Made in God’s image

Good morning, Friends! Happy Mother’s Day!

We’re so glad you’re here today. We want to honor and bless and give thanks for all our mothers and grandmothers, not just today, but all the time.

Did you know that here in this country, Mother’s Day was started by Julia Ward Howe – the same woman who wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic?

She came up with the idea for Mother’s Day soon after the Civil War, when so many people had lost their lives in battle and as prisoners, and when so many families had lost their homes. Julia Ward Howe’s idea was that it should be Mother’s Peace Day, since every mother wants food and a home and safety for her children, and mothers all want their children to get along with each other.

People celebrate Mother’s Day all kinds of different ways in different countries. In Sweden, it’s a family holiday. In Sweden, the Red Cross sells flowers, and the proceeds go to help needy families.

In Spain, the focus is more on Mary, the mother of Jesus. People in Spain celebrate Mother’s Day in December.

In Yugoslavia – I’ve read this in several places, but I haven’t been able to ask somebody who’s lived there – in Yugoslavia on Mother’s Day, children tie the mothers up, and don’t let them go till they pay a ransom of cookies and candy. That’s something different!

Here in the United States, we say it with flowers. People buy more flowers for Mother’s Day than any other holiday during the entire year.

I think that’s wonderful. I think that people who grow flowers, and arrange them, and share them, are a special blessing in the world.

People here often take their moms out to dinner for Mother’s Day – probably because a lot of dads (including me) aren’t such great cooks. But still it’s a nice thing to do.

In England, back in the Middle Ages, the traditional thing was for fathers and children to make pancakes on Mother’s Day. They would make pancakes, and have contests to see who could throw them up in the air the highest to flip them.

I’m not sure what all the moms in England thought about this. Probably a lot of the pancakes got stuck to the ceiling, and a lot of other pancakes wound up in a mess on the floor.

People send cards and letters and make lots of phone calls on Mother’s Day. This year, the average family will spend about $180 on gifts and cards and flowers. I won’t ask what you all spent, but some people must be spending a whole lot more than I do to bring the average up.

And a whole lot of people go to church on Mother’s Day. It’s one of the 3 or 4 Sundays of the year when churches get the highest attendance, right after Easter and Christmas.

This year, for Mother’s Day, I’d like to take us back to the first book of the Bible – the book of Genesis. The title literally means the book of creation or beginning. It tells us how God made things, how God intended things to be.

We pick up the story on the sixth day of creation. God has already created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon and stars, the seas and the dry land. God has created night and day, all the trees and plants, the sky filled with birds, the sea filled with fish.

It’s all good. And then we get to the sixth day, which is where today’s reading comes from.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created human beings in God’s own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 – Genesis 1:26-31

Did you notice that way back in the beginning, that all the birds and animals, and even the human beings, were vegetarian? I’m not sure when that got changed, but it’s worth thinking about. All the way back at the beginning of the world, mamas were saying, “Eat your vegetables!” And it was so. And it was very good.

But much more important, I want you all to remember how we were created. It says that all of us, both men and women, are created in the image of God. We somehow reflect some of God’s best qualities. We share in God’s unchangeable nature.

We are meant to be creators. We are meant to act wisely. And we are meant to love – to share in the same kind of love which God has, all the time. We are meant to be lovers, and nurturers. We are meant to be merciful and to forgive. All those things which God does, we are supposed to do, too.

We don’t know what God looks like, but every time we see somebody doing good, every time we see somebody healing, redeeming a situation, blessing, restoring, we get a glimpse of what God must actually look like.

In one of the Psalms, it says that God made us just a little lower than the angels. God has crowned us with glory and honor. That’s a pretty high standard for us to live up to.

Every time we do something mean, any time we say something hurtful or spiteful, every time we put somebody down, are we acting like angels? Are we acting as though we’re made in God’s image?

We are made, we are created, to be beings of grace and beauty. We are made to be temples of the Holy Spirit. We don’t always act that way.

But the big point, the real point, the point that I want us to pull out of today’s Scripture is the one where it says that both men and women, both kinds of human beings, are made in God’s image. Men are not greater than women. Women are not less than men.

We need to get this straight, and we need to do it today as much as we have ever needed to understand this. The world has a very poor track record on how women are treated. That’s the understatement of the year!

Women are put down, and told that this is their place in the world. Women are still being battered, and told they should accept it. Women are underpaid, and told their work isn’t worth as much as the same work done by a man. Women are mistreated and violated, and told that there’s no remedy.

Every time this happens, and every time we are silent and don’t speak out against it, every time we put up with it, we are denying the way God created us to be, from the very beginning. We are denying God. We are denying the image of God in half of humanity.

