Saturday, August 22, 2009

Imago Dei

Pentecost 11 Year B
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Mark 15:16-20
Imago Dei
By Rich Gamble

In today’s passage all those that Solomon murdered to get the throne are long forgotten, Solomon is shown to be pious and humble. He doesn’t wish for power, he doesn’t need wealth he only wants a clear head to see the path of good so that he can lead his people well. God is so impressed that God says, Hey Sol, since your request was so humble, I’m going to give you the wisdom you seek but I’ll throw in the power and wealth stuff as well. And sounding a bit like an infomercial host, God even throws in a special bonus offer of long life.

Understand what is being said here. God is moving to shape the world through powerful people. God blesses the people that God likes with power, and wealth, wisdom and long life. Therefore those people who are obtain power and wealth will be seen as wise and blessed by God. Those who are poor and powerless must by this logic be outside of God’s favor.

I just heard about a book and the movement it documents. The book is called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet. According to what little research I’ve done about the “The Family” it is described as powerful people who, in the name of God seek the power to control the peoples of the world. They believe that the Christian message is about the power to dominate and that God blesses those who have wealth and power and God wants them to use that wealth and power to implement their vision of the world.

I haven’t researched this book or movement so I cannot tell you whether it is all true but there is truth in it. This image of Solomon blessed by God with wealth and power and wisdom is exactly that sort of world view. Solomon was a ruler who centralized power and wealth into his own hands. And those who wrote the passage we read today believed and wanted us to believe that such actions are the way God operates in the world. So those who seek to centralize the wealth and the power into their own hands are only doing what Solomon did and the Bible says Solomon was blessed by God to do just that.

If this were the only way of understanding God found in our tradition, I would be an agnostic or a Buddhist anything other than a Christian. Because I utterly and completely reject the assertion that Solomon the wealthy, murdering, despot represents an embodiment of the will of God. Indeed I believe that such an image is the exact opposite of the will of God. And the reason why groups such as this must understand the threat to our faith and the world such folks as described in the Book of Kings and in the book The Family truly are.
Though it is not our lectionary text I included the passage we read today from the Gospel of Mark describing Jesus.

In this passage Jesus is mocked, beaten and abused and in his lack of power, in his pain and suffering in his vulnerability is the image of God. A leader embodying the will of God does not use violence and wealth to control people; rather such a leader challenges the authority of that system to the very core. Jesus in this passage in Mark is the Christian image of God’s will. He is shown here living in such a way as to link him with the victims of power and violence. This passage de-legitimizes all those who would aspire to be some form of king or queen, general or titan of Wall Street.

God’s chosen one here is not blessed with the goodies of domination. He is a prisoner of the system, tortured, a victim of a kangaroo court, and in the end murdered. The harsh and painful vision of Jesus’ last day on earth is the ultimate protest against a system that uses violence, twists justice and ultimately murders its enemies.

Solomon or Jesus stand as polar opposites of each other. Solomon is the image of God blessing the domination system’s leaders with wealth and power and long life. Or Jesus is the image of God’s servant in utter conflict with the domination system, Jesus is blessed because he is willing to suffer poverty, torture and murder in order to non-violently oppose Solomon’s system. Only one is the embodiment of God’s will. Only one is God’s idea of a leader.

This plays out in how we worship and how we vote. It plays out in how we think of the Bible and how we think of our economy. Our choice of ultimate meaning has direct and profound implications on all other choices in our lives. If we are not clear about what we believe, if we are not clear about what has authority in our lives, then our muddled faith will lead to a muddled witness in the world. And in the conflict between clear and strongly held ideas of God as dominator and muddled ideas of God as basically nice. The muddled ideas will lose and Christianity will be defined in the public mind as one in which violence is condoned, wealth is praised, and the suffering of the poor is generally forgotten. That is the case today.

In the town hall meetings across the country we see how fear and lies infect a community and get people to stand against their better interests. It is an eloquent argument about the power of propaganda to twist a democracy into the tool of tyranny.

We are called to know what we believe, proclaim what we believe and live what we believe. Only then can the world see in us and in those like us a vision of God that stands against the Powers and with the poor, a God who offers an alternative to judgment and fear and eternal punishment. Only in the clarity of our faith can the power lies to generate fear be confronted at the most fundamental level.

The fate of the world hangs on what happens here, and in similar places all over the globe. Our image of ultimate meaning will determine future history. Fortunately it’s not all up to us. God’s nurturing Spirit is at work in the world and that is good news.