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Input for 18th February 2007

All of the input at ecofaith is tailored to the community and the worship which surrounds it, but I include some of the input pieces here for members who miss the week, and to give visitors a sense of the kids of things we deal with. Others are too ad libbed or brief to make sense.

Some theology which most Christians have professed for most of history, derived from the first chapters of Genesis:

Humans alone are the image of God (actually men alone)
Humans are given dominion over life (first story) or ordered to be the servant of life (second story)
Humans mucked it up (literally or metaphorically)- the Fall, in which we continue to be trapped somehow, full of sinfulness or sinful desires that God did not intend, but which we brought on ourselves, and which we are helpless to overcome.
Pain and death are bad, evil, and need to be explained somehow

All of these need to be revisited in the light of what we now know about our world, and by implication about ourselves and our God.

Not sure how I will get to all of this, Easter is rushing on us, but hope is by easter we will be well placed to think about what easter, and communion, mean if God is the God of all life, and we are part of life, not the centre of it.

 Today: Image of God, neighbour, “other”, family, brother/sister? Includes all of life.

We know from science that we are all genetically related, with common ancestry.  We are a family, no matter how distantly related.  The same event which helped the first eukaryotic microbes survive increasing oxygen levels billions of years ago keeps us alive.  We are a symbiosis of much of what has gone before.

The image of God has always really been acclaim of two things: those who are in God’s image have a relationship with God that other’s don’t.  And a special role and responsibility.

When Genesis 1 was written, the Babylonians said that the Emperor was the image of God.  The priestly writers of Genesis claimed that actually all men (and only men), were the image of God.  They cunningly rejected the authority of the emperor (and emphasized their own).

The church now universally (almost) acknowledges that all humans are created in the image of God.  Women, people of different races and different abilities.  All show the image of God equally.  Anathema to the writers of the Old Testament.

Except to some of the prophets.  Who said that the Jews were not in a favoured relationship with God, nor was their role any more privileged or important than anyone elses.


Just how shocking is seen in this story of Jesus, his first recorded sermon:

But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;  yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

His friends were shocked to hear that God loves other humans as much as them, and might even prioritise their welfare!  Shocked enough to kill this guy they had all grown up with!

Today we cope with that idea.  All humans have the image.  But what of the idea that all of life has the image?  That God might even prioritise the welfare of others animals over our own species at times?

I haven’t got time to make the argument, all I can say is that I think an honest reading of the stories coming to us from those investigating our world, unless we cling to theological presuppositions, leads inevitably to the view that humans are not a distinct species.  That we exist on a continuum with all our other animals relatives in all of our abilities and traits, and that we therefore all share the image of God (All of life has a relationship with God, and all species and individuals have their own special role to play).

So here is my suggestion that we try on for this year.  When we say people, we means persons: anything with personality.  IE, not just humans.  Humans are people, but all people aren’t human.

That we consider all of life to be the image of God, and therefore look to meet God in all of life.

That when we hear traditional Christian language like, “least of these,” “neighbour,” “other”, brother/sister we do not artificially pull a barrier down between our species and others, like the Jews used to do between their race and others, or men used to be between men and women.

This is different, but not a creation out of nothing.  It is continuing the tendency found throughout the scriptures, in Jesus’ ministry, and then through church history, to draw the circle around who is “in” and “out”, around who is neighbour, ever wider.

Many Christians have already done this quite apart from sciences like evolution and ecology, but I believe evolution and ecology leave is no choice but to do so, or to sacrifice our integrity.

How we do that, what choices we make around that, and the extent to which we do it will be up to all of us to discern individually (in conversation), but that we must do it is I think indisputable. That we encourage others to do the same is highly desirable.