In whose image?

 

 

Sermon for 19 October ’08

Matthew 22.15-22

 

Image is everything! 

Ever heard that? Remember last week, we talked about hyperreality? We have to think image is everything if we’re going to fall for the message that we have to envy and emulate air-brushed models and sports stars on cocaine.

Image is everything! Some years ago, there was a whole series of ads for Canon cameras featuring the former tennis great Andre Agassi with that as the theme. You can see them on YouTube, a virtual graveyard for such things.

On the internet, I found an ‘Image is Everything’ workshop. This is the advertising blurb:

This powerful workshop will teach participants how to master the art of image! Sessions include: Personal Presentation, Building Rapport, Image Quadrants, Non-Verbal Power and more! This workshop is designed to help individuals discover the power of image and their ability to control it! [italics mine]

Image is important these days so that we can have power and control. So: what’s your image? 

If you want to improve your image, you could also go to the web page of a company called Your Image Solutions (perhaps you didn’t know you had a problem?)—Putting Your Image In Focus! Look great, sound assured & create a positive first impression!

Or you could go to another website called 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Look—Do you dress like a boss-to-be or a permanent underling?

Or you could find a plastic surgeon.

Or you could look at this:

I asked earlier: What’s your image? A similar question: What’s our congregation’s image?

Congregations often have an image of themselves. They often see themselves as one or more of these:

 

  • friendly
  • liberal in outlook
  • a good place for families
  • open and accepting of diversity
  • bible-centred

 

Sometimes, some of these things are even true. But I can’t help wondering that What’s our image? is the wrong question to ask.

It’s a question that puts the attention on us, and how we’re doing. It’s a question that gels with the world’s question: What’s my image?, and so it offers no alternative vision. It’s a question that misses the point.

The real question is this: Whose image do we bear? Whose image do we bear?

That’s the question Jesus asked his interrogators. They had brought him a coin, and he asked, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ Or: Whose image does this coin bear? They were after his blood, and they thought they had the perfect trap. 

They asked him: ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor—or not?’ If Jesus said No, they would be able to turn him in to the authorities as a Zealot, one of the religious terrorists of the day. The Zealots refused to pay this tax to the hated Roman occupiers and often suffered crucifixion for their convictions. Jesus’ enemies were beginning the final play in their campaign to have him executed as a Zealot, hoisted onto a cross and out of the way.

‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ Jesus didn’t say Yes. Jesus didn’t say No. Jesus didn’t even answer their question, asked as it was in a spirit of malice, envy and spite. 

Instead, Jesus asks his question, the important question:

Whose image does this coin bear?

Caesar’s, they say, the hypocrites. Why hypocrites? Because they were carrying coins with Caesar’s head on them, coins which proclaimed Caesar as a god. And they were carrying them in courts of the Temple itself! No faithful Jew would ever do that, yet these guardians of Israel’s faith thought nothing of sullying themselves with idolatry.

These hypocrites were into image. They had an image of being upright and faithful, law-abiding and religious, yet inside… Inside was garbage.

What’s our image? Wrong question, a question that will turn us into hypocrites faster than we can blink.

Whose image do we bear? Right question.

First answer: Human beings are made in the image of God. Bible scholars debate what that means, but whatever it means it means this: we humans are in a godlike relation to the creation. We are watchers of the rivers and the air, custodians of living things, guardians of the poor and the weak. We are to do this as those who bear God’s image. When we concern ourselves with ‘our’ image, we forget these things.

Second answer: we who follow Jesus are being remade in his image, the image of the One who is the image of God.

So, we are to live as he lived. As Church, we are to serve as he served. Others will look on us and misunderstand. After all, they looked on him and did not understand. They will think that we’re joyless wowsers, or that we’re the Labor Party at prayer. We will not be surprised to come across opposition.

Whose image do we bear? Is it the image of Jesus Christ? Just as he was a chip off the old block, are we too?

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church says 

Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity.

Is he our Head? Are we being remade as that new humanity? Is Christ being formed in us? Are we, as the Basis of Union also says, going forward ‘in sole loyalty to Christ’?

Later in the service, we’ll sing these words:

Finish then thy new creation,
pure and spotless let us be,
let us see thy great salvation,
perfectly restored in thee:
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love and praise.

‘Changed from glory into glory.’ It’s a high calling. I call my blog Getting there: two steps forward, one back. By God’s grace, we are getting there; if you’re like me, it’s two steps forward, one back on a good day. With the wind at your back.

Whose image do we bear? We are made in God’s image, and remade in Christ’s image. He will be faithful to us his people, yet he will always ask us: Whose image do you bear? Is it mine?

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