It’s All Good
Mark E. Ryman • A sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord
Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8:1–9; Ephesians 5:22–33; Mark 10:2–9
Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought, “Where did you come from?” I kept doing that last year when I was growing out my beard to match my great-great grandfather’s look. It was fun to see the Civil War era photo of that Irishman, Michael Morrissey, with his long and wide beard. But ultimately, I didn’t come from him. I wasn’t created in his image, no matter how much people claimed I look like him.
I’ve been missing his great-granddaughter, my Mom. I keep wanting to pick up the phone and see how she’s doing, and to hear her stories of the days when she grew up, sent off by her Daddy to the movies with her little brother and 25¢ that would buy them both an afternoon of movies, popcorn, soda, and candy. One day, in the midst of the old stories about her family, she surprised me by exclaiming how much I looked like Edwin Morrissey, her Dad, my “Pa Ed.” I never saw it.
My paternal grandmother’s friends used to say I looked like Fred Ryman, my Dad’s Dad. I remember walking into the newly opened Wendy’s in my hometown, back in the 70s, and seeing Gr’ma sitting there with three of her friends. One of them almost swooned because she thought my grandfather, who had died nearly five years earlier, had just walked in. Her other friends heartily agreed.
Now in that one, Fred, I can see a bit more of his likeness looking back in the mirror. Still, I wasn’t created in his image, no matter how much my gr’ma’s friends—or even I—think that I resemble him.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, as your Spirit revealed Jesus to be your beloved Son at his baptism in the river Jordon, reveal your Christ to us and in us by the creative power of your Word. Grant us rebirth and daily transformation, Father, as we follow your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives at your right hand with the Holy Spirit, forever One God. Amen.
Without doubt, everyone in this room has been told at one time or another, and more likely many times, that they look like someone who has gone before them. And if you haven’t, you may pleased to learn that, “There’s an app for that.” In fact, there are many doppleganger apps available. But you don’t really need one. If you’ve been reading through Genesis this week, or if you paid close attention while Marc read the first lesson for us, you already know whose image you’re created in.
On the sixth day of creation, “God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” Gen 1:27).
Now, if you’re an argumentative soul, you may be thinking that if that were the case, we’d all look like one another. Well, in a very real sense, we do. We all share physical characteristics. Some of us have bigger ears: some bigger mouths. But we all have ears and mouths. We do look alike. Still, this isn’t really the point.
As you may have guessed, there’s something more to the idea of “image” in the Hebrew Scripture. It (tse’lem) means more than mere physical appearance. In ancient thought, an image was that thing which represented the God in the material world. Our English word for the New Testament Greek word for image sounds exactly like “icon.” So the Apostle Paul says of Jesus that he is the eikon or the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus represented the invisible God in the physical world.
We begin to see what it means for ourselves to be created in God’s image. It means there is a purpose to our being. We are made to reflect God’s character and be his representatives in the world. Adam was given work to do in caring for God’s creation. We too—male and female—are created in his image, to do his will on earth as it is in heaven.
When we look at the heavens, the moon and stars, the beauty of creation, we might be tempted like David to wonder who we are that God is mindful of us? Nonetheless, he has crowned us with glory and honor, making us nearly so fine as the angels themselves.
Yet, when we look lower than the heavens, when we look at the streets, the back alleys, the inner sanctums of power on earth—or if we just look at the headlines—we see that these beings made in the image of the Almighty, have lost their splendor.
It happened just after Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. Treachery, murder, and lies soon followed and seem to have filled our world. Our planet is polluted with something far worse than smog. And it separates us from our Creator
How do we become clean? How do we look in the mirror and see the image of God, instead of looking away in shame? We must be “washed with the water of the word.” In baptism, we are cleansed of the sin that sullied the divine image. In this washing, we are saved from our natural filth—not a removal of dirt and grime, but an appeal to God for a cleansed conscience through Jesus Christ.
Thus, when we remember our Lord’s baptism, we must see the connection to our own baptisms. Because we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death (Rom 6:3). That old man staring back at me in the mirror is dead in the water. As Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, we are baptized to be fulfilled in his righteousness. In Christian baptism, we are joined to God in Christ just as a man and a woman are joined in marriage. We become one with God. We are effectively married. And so, the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments speaks of God as Groom and the Church as his Bride. This analogy shows us the divine image in the human better than anything. It is no wonder that the devil attacks marriage as he does.
Have you ever noticed, that as couple grows old together, they begin to look alike? The NY Times reported on a University of Michigan study about this phenomenon back in 1987. It showed that after 25 years of marriage, couples began to resemble each other. Sometimes the similarities were subtle, but they were there. Of interest to me is that, if they were happy marriages, the study found that there was less subtlety, that their faces actually started to resemble each other.
Now, Susan and I have been married 15 years longer than the study says is needed. Don’t go over-scrutinizing us to try and determine if we have a happy marriage!
My point is, that if we are committed to God, joined at the rib as it were, followers of Jesus, then we ought to begin to look more and more like him. Because we have been raised to new life in him through baptism, we should begin to bear his likeness, to be icons of God, or as Luther put it: “little Christs.”
You may think this impossible, that you could never look like God. But I take you back to the sixth day of creation. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” You were created to be good, and with God, that is still possible. He intends to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Don’t worry about it; leave it to God; it’s all good. For we are indeed, created in the image of God. For some, it’s more subtle than in others, but it ought to become more apparent every year. So apparent, in fact, that people ought to begin to recognize it in you. Like I never could see myself in that old photo of Michael Morrissey, you may never see how much you look like Christ. But others ought to see it, and given enough time with Jesus, they will.