In His Likeness
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Trinity, July 11, 2021
“If we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection… For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
WHAT DOES GOD LOOK LIKE? In your mind’s eye, in your imagination, how do you see Him? How do you picture the Holy Trinity? If you were to create a portrait of God’s face, what would He resemble? Are we just putting our own faces on our imagined God, or is there something to this?
The scriptures say many confusing things about seeing God. To Moses, who had a direct line to God’s glory, who spent 40 days on a mountain conversing with Him until his face glowed, God said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Ex 33:20 Instead, God set it up that Moses might see God from the back. Face of God: forbidden as being too dangerous.
David, King and prophet, later wrote a song to God, “You have said, ‘Seek ye my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Ps 27:8 Face of God: a vision to be sought after.
On a day when people sought Jesus for the wrong reason, miraculous bread, He astounded them by alluding to our communion, saying we must eat His Body and drink His Blood, or we have no life in us. During that talk, He also stated: “No one has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.” Jn 6 46
But Jesus also said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Mt 5:8 So, which is it? are we to see God face to face, or are we never to see Him because He is either too invisible, too dangerous, too holy for us, or too alien to be able to see Him and go on living?
The Old Testament prophets and writers were at a disadvantage. The fulness of God could not be fully revealed to them until God’s Triune nature had been disclosed by Christ. The trinity was hinted at, even pointed directly at, but without more explanation the Jews could not adhere to the One and only one God doctrine without rejecting any idea of more Persons. So, a divine Son could not be actually God, and the Holy Spirit was an emanation of the Father, and not a unique Person.
But as Christians, having seen Jesus on earth, and seen the power of the Spirit’s arrival, we can say with St. Paul, that “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” Col 1:15 At the Last Supper, Jesus instructed the Apostles, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?”Jn 14 Clearly, what is invisible to us of the Father, is made visible and tactile for us in His Son, who is the perfect reflection of the Father’s nature and image.
But Jesus looks like us. In fact, we tend to paint Him according to the people of our ethnicity. Europeans portray Him as Italian, Greek or even Nordic. But Africans depict Jesus as a Negro; Mexicans paint Him Mexican; and Chinese give Him narrow almond eyes and straight black hair. Images from the early church that show Him in mosaic tiles, painted icons on wood, or the Shroud of Turin offer a face that haunts us, as though we recognize a real picture and not a cultural appropriation. The ethnic identification is no offense, however. He is human, like us, and if we paint Him like us, I don’t think He is made less by it. In fact, as the universal savior, Christ means to be for all people of every race and land, so why not identify with Him?
But Jesus looks like us, and while we try to keep Him in a place of supreme worship, holiness, uniqueness and awe: is it still okay for us to see Him as human? It is imperative that we do so. God and man, two natures in one Person, that’s the Incarnation. God became man so we might be restored to God. In one direction, God humbled Himself in His Son’s Person, to actually assume human flesh, bones, organs, blood and image—in fact, to be completely human, right down to a human mind, soul, spirit, and will: nothing missing that makes you or me human.
That’s important, for if He went to the cross incompletely human, then that one component of humanity He did not share with us would not be saved in us. He could not die for sins of that human aspect. No. He was fully human. Perfect, without fault, sinless, complete, and able to feel every painful thing that was done to Him.
In the other direction, God was pleased to become human because humanity was meant for better things. He humbled Himself to be one of us meager brats because we were, by His identification with us, meant to be far better than brats. We were meant for the stars. If Jesus is the image and likeness of the Father, so much that even His human face should echo something of God’s invisible face, and if Jesus looks like us, then we might yet know the meaning of God’s first spoken words regarding us, words that created us in the beginning: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over… every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gn 1
The plural address here of Us and Our in this first chapter of scripture is no mistake, and God is not speaking to angels or animals either, not to any created thing. The Holy Trinity is holding council and we’re eavesdropping. The Father, to the Son and Holy Spirit, says We are now making humans in our image and likeness, with dominion over all other life forms and commanding them to settle the earth and domesticate it, bring children into it and raise up generations of beings with Our image and likeness.
The shame we feel for our sins and the ugliness that broods in dark corners and haunts our dreams, and fills our entertainment media, tries to deny there is anything at all in common between God and us. But that is why such darkness is evil. When we destroy, drug, pervert, oppress, hate and lie, we do damage to a holy thing which is God’s image and likeness in every human being. When we lovingly bring life into being, raise respectful children, build beautiful dwellings, make inspiring art, sing, play, dance, and tell the truth, it is the Imago Dei, the image of God shining out through us, as at the beginning.
It was this image and likeness that Jesus came to us in order to restore in its fulness. We may believe that in the fall of mankind, that image and likeness was lost. Certainly, it got weakened. Bishop Morse used to say that every priest has the Stigmata, the nail holes of Jesus’ crucifixion in our hands. But those priests cover these holy signs with their sins, he said. It is by Jesus’ death and resurrection we are restored in Him to that likeness.
While a direct vision of God’s Face may be too dangerous for sinful mortals to attempt, and would be impossible anyway unless God purposefully showed Himself to us, yet the experience of seeing God’s Face may be ours when one saint on earth comes into focus to our hopeful eyes, hopeful that anyone in this life might reflect the image of God. The pure in heart shall see God, Jesus says. And we might look at such a pure person and in his or her face we may see Him too.
St. Michael, archangel and champion of heaven’s armies and of Israel, has a name that challenges what I’ve said thus far. Michael means “Who is like God.” It doesn’t mean what it sounds like. Michael, even in his glory as a powerful angel, defeating Lucifer’s rebellion at the gates of heaven, and casting the devils down to earth, is not named ‘one who is like God,’ but with a question: “Who is like God?” Question mark. The rhetorical question is answered, no one is like God. That’s true.
For us to be made in His image and likeness is not in any way a violation of this, however. For the word “made” is in the very act. We are not as God, eternally living before all time, and uncreated, as God is not created. We are made, and if made, then we are subject forever to our Maker. Like animated dolls, but with hearts and minds and eternal souls that will go on from now to eternity, we are made to reflect our Maker in some ways He deems appropriate for created, self-aware, living beings. What are these ways?
It’s not in the nose or eyes or hairline, okay? Not even in the male or female genders, for both are proper outworkings of this likeness of God. We think, both practical thoughts about eating and travelling, and imaginary musings about truth and goodness and hidden meanings. We feel good and bad feelings in respect to others and to ourselves. We determine our direction, make decisions, harden our resolve, make choices. We seek out the character we wish to be, and when we frustrate these choices, we make new ones or return to our better angels. We believe things we can’t prove, but that are built on principles we trust and sense are basic and sensible reality. We love, we sacrifice ourselves, we give and forgive, for selfishness never pays what it offers. We walk paths of a higher life, or else in all these ways we turn our backs on everything healthy and holy, and use the God-given freedom we are given to reject God, to our detriment and damnation.
Our words can make or destroy. They are truth or they are lies. God’s words are truth, the liar was never our friend.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. The closer we get to eternity, may that likeness grow until, with the pure in heart, our eyes behold Him and we see God’s Face before us, smiling.