As Christians, we should be the very first to fight against this, and especially when other people say or suggest in any way that this is God’s will. It isn’t. God created women and men as equals. We were never intended to dominate each other. We were created – it says this in the Bible – to be helpers for one another.

If you read through the Bible carefully, you will find hundreds of women who were leaders, who were teachers, who were prophets, who spoke out, who acted courageously.

Women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection, and they stuck to their story, even when people wrote them off. Without women, we would not be here as Christians today.

Some women were devoted to prayer. Other women put food on the table. Jesus honored both Mary and Martha. Jesus never suggested that either woman wasn’t one of his closest friends.

Do you hear what I’m saying? Honoring women means accepting and rejoicing that we are equal. God made us that way. And at the end of the day, God said that this is good, indeed that this is very good. Anything we do or say that denies this is denying the goodness of God.

The equality of women is something which runs very deep in the tradition of my family. My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was born in the late 1800’s. She was a pioneer for women’s rights. My grandmother marched in the streets to demand the vote as a Constitutional right.

Being able to vote was important to her, but it didn’t stop there. When my grandmother got married, the minister asked, “Will you promise to love, honor and obey your husband?” and my grandmother said, “NO! I will love and honor, but I will NOT promise to obey!”

This was back in 1917, three years before the United States recognized women had the right to vote.

Well, the minister picked himself up off the floor, did a little surgery on the vows, and my grandparents got married. My grandparents were very happily married for almost 40 years, so I guess changing the traditional words didn’t do them any harm. Maybe some traditions need to be changed.

I find it strange that people usually talk about the 21st Amendment as “giving women the vote,” when really it says that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

There’s a big difference there. It’s the difference between giving something, and acknowledging that it’s a basic human right, which all people have, and should have had, all along.

 

My other grandmother only went to high school. I don’t know about her wedding promises, but whatever they were, they didn’t slow her down much. My mom’s mother was a leader.

She sang lead roles in the opera. She raised three children and sent them all to college. She drank mint juleps and she was a dead shot. When I was a boy, I saw my grandmother blow out a candle flame at thirty feet with one shot from a .45 automatic. She laughed and said it was just luck, but nobody asked her to try it again.

When I was in my teens and she was in her 80’s, my grandmother offered to teach me the dances she had learned back in the Roaring 20’s – dances like the Charleston and the Black Bottom. I was so embarrassed I didn’t take her up on it. Now I wish I had. She was a character!

My point isn’t just to brag and tell stories about my family. My point is that it’s nonsense to talk about women as being anything less than fully equal with men. Both of my grandmothers would probably rise up out of their graves and whomp me if I tried to say anything different!

The flip side, though, is that even if some of the most important battles have been won, it doesn’t mean that the struggle is over.

If everything were settled and done, we wouldn’t need to have shelters for battered women here in this community. Women and men would get the same pay for doing the same kind of work. We wouldn’t even think about handling their compensation any differently.

I’m concerned about the pressure that’s in many of our schools, where young people are encouraged by their peers and by the culture, to act and to think in ways which deny their intelligence, their giftedness, and their equality.

The reading we heard this morning is actually the first of two stories of creation in the book of Genesis. And I know that some people say that in the other story, God said that men would rule over women. But actually, if you go back and read the story, that kind of inequality is described as the human race’s punishment for trying to live in a way God never intended.

Think about it. Men doing the tough guy thing, working and sweating and cursing and hating it, and women doing the subservient thing, and the co-dependent thing – living that way is our punishment. We weren’t created that way. It says we were created to be partners, to be helpers, for each other. Anything else is the result of our rejection of what God intended.

A generation or so before my grandmothers were born, a Quaker woman, Lucretia Mott, said, “I long for the day when my sisters will rise, and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny.” (Speech, 1840)

Those words galvanized women – and men! – by the millions, to think about and work for women’s rights.

I also always love Lucretia Mott’s other comment, “Many of the opposers of Women’s Rights who bid us obey the bachelor Saint Paul, themselves reject his counsel. He advised them not to marry.”

A hundred and fifty years ago, Quaker meetinghouses were built with separate entrances for men and women, and women and men sat on different sides of the worship room. You can still see that, in the old meetinghouse right next door.

It wasn’t because men were good and women were bad. It was because Quakers believed men and women were equal. Women had their own ministers, their own monthly meeting for business, and controlled their own money.

Eventually, the practice of separation was laid down, and we did things together. But it was a testimony of the equality of women and men, and I’d like to think we still uphold that testimony today.

I doubt that Springfield Friends would have survived if it weren’t for all the strong, hard-working, intelligent and gifted women in our meeting over the years. As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I’d like you to think about where we’d be without them.

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