Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inherent Human Dignity: It's a Thing

Last week in my theology class, we talked about how easy it is for people to use and abuse one another by objectifying or de-valuing a person from the status of a living breathing human being to that of a thing that exists solely for our personal pleasure.

Obviously, this is not ok.

The theological counter to this is the idea that humans have inherent dignity.

Inherent human dignity is the idea that because all humans are created in the image of God, and that God blessed them, then even though humans (like the rest of creation) are fallen, there is still an image of God within them, even if the image is a little fuzzy.  Or maybe we see someone and it looks like they are waiting for the image of God within them to load.

And we're waiting...

The scripture passage for this idea is Genesis 1:27
"So God created humankind in [God's] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them."
Let me back up and say that in this story, the author of Genesis isn't talking about Adam and Eve, but rather God is creating all of humanity at once.

That's right.  All people in all parts of the world.  People who live in Asia and Australia, Europe and the Americas.  Africa.  All of humankind is created in God's image.

And then if we just skip down past all the blessings and being fruitful and multiplying we get to this nice little verse.

"God saw everything that [God] had made and indeed, it was very good." (1:31)

So every single person created by God?  Check.
Every single person created with something very good in them?  Check.

Why is this so hard to hear then?

Why do we as a species feel the need to treat one another as objects that entertain us?  Then we can discard them when they are no longer important?

Why do we find it so easy to victimize a group of people because they don't look like us?

Why do we find it so easy to ignore great problems in how the system works because it "doesn't really affect me"?

Why do we ignore the inherent human dignity that is supposed to be found within every single person.

Why aren't we looking for the image of God in our neighbors?

I'll repeat, we are fallen and some people make it really hard to find that image of God.  And there are certainly days when it's hard for us to find the image of God within ourselves, let alone have someone else find the image of God within us.
Still waiting...

But, shouldn't we at least make an effort?  Shouldn't we try and fight a broken system because someone else, another person made in the image of God is being abused and hurt by it?

Now, even though we still have a hard enough time with this male/female image of God thing that Genesis has in verse 27, what if we added more of these categories in there?

God created humankind in God's image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female, black and white, gay and straight, trans, rich and poor, skinny and fat, and mentally ill and physically ill, and everything in between, God created them.

Would we at least maybe think twice before we start mistreating someone else?

I hope so.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


 This sermon was preached at Christ Chapel on the campus of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary on November 4th, 2014.  The text for the sermon was Acts 13:1-12.

Imagine with me, if you will, what it must have been like in that one particular worship service in Antioch that day.  Picture around the table Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manean, and Saul, along with the others that have gathered for prayer and to worship the Lord.  Imagine with me what it might have smelled like in that early house church.  Was the stench of dirt and sweat hanging off of these men and women who are gathered overpowering?  Was it possible to smell the cooking meals of houses around them - roasting meat and baking bread?    Imagine with me what their leitourgia might have looked like.  Were the homeless and poor gathered in the house with them?  Were these women and men that have gathered to fast tempted by the smells of meals around them?  Imagine with me their reaction to the Holy Spirit calling, no, electing Saul and Barnabas for a mission.  Were they surprised to hear the Spirit’s voice?  Or did they accept the voice of the Spirit readily and eager to assist in the sending of Saul and Barnabas?
This service which begins Saul and Barnabas’ mission to the larger world is perhaps extra-ordinary in that there was nothing going on in this house that had not happened before and has not happened many times since then.  The people of God are gathered around, doing the work of the people, praying to God.  It is in this moment of worship and service that the Spirit speaks, electing these two men to go out into the world and bring more and more people into the kingdom of God.
Isn’t that what God’s election process is all about?  God choosing people to work to bring  about the kingdom? God calling them to serve others?  God inviting them to begin a long and perilous journey which ultimately will lead to persecution?  God working through them to reveal the glory of God?  God’s election process has always been about choosing those the world thinks are “unqualified” and using them to redeem the world (if only in bits and pieces).
It’s easy to forget that, I think especially when over the past several weeks we have been inundated with ads trying to tell us which candidate is better than all the others.  With those up for election trying to tell us about their qualifications, their track records, their reasons why they will do the best for us, the voter.  For these candidates, election isn’t about being chosen by God to humble themselves and follow where the Spirit is going to lead them.  Instead, they understand election to mean the gaining of power for personal gain and profit - or perhaps I’m just being a little too cynical of our government after binge watching Netflix’ House of Cards this past weekend.  
However, we forget that election isn’t actually about the individual’s choice in the matter.  No where in scripture does God ask the opinion of the women and men if they wanted to be elected.   Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, David, Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ruth, Mary, Peter, Paul, John, Lydia, the list goes on throughout scripture and history, these women and men are elected by God to live into the kingdom.  And none of them have it easy.  And yet, these people answer the call, carrying out the roles that God has elected them to, not because it will lead to a comfortable life, but because they know that God’s election is about more than them; God’s election of an individual or a group of people is for the sake of the whole world.
I think it’s also easy to forget that we are elected by God too.  Not just those of us who are training to be rostered clergy, but every single Christian.  We are all elected in our baptisms to be a means through which God works in the world.  We are just one more group of people in a long tradition of “unqualified” leaders through whom God is redeeming the world.  We are the one of the means by which God has chosen to reveal Godself to the world.  
God has picked us, as a people, and invites us to follow where God is calling.  And perhaps it won’t ever look like blinding a magician and false prophet in order to win converts - however tempting that might seem at times.  But perhaps it might look like that service at the beginning of the passage from Acts.
Imagine with me, if you will, a group gathered throughout a chapel, a group filled with teachers, staff, and students.  They are hungry, counting down the minutes until it is time for lunch.  Perhaps you can hear a stomach or two rumbling.  The air in the room is cool, has a slightly musty stony smell.  The floor is cold to the touch. The lighting is neither dark nor bright.  They have spent time lifting up their voices in song and prayer.  They take some time in silence, opening themselves up to God’s call, eager to hear where God is inviting them to go.  Waiting for the Spirit to whisper in the midst of their own leitourgia, “Set this one aside, lay hands on her, send her out into the world, I have elected her.”