Sermons That Work

Imago Dei, Proper 21 (A) – 1999

September 26, 1999

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. It is a delicate to talk about things like money and stewardship-things which by their very nature arouse deep and conflicted feelings within each of us.

The most basic biblical text that tells us anything about what it means to be a steward is in the first chapter of Genesis, where it says we have been made in the image of God-male and female, we are made in God’s image. Christian theologians called this, in Latin, Imago Dei, the image of God. So then the basic question for all of us would be: “Just what is God’s image?” And what does that tell us about ourselves? In addition, we need to ask ourselves what we are supposed to do about being in God’s image and how we are meant to behave?

Look up John 3:16 in your Bible sometime. You will find a pivotal statement in the history of Christianity: “God so loved the world that God gave….” That is not the whole verse, but it is the part that tells us what we want to know, which is that God loves and God gives. This is the essence of God’s image.

And this makes us, by extension, those people who are called to love and to give. Stewards, you might say!

And of course what God gave was more than 10%, more than a tithe. God gives everything-his son and his life. And in Jesus, he calls us to a life of loving and giving. And as we have heard for the past two weeks or so, he stands ready to forgive us when we fall short of his image.

We all know that the tithe or ten percent, is the minimum standard of giving in our church. We also know that the tithe is only one of the ways God asks us to give. God in Christ repeatedly asks us to give all that we are and all that we have to the spread of the Kingdom of God.

God gives us real life embodiments of Imago Dei, the image of God, to help keep us on track.

Take today’s Gospel about the father who asks his two sons to help with some yard work. Now anyone who has children knows what it is like to get everyone out into the yard to work at once. Someone will say, “Sure, Dad, I’ll help,” but will sit there reading a magazine! Another might say, “No way!”-but then really does help. Eventually, everyone will probably pitch it, but it takes time, patience, and persuasion on the part of the head of the household to make it happen.

The parable means for us to see how much God needs us to respond when and where God calls us.

I have heard a preacher comment that the world is a hungry place: hungry for the Gospel, hungry for Christ.

We are those people who are called to love and to give. And to be proud and joyful as we do so-giving freely, without reluctance and without compulsion.

Which is at the heart of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians with which I began:

Although Jesus was in the form of God, that is in God’s image, he did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but rather emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

This may be the preeminent stewardship verse in the whole Bible. The image is so powerful and true.

Grasping anything takes a lot of energy. Grasping, holding onto money or material things takes an enormous amount of continued effort. Just try clenching your fist in a grasping way and holding it like that for any length
of time-to the end of this sermon, for instance. You will get tired. And you will have little energy or even ability to do anything else with that hand. Jesus, on the other hand, we are told, lets go. He empties himself. He pours himself out, taking the form of a servant. It is much easier to let go, to open our hands, to empty ourselves.

If you go to Israel and ask your guide about the Sea of Galilee, you may learn something interesting. It seems that the Sea of Galilee is full of fish and life because it takes water in at one end and lets it go at the other end-emptying into the Jordan River. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, has no life in it whatsoever because it takes water in but does not give it away. Jesus shows us how to stop grasping and enter into that life giving and life sustaining emptying mode of the servant. Who in that other parable about two brothers, the story of the Prodigal Son, is the one person who most embodies who we are called to be?

You may recall that when the father welcomes the profligate son home, he calls his servant and orders the servant to bring his best ring, his best robe, and all the best food so they can have a really big party. Now what I get in that little episode is that the servant has free access to all the best that the father has. The servant is entrusted with the keys to the safe, and the fur vault and the meat locker. The servant has access to literally everything that belongs to the household. The servant is the steward of all that is best in the house.

That is, in truth, who we are. Think about what God entrusts to our care. Look around your church-at all the special things that make it what it is. Now look at all the children in your midst, each one entrusted to your care. We have promised to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. God trusts us to do that! And look at each other. Some of you may be on the vestry, some in the choir, some helping with other church-sponsored programs, some providing pastoral care, some assisting at the altar. We are stewards of all the best God has to offer.

And of course, God entrusts us to be stewards of the Gospel, the Good News.

We are representatives, ambassadors, for Christ in the world. We are those people called to love and give and be stewards of the Gospel, now rather than later. This is the Good News!

God wants us to experience the joy and the excitement of being stewards of the Gospel and stewards of all that God has given us. One of God’s greatest gifts to us all is providing us with the opportunity to learn to be loving and giving people. Tithing is one gift from God that can keep us on that path. We are called by God our Father to claim our image, our Imago Dei. We are to claim our Godliness. We are to become the loving and giving stewards God calls us to be, not grasping our Godliness but emptying ourselves and all that we are and all that we have for the life of God’s kingdom.

Our continuing lives as stewards of God’s world will help us claim the image of God as our own. For it is through our lives and what we do with all that is entrusted to us that the world is even now being reconciled to God.

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Christopher Sikkema


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