My First Sermon Ever: “Made in the Image of God”

Made in God's image

Thandiwe Gobledale
February 24, 2010
“Made in the image of God”

A reading from Genesis 1 verses 26-27, a selection
“26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… 27 So God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.”
Genesis 1:26-27

Let us pray, May the words of my mouth

And the meditations of all of our hearts

Be acceptable in your sight, O God,

Our Rock, and our Redeemer.

When you think of India, what comes to mind? [get responses]  Has anyone been there?  [In one or two words, what impressed you?]  Is anyone familiar with the north Indian greeting: “Namaste”?  which means “the divinity in me greets the divinity in you.”  A powerful thing to say to stranger and friend alike.  Thinking about India, I am often amazed how in a different place, the simplest things, things we do without thinking at home, become a challenge.  Like crossing the street – a daunting prospect in India.  Imagine, having to time your crossing while taking into account the various speeds of a truck barreling down towards you from one direction, a four-door sedan from the other, a couple of motor bikes from each direction and possibly a bicycle or an ox-drawn cart thrown in there as well, just to complicate things further.  Oh, and don’t forget to look right and then left.  Yes, the mundane suddenly becomes a challenge, a new adventure.

A new adventure.  Heat washes over me causing sweat to bead on my forehead and trickle steadily down my back.

    “You missed an opportunity,” the doctor sitting across from me says, his voice as hard as the cement walls on all sides of us.  “You missed the opportunity to spread the gospel, to share the good news of Jesus’ love, to offer the message of salvation to that boy.”
Dust from the air catches in my throat, and coughing, I examine a crack on the floor beside the doctor’s chair.  I cannot bring myself to look up and meet the doctor’s piercing gaze as I finger the little fuzzy sticker that I have just removed from my forehead…..

But wait a minute.  I am getting ahead of myself here.  Let me go back to the beginning…..  India….

Heat shimmers on the cement floor and walls as I sit on one of a row of backless wooden benches in a doctor’s waiting room.  I hear a multitude of languages around me, none of them my own.

    “Hello, sister.”  My ears prick up at the sound of English, and I lift my head.  “Hello sister,” the voice repeats, louder this time.  I look behind me and a woman catches my eye and smiles.  She sits with her son, a boy of four or so, waiting for their turn to see the doctor.
Returning the smile, I greet her in Tamil, the local language that I am learning, “Vannakam, akka,”  (Greetings Sister.)
Delighted the woman asks me, “Tamil podingla?” (You speak Tamil?)
“Konchum konchum” (a little little bit), I tell her.  We exchange names, hers is Vatsala and her son is Santosh, and within moments I have expended my entire Tamil repertoire, but Vatsala is pleased that I know even this little bit of her language, that I have chosen to come from the United States to live and work here in Vellore.  She turns to Santosh and speaks quickly to him, giving him something from her purse.  Santosh patters to my side, his brown eyes bright.  He reaches up and touches my face, in the space directly between my eyebrows.  “Ungulukke, akka,” he tells me “for you, sister.”  I reach up and find he has placed a bindi, a stick-on tikka, on my forehead.  These are stickers often worn by Indian women, sometimes as a sign of marriage and sometimes simply for fashion.  Santosh flashes a smile at me, then returns to sit beside his mother.  He has reached beyond barriers of race, nationality, language, gender and age to place this symbol of his culture on my forehead.  Rubbing the sticker, I smile back at Santosh and Vatsala.

A nurse calls me.  I enter the doctor’s office and  sit down across from him and have sat for only a moment when he says to me, “You were not wearing that before.”  Pause.  Wearing what?  I wonder.  The doctor looks pointedly at my face, and I realize that he means the bindi on my forehead.
“No,” I respond, “A little boy in the waiting room gave it to me.”
“Christians do not wear those.  Only Hindus wear those.  Bindis are a symbol of idolatry.”
“He was a very small boy,” I fumble, trying to explain the generosity of this gift.  “I could not say no.”
“You missed an opportunity,” the doctor sitting across from me says, his voice as hard as the cement walls on all sides of us.  “You missed the opportunity to spread the gospel, to share the good news of Jesus’ love, to offer the message of salvation to that boy.”

So God created humankind in [God’s] image,… male and female God created them;

Thinking back,  I realize that the doctor was right, I did miss an opportunity.  However, he would be surprised if I were to tell him what opportunity I missed.  I missed the opportunity to articulate what is said in each “Namaste” voiced in the subcontinent, that the divinity in me greets the divinity in you.  Or rather, in the case of my meeting with Santosh, the divinity in him recognized, greeted and affirmed the divinity in me.  I missed the opportunity to tell the doctor that Santosh, in placing a bindi on my forehead, had looked beyond my foreigness to see our shared humanity, to acknowledge that, indeed, we are both created in the image of God.  I did not need to tell Santosh about Jesus, for it was Santosh who taught me about Jesus.  I missed the opportunity to tell a Christian dentist that if he but opened his heart and his eyes to the people around him, he might learn about Jesus’ radical hospitality, about recognizing the face of God in a stranger, in a Hindu child.

So God created humankind in [God’s] image,… male and female God created them.  What about us?  Who are the stranger around us in whom we are being called to recognize the image of God?  When has God been revealed to us…  in the simplest of things?

Let us pray:  Oh creator, you have made all people in your own image.  We ask that you open us to see you in all those we encounter, that we may have the humility to learn, in the simplest of things, about you and your son Jesus from anyone who will teach your grace, hospitality and generosity. Made in your image, may we recognize all people as our brothers and sisters.  Amen.

Vellangani Pilgrimage sight

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About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
This entry was posted in India, Seminary, Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu, India, Theological Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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