world.