Journeys Through The Bible- IDENTITY SERIES


“Journey through the Bible: Identity” Series                                                August 20, 2017

“First Commandment”


Genesis 1:26-27


            Who are you? Well, it sounds like an easy question on the surface and not necessarily one that could be worth delving into more deeply. My name is David Milam. I’m married to Bonnie. We have three wonderful children and six beloved grandchildren. I’m a pastor, becoming one through a conversion experience while in college, through which Jesus took center stage in my life. And I still believe in Jesus not only as my Lord and Savior, but also as the one who offers peace to the world, a teaching that can bring community to our broken world along with the promise of life everlasting whether we have faith or not.

            Well, maybe that was more about “Who I am,” than you really wanted to hear. Others would answer this question of who they are, perhaps less ideally and heroically. Actress Lena Dunham, for instance, describes herself quest for identity in this way: “

I have work, and then I have a dinner thing. And then I am busy, trying to become who I am.” Comedian Louis C.K. quips: “Every day starts, my eyes open and I reload the program of misery. I open my eyes, remember who I am, what I’m like, and I just go, ‘Ugh’.” Playwright William Shakespeare takes a more philosophical stance, questioning: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?

” But in all of these, the question of identity is answered differently than in Genesis, because if you think about it, when Genesis reports that humankind was created in God’s image, male and female, you might notice two edgy things. First, to carry God’s image connects us to God. We are not ourselves except by reflecting who God is. And second, because in this version of the creation story, humankind is not created first as male and then as female, but both are created at the same time – and so, in relation with another.

            This morning, we start a year of sermons that will take us through several journeys through the Bible, hopefully helping us to see how themes are introduced and developed as the Bible wends its way from creation to Israel to Jesus and the church.  Our reading from the Book of Genesis introduces the notion of identity by capturing a sense of intent about who we are by saying: “Then the Lord God made humankind, in God’s image they were created, male and female God created them.”

            And this is an intriguing statement, especially if you take into consideration historians’ accounts about where and when the Genesis 1 creation story is written. Genesis 1 is written in Babylon, sometime in the period between 586 BC and the forty or fifty years that follow during which the Jews live in captivity, taken away from their homes, the places of familiarity and identity, as it were.

We can imagine how jarring this is because our world is so full of displaced persons in our modern era. So much of our western anxiety comes from the frenzied fear that gets put out there of what people driven out of their homeland might do. Perhaps we would do well to employ our imagination and empathy to see that if these are welcomed and embraced, that they might be able to adapt. But if they don’t want to adapt? Israel didn’t want to be assimilated into Babylon during their exile. They worked on a Plan B, that would put them in a more responsive and grateful place. They wanted to renew their faith in Yahweh, so that they might be worthy of returning home. And yet, here in this story of God’s graciousness and goodness in creating all things, instead of narrowing the sense of God’s care to that of the tribe, or nation, to any of these as individuals, in Genesis 1, they showed God creating all humans in God’s very likeness, in covenant responsiveness to God’s generous hand. And they also affirmed that they were linked to one another. Perhaps they are using a marital relationship as a model here, but only as an epitome of what kind of love and faithfulness by which we ought to speak of who we are, of our identity.

With all of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend and with the national conversation that has been taking place since then, I’ve been reading accounts not only of what happened in the details of last Friday and Saturday, but also of how people seeing how this effects who they are. Two stories especially caught my eye, that affirm this sense that we are who we are not in isolation from God and one another, but by covenant, by God’s purpose, in relationship with one another.

The first comes from the story of conversion, if you will. Christian Picciolini, who has co-founded a group called Life after Hate, is a former White Nationalist and neo-Nazi. He writes about how he was attracted into this supremacist groups because he was lost and lonely as a teen. He didn’t join them because of their ideology, but rather because he felt abandoned by others as a sixteen year old. Like kids who join gangs, he found himself wanted by a group, assuaging his keen sense of being lost. But at 22, he became a father and this changed him. He reflected “that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.” In some manner, he is citing Genesis language.

The problem is that we can be selective about how we apply this language of being made in God’s image – the image being fractured or the breadth of how far the sense of community extends. One of the issues that I want to get into (and will do so next week) is “the freedom of God.” God is not made in our image, which is one of the ways we twist the Genesis phrase, which also means that we limit what it means about being made in the image of God if we bind God to smaller notions and believe that we can take away God’s freedom.

This limiting of God’s freedom and the barriers erected to who all bears God’s image has been in the news this past week falling last weekend’s events in Charlottesville. As rough as, and as political as, the week has been, we have but seen the tip of the iceberg of where we are challenged.

I’ve been reading a lot on our horrible American history with regards to race this past year and have learned to see that despite moments that promise transformation and progress that these are always countered and undermined by new forms of hate and terror, by a narrative of racism and white supremacy that has been the contradiction that has beset our hope in how we’ve said that all people are created equally, is also deep within us, and asks to be addressed.  

Kelly Brown Douglas’ book,

Stand Your Ground, is my latest read and to illustrate this she tells a very personal story of taking her, then, two year old son to a playground one day. The playground was across the way from an elementary school which was in session, and had these colorfully painted little cars that immediately attracted Douglas’ son. At recess, a couple of 1st or 2nd

grade boys came over to the playground, one of them wanting to play in the car. Douglas’ son back off, but as two-year-old children often are, he was fascinated with what the older child was doing and watched him with focused curiosity and probably delight. But the six-seven-year-old boy didn’t like being watched, and to Kelly Brown Douglas’ surprise, turned an ugly face towards him, pointed his finger at him and said: “You better stop looking at us, before I put you in jail where you belong.”

Douglas was appropriately stunned at this, that her African American son at two-years-old had already been criminalized by a six-year-old because of his skin color. But what happened next was even more disturbing. Because next, the teacher came over with Douglas hoping that the child would be corrected. “Instead,” says Douglas, “she looked at my two-year-old son as if he were the perpetrator of some crime and said to the little boys: ‘Come on with me, before there is trouble.’” This was no member of a neo-Nazi group or the KKK. This was not a person who necessarily voted for one party or the other. This was an occurrence that plays out over and over in the attitudes and actions in everyday life in our country. And it is the issue that needs addressing, dramatized by Charlottesville and the fall out that took place afterwards.

And it has to do with how we understand about who we are. Genesis 1 says that we are made in the image of God and that as male and female, in other words as a community that includes the whole human race that will follow this first mother and father. In the next few weeks to follow, let us explore what the Bible says further about our identity. Stay tuned. Amen.