We need to pay taxes to support our government, and scripture supports this understanding. But don't you wonder sometimes how our taxes are used. It was John Adams who said, “In my many years I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two useless men is a law firm and three or more is a congress.” Mark Twain: “Suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of congress. But then I repeat myself.” The comic Will Rogers, “I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts.” We laugh because sometimes our frustration with government threatens to get the best of us. But we have the words of Jesus and so we pay our taxes, we render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.
In our new bible study that started two weeks ago, we looked at The first 11 chapters of Genesis—we are getting a big picture view of the bible, not verse by verse study. In the creation account we are told we are created in God's image. Genesis 1: 26 “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” RC Sproul explains, “This does not mean that we are little gods. The image does not obscure the difference between God and man. It does assure, however, some point of likeness that makes communication possible, however limited it may be.” And that communication makes possible relationship with God, a relationship that results in our adoption as sons and daughters. And that relationship is growing and changing as we grow in God's grace.
Last week, Julie took two of Richard and Heidi's kids to Hutchinson. They went to eat at Dairy Queen. Julie told 2 year old Rebekah that she could have whatever she wanted off the children's menu. She listed them; cheeseburger, hot dog, chicken nuggets, hamburger or corn dog. Rebekah listened and responded earnestly, “I want Ice Cream!” Julie explained that she had to have a meal first, listed them all again for her. Rebekah looked her square in the eye and said, “I want Ice Cream.” She did get her ice cream, but after eating a meal.
Kids sometimes give us an image of God as they are closer to heaven than we are...they are relatively new arrivals to our world of cynicism. Rebekah knows what Rebekah likes. God knows what God likes. Back to the creation account, God declared what was created as “good” and when humankind was created, He declared them, “very good.” God likes human beings! God loves us...even more than children like ice cream. Even more than we love God. We love because God first loved us. I like to quote Max Lucado, he says that God loves us so much that if God had a refrigerator, our picture would be on it. God loves us just the way we are; but God loves us too much to leave us this way. Part of God's love and desire is that we grow to reflect ever more nearly the image of God seen in the Son, Jesus. We are called to reflect the traits of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Romans 8: 29 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to beconformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” We are destined to conform to the image of Jesus Christ. That's a tall order but one that we both work for and trust the Holy Spirit to work in us. The Holy Spirit is within us as we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit is working to make us more closely resemble the image of God demonstrated by Jesus.
Renowned sculptor Michelangelo (1475-1564) carved a beautiful statue of an angel holding a decorative candlestick. He carved it out of a block of marble to decorate the tomb of St. Dominic at Bologna in Italy. Later he was asked how he could make the marvelous model from a shapeless stone. The gifted sculptor replied, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He went on, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. In every block of marble, I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
When Michelangelo looks at a block of marble, he sees a beautiful statue. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus. That's part of our justification; God doesn't see our sin, God sees us justified by faith in Jesus through the grace of God the Father. You and I look at each other and see another human being who struggles to live the right way. But like the statue hidden in the stone in Michelangelo’s vision, Christ is there plain as day in God's vision. But it is not so clear to us. So God, the master sculptor is working to hew away the things that imprison the face of Jesus in us. We can look at the trials and disappointments and sorrows that we face in this life now and understand that those things are serving to chip away the parts of our lives and our personalities and our habits and our language and our anger that don't look like Jesus. God is chipping away the things that imprison the image of Jesus within us so it shows itself to the world.
So what does it look like to show that face of Jesus. At our last two session meetings, our training material was an essay written by an outsider suggesting that the church doesn't do a very good job of looking like Jesus. Let me share a few words, “your brand of love love looks incredibly selective and decidedly narrow, filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff which sadly include many of us. Can you love us if we don't check all the doctrinal boxes and don't have our theology all figured out? Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos? Can you love us if we don't know how we define love, and marriage, and heaven and hell? From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don't look much like him.”
He writes about the church at large, not an individual church and not as individuals. But let's get down to individuals. Do you have a checklist that determines who you are willing to love? It is easy to say I love my neighbor but what if they are disagreeable, what if their dog barks at night, what if one of those neighbors cuts you off in traffic? Jesus looks like love and we are supposed to look like Jesus. I started listing the things we do wrong that don't represent the image of Jesus, but that's backwards. What virtues do we have that Jesus demonstrated? You’ve probably heard of the seven deadly sins, there are also seven virtues: purity, self-restraint, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility. This is how we look like Jesus; again, a tall order but we are not left alone to try to achieve these virtues. (repeat?) The Holy Spirit is within us and as we open ourselves up to the leading and guidance of that Spirit, we can change, by the grace of God.
Three metaphors today for living as people bearing the image of God. The coins, the image of the emperor signified possession; our creation in God's image shows that we belong to God. In our epistle today, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “ For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you”. God created humankind; God has chosen you individually as His child. Live as a child of God.
Ice Cream, a symbol of what God desires and of things we desire. God: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-4. Us: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” God seeks us and we seek God as we set our minds, not on selfish considerations but on the things of God.
Sculpture: We are works in progress yet God sees Jesus in us now. “Come to him, a living stone and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” 1 Peter 2: 4-5 God is working to hew away sins that constrain us so that like a statue, or a spiritual house we are reflecting the glory of God.
I want one more metaphor, this from our next hymn and from scripture: Psalm 90, You who live in the shelter of the most high, who abide in the shadow of the almighty, will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress” … and Isaiah 40, “but those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount with wings of eagles, the shall run and not be weary....” The Lord is our shelter when trials come; the Lord renews our strength as we grow in faith and Christ-likeness. “He will raise you up on eagle's wings...”
So as we travel this journey of life, our goal is to reflect the grace of God. And as we may struggle, the Lord is bearing us up, renewing our strength and holding us in the palm of his hand. Rest in that mighty strength, walk in God's light and love in the power of Jesus Christ. That is to be our desire; that is God's desire. Amen.
Hymn: On Eagle's Wings