"Whose Image?" October 16, 2011, Pentecost 18

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Creator and  our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Maker your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Saviour Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
And you became imitators of us and of Jesus Christ, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of God has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for God’s Child from heaven, whom God raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

***
Will you pray with me? Creating God, you have left your fingerprints on our spirits; remind us yet again of your presence in our lives and our hearts; help us remember that we are yours always. Open our ears, our minds, to your word for us; give us wisdom to speak and hear your truth. In all your names, amen.

Images. So many kinds of images. There’s our self-image—how we see ourselves, the image we want others to see in us. We may try to act and dress and speak in certain ways, live in a certain place, drive a certain car, listen to certain music—all to conform to an image, whether it’s the hipster or the Goth, the Christian, the kd lang clone, the metrosexual, the cowboy, the intellectual…whatever it may be. But when we don’t try to conform to a prefabricated image, when we listen to the music we like, wear the clothes we are comfortable in, speak in ways that reflect our most deeply held beliefs—then the image we project is of ourselves, our true selves—and the image of God who made us is a part of that image.

How do we project an image? Partly through our body—what we wear and how we wear it—our jewellery, clothes, hairstyle, even tattoos. It’s shown in how we carry ourselves—proudly, or shuffling, striding confidently or creeping along, hoping no-one will notice us. It is in what we say and how we say it—our vocabulary and tone of voice, our delivery and our eye contact. Our attitude, too, projects part of our image.

But whatever that image is, God is a part of it. And therefore, bearing God’s image, we belong to God. And not only us, you and I, but everything that is, ultimately belongs to God. We may use it, or share it, but the earth and all that is in it belong to God, as the psalmist says.

“Whose image is on this coin?” Jesus asks the religious leaders. “Whose image?” And they answer that it is Caesar’s image. That’s who ordered it to be made, the one who, in the final analysis, owns it.  And therefore God, who created the universe, and placed the divine image on all things—everything that exists belongs to God.

 That is the theory, anyway.

How well do we put that into practise on an everyday basis? What does it mean to say that everything belongs to God? Does it mean we should just give everything to the church? Well, no, not exactly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give to the church of your choice! But it’s more than that. If all we are and have belongs to God, then are we caring for it? If everything that exists is God’s, how are we doing at giving that back to God?

I once heard it said that it is easier for us to pay the CRA than it is for us to pay God.

Is that true for you? Have you paid your taxes to the province and the CRA, but when you feel God tugging you in a certain direction, do you resist? I know it is often true for me. I know that all I am and have is God’s and yet… I may know that God is nudging me towards a certain path, but I resist going down that path because it will mean work, or struggle, or a risk—and so I don’t give God what is God’s. Are we good stewards, caretakers of all that God has given us? Our families, our finances, ourselves, yes—but there is so much more God has given us. This lovely world, our planet Earth—are we giving that to God? Our sisters and brothers here in Windsor and around the world—they certainly bear God’s image. Are we giving God in other people what God is due?

Another word for image is example. Paul held up the Thessalonians, the Christians in Thessaly, as an example of people who truly loved God and passed on what Paul had taught them. They were the image, the example, of God in Christ.

I read a book this weekend titled “In My Hands.” It is the account of a young Polish woman, Irene Gutowna, who, during the German occupation of her country in World War II, saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish people. She worked for the Germans in one of the officer’s mess halls, and because she spoke German and looked typically German, was assumed to be German, and so she heard news before anyone else, and was able to get word out of coming actions, or roundups, of the Jews. She eventually hid a dozen Jewish Poles in her boss’s villa, even agreeing to be his mistress as the price of his silence when they were discovered.

Irene risked her life many times to save other people. She reached out to people deemed to be unworthy of life by the “powers that be” and saved them from death. She thought little of herself, and everything of others. For the many people she rescued, she was the image of God—rescuing, sheltering, loving, self-sacrificing.

We are not all called or gifted to act as Irene did. But like her, we all are gifted by God, are the image of God. Do we give God all that we owe to God? Only you can answer that question for yourself. I know I fall short, often.

The good news is that it is never too late. Whatever you have delayed or put off or denied or brushed aside or simply didn’t deal with—you still can. Now is the time. Whatever it is that you owe to God, now is a good time to give it to God.

In the many names of the one true God, amen.

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