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Readings: Genesis 1:26-27 and “North,” by Sleeping At Last

Here we are, back where we started the summer twelve weeks ago: at the very beginning. Genesis. The creation of humanity—male and female—in the image of God.

You may remember a bit of what I talked about that first Sunday: how the cultures of the empires around ancient Israel and Judah told stories of violent creation myths. How those myths gave a divine mandate for human hierarchies, with the king representing the chief god, and all other humans there to serve the king, just as humans only existed to serve the gods.

In the 6th century BCE, Babylonian armies sacked Jerusalem, laid waste to the surrounding countryside, and took everyone of any importance into exile in Babylon—princes and princesses, scribes, priests, landowners. Everyone with cultural memory of what Judah had been was taken away to a strange land. And there they heard stories of Marduk and other gods, gods who created by slaughtering each other, who inscribed the ideology of power and domination onto all of creation.

So those Hebrew slaves in exile started telling a new creation myth: of a God who said, “let there be light,” and there was light. And God called the light good. In fact, God called all of creation good, very good. There was no violence undergirding this creation, only delight as each stage unfolds. Until the pinnacle: the creation of humankind, male and female, in God’s image. All of humankind, from the most powerful king to the tiniest, most helpless baby, equally an image of God, equally a steward of God.

In ancient times, kings erected statues of themselves to prove their dominance or their piety. They would carve messages on their statues, messages relating their status as a god’s representative on earth, and cursing anyone who vandalizes the image; the message is that to deface the image is to do violence to the king himself.

So consider what it means to say that God has created each of us as a representation of Godself. The implications are astounding: to harm any human being is to do violence to God.

This is arguably the most important idea in the history of humankind. Could Thomas Jefferson have written that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” had the story in Genesis 1 not been written, or had it not become a foundational myth for three major world religions?

Genesis 1 verses 26 and 27 are seeds that, in the fullness of time and by many different routes, blossomed into the ideals of democracy, egalitarianism, and human rights. All inspired by a people in exile and in bondage, walking humbly with their God.

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We live in strange times. We have all these ideals and knowledge—the capacity to make the world safe and beautiful for everyone—and yet war and ecological devastation and other forms of violence still ravage the world, especially the most vulnerable of us. And that brings me to our second “reading” this morning. “North” is a song about making a home; it is a house blessing. Bread, wine, and salt are traditional gifts for a housewarming. They are also a part of the Eucharist, which is a sort of housewarming for our souls, an invitation to Christ’s table, to the community of equals that is the church.

This song has been haunting me for the past two years. The increased hate crimes and white nationalist presence in this country—in our country—have left many of us feeling alienated and frightened. And yet how much worse it is for non-citizens, for those who do not speak English, for our transgender siblings and our darker-skinned siblings and our Muslim and Sikh and Jewish siblings! So in the midst of such fear, I decided to let this song become my mission statement: “Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.”

In the immediate wake of the 2016 election, the verse that stood out to me most was the last one. I pictured parents showing their children a map, pointing out to them, See, here’s where our new house is. The footprint of their house is smaller than a grain of dust on that map, but to that family, it is so meaningful. It holds all the promise of the future, the safe and beautiful place we know we are capable of making. And a map, like a creation story, points us in a direction to go, where we can find the freedom to grow, and the right to call a place home.

Who has the right to call this place home? This village, this state, this country, even this whole earth? Welcome the stranger, the immigrant, the poor, says the Torah, over and over. Do we stand with our spiritual ancestors? Will we affirm God’s image in every human being? Because if we do, that has repercussions for everything from how we treat our next-door neighbor to what policies we support. Will we look into a refugee’s eyes and see God? Because once we do, how can we possibly close our hearts to their humanity and their needs?

It’s hard. It’s so hard to keep our hearts open to the world’s needs.

More recently, listening to “North” again, what struck me was a different verse, the one that starts: “With each year, our color fades. Slowly, our paint chips away.” Oh, I think we all know that feeling. And looking around at the world, or maybe even just at our own lives, I can completely understand if you’re tired and scared. I’m tired and scared. But we will find the strength, and the nerve it takes, to repaint, and repaint, and repaint. Every day. We will continue trying to live out our faith and see God’s face in the faces of every human being, to practice the hospitality of the God who makes us all equal, and commands us to build a community that takes care of the vulnerable.

I have been preaching all this summer about different kinds of resistance. And if nothing else I hope what stays with you is that, as the people of God, resistance is our calling. Resistance to the forces of oppression and fear, whether writ large in the nation or on the scale of our own relationships, or even just within our own hearts. A resistance that is not merely opposition, but also rest, renewal, reimagination.

I know this can all seem daunting. It can feel like we’re up against a lot—and so often on our own. So I want to give you one more image, a gift to us from a wise woman in another very frightening, tumultuous time and place. I invite you to close your eyes. St. Julian of Norwich said that the whole world is like a hazelnut in God’s hand. Picture that hazelnut in your own hand, no bigger than your thumbnail. Imagine now that everyone and every place you love is contained in that small, round thing—smaller than dust on a map. It is so small, so fragile, said St. Julian, yet because of God’s love, it is safe.

Could the God that made us to love and care for each other, possibly fail to love or care for each of us? Do you think God can’t carry that hazelnut and keep it safe? You are held. Whatever happens to you, no matter how tired or scared you get, remember that God carries you. God holds you. God will not let you be lost. Whatever happens to you, you are carried in God’s heart. Forever.

So when the news troubles you, when you grieve for lives and homes lost in flood or fire, when you grieve the trauma of children who are homeless or separated from their parents, when another group of racists marches in the streets, when you feel like there’s nothing you can do, please, close your eyes again. Remember that hazelnut. Remember that this world can do nothing to separate you from God’s love. Ground yourself in God’s love, and may that love give you the strength and the nerve it takes to repaint, and repaint, and repaint every day.