But then we shall see face to face . . .
Before you start, please read the texts for this Sunday here:
If God had a face
What would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and Jesus and the saints
And all the Prophets
- Joan Osborne, One of Us
God made us male and female alike in God’s image - God is trans! - but that hasn’t stopped us, lo these last few thousand years, from us trying to make our image of God. It’s the genius of the second commandment: no graven images, no idols, no thing that we can point to and say, “Here is God.”
Which is to say God is nothing even as God is in everything: love, and mystery, and hope, and beauty, and truth. Pantheism says God is everything, but we tend to lean more to panentheism: God is in everything.
If you want a primer on the welcome unraveling of the heteronormative patriarchy, look no further than how God’s image is portrayed in the movies. When I was a kid, it was George Burns, and John Denver his unwilling Jesus: an old, white guy and his chosen one, a younger white guy with a bad haircut. Then we got a little more creative. Bud Cort (Harold from Harold and Maude): God as a homeless NJ man who comes back to earth because he misses playing skee ball. Then, same movie, the singer Alanis Morisette. You oughta know she’s God. Inevitably, Morgan Freeman took his turn, and finally there was Whoopi Goldberg. Didn’t you always suspect she was?
The Gospel of John starts with these words: “No one has ever seen God, but Jesus, at God’s side, has made God known.” Jesus imitates God fully; fully carries the divine love and mission; fully embodies divine grace and truth. When we see his face, we see God’s.
We are called as Christians - as “little Christ’s” - to imitate him. We are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Be imitators of me, Paul said, just as I am of Christ. We are to forgive, as he forgave us; to love one another, as he loved us.
If it doesn’t seem like there’s enough love, or mercy, or forgiveness in the world, it isn’t because there isn’t enough Christ, the fullness of the one who fills all in all. It’s because we aren’t fulfilling our role as vicars. Too often, we just show others our backsides and don’t reflect the glory that God put in us. We are called to help Waterville have a vicarious experience of Christ through this church, through us.
Paul commends those in Thessalonica for turning from worshipping the creation to worshipping the creator, turning to the true and living God and away from idols. In spite of the persecution they received they received the word with joy. People in Macedonia and Achaia saw Christ through them, had a vicarious experience through them; their suffering marking them as a type, along with Paul, as genuine. They belong to Jesus, Paul claimed, because they imitated him fully.
Jesus rescues us, as he rescued the folks in Thessalonica, from the wrath that is coming: the wrath of human violence, when we refuse to join along with the violence of the Empire, of Caesar, and instead, when we join Jesus in his suffering violence, not perpetuating it; when we join Jesus in a perfect imitation of God’s non-violent presence. This is how the suffering and the wrath ends.
It’s like that old hymn: “and I shall see him face to face, and tell the story - saved by grace.” When the world sees you, from the moment you walk out this door, whose image and likeness will you show them? Whose image is on the coin you carry with you? Who will the people you meet have a vicarious experience of? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but Give to God what is God’s. Amen.