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Images, Idols, and Icons: Eyes to See

This week we have been unpacking what it means to have our eyes opened by God. Our description states “Our eyes are opened to see God at work around us and within us.” This is what Jesus did for the blind man and for Saul on the road to Damascus. The thrust of the meaning behind God’s word is that He helps us to see more clearly the ways in which He moves in our world. In short, God opens your eyes so you can see Him at work. One way we strive to grow in our sight is by seeing the Holy Spirit at work in the people around us. And this is what I want to explore today.

With God’s Help We Can See

The days of creation provide vital commentary on the character of our God. We learn just as much, if not more, about our Creator in these 7 days than we do about creation itself. And this is among the most important things we read:

So God Created man in his own image, in the image of God he create him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Text books and treatises have been written about the Imagio Dei–the Image of God. Indeed, civilizations have been formed and shaped by the impact and implications of this fact. You bear God’s image. You dog doesn’t and neither does your cat. Sharks nor lions nor chimpanzees. You do. Nothing else in the animal kingdom bears the same image. Well, no one except the other 7 billion people that we share this rock with–plus all those who have come before us and after us. That seems like a lot of people. But, we still stand out as different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Part of having our eyes opened is about the power of God to help us see the Image of God that is imprinted on others. In short, live your day looking for the Image of God in the people you come across. Look for the presence of God in the lives of your neighbor, your co-worker, or your waitress. Look for the Image of God in your children and grandchilden. And, look for the Image of God in your spouse–even during (or especially during) those times you are not seeing eye to eye. Celebrate that you–and everyone you come across for the whole of your lives–bears this same image.

You Shall Not….

From Genesis we jump ahead to Exodus 20 and the giving of the 10 Commandments. Here, in the Lutheran tradition, the First Commandment is “you shall have no other God’s before me.” And, included within its description of what this means we hear the prohibition: “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” What does this mean and why is it important?

For our ancestors, the Hebrew people, they were living their faith within a time when every tribe and nation had their own religion and god. The Babylonians worshiped Marduk. the Philistines worshiped Dagon. The Canaanites worship Ba’al. In every case, these people created statues, or idols, that became the physical representation of their god. They used them in worship. Idols were central to the life of the people across the world. They still are a part of many cultures and religious practices.

It was very odd that Israel never had an idol. Have you ever felt left out because you didn’t have what everyone else had? This was the life of the Israelites in so many ways. Over and over again and in a variety of ways God continued to not budge on this strange law–No idols.

But why? Why does it matter if an idol of Elohim (a name for the God of the Israelites) was created?

The most compelling reason goes back to the Image. We don’t need an idol because you are the idol. We don’t need graven images, carved and etched to look like something because every where you look is one that bears the image of God. Instead of looking to something made of wood or cast with precious metals–look to your neighbor. Look at yourself. Look at your loved ones. These are the idols to remind us and open our eyes to see God at work.

Now, obviously, we can’t take this too far. We don’t worship one another. We don’t praise and pray to people because of the Holy Spirit that rests within their hearts. But, it is certainly true that we see the handiwork of God on display in the lives of people.

Think for a moment of someone who shows you Jesus by how they live.

What Do You See?

Finally, I want to speak about Icons. Icons are those pieces of Christian art that are more often seen in Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. They are sometimes used within the realm of worship and often used as a part of devotion and prayer time. The art and beauty of Icons are used to invite you into the image. They often tell of scenes from the bible and they are created to invite you into God’s story. While it is not our traditional practice in the Lutheran church, there is some beauty in these works of worship arts.

One way that icons are used is to give your mind a place to focus as you pray. My mind wanders–constantly. I’m guessing I am not alone. An icon gives us a place to focus our eyes and our mind as we come to the Lord in prayer and meditation. In other words, icons help us focus on Jesus.

So, here is the challenge: be an icon. Live your life in such a way that others might see Jesus more clearly by how you live. And, be on the lookout for people who are living in such a way that you see Jesus more clearly. We are commanded to not have idols because we are the images. So, by the Holy Spirit, embrace this calling and help others to see Jesus at work in the world around them because of your hands and feet. Stand out from the rest of society. Love, even when it is hard. Be kind in a current climate that is mean spirited. Extend grace. And, point out God’s goodness as you see it in the lives of others.

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