4 Lent

Num. 21:4-9
Ps. 107:1-3, 17-22
Eph. 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Depravity is not the problem, certainly not the first homiletic challenge. Illustrations of the worst human behavior are too easy to find; a mere glance at the endless news cycle or a moment’s reflection before one’s own conscience will lay it all bare. Yet what is really accomplished by staring at human wickedness? Perhaps the hope is to highlight our need for redemption, a Savior, a rescue from beyond this world.

Still, there can be something indulgent and morbid in this, the way people stop to gawk at a terrible car accident or a horrific crime scene. There is, let us admit, a kind of sick and alluring pleasure in horror and evil. It may seem right and serious to face it, but that does not in any sense equip us to overcome it. Consider the strange fact that people who live amid the daily threat of poverty, famine, and war, often pour out exhilarating praises of God and words of hope. They do not need to remind themselves of what they see at every turn. What they need is a hope by which to endure their lives (Rom. 8:24).

“If you want people to understand that they have fallen, you have to show them the height from which they have fallen,” Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann said. If we start with how God intends us to be, we have a place of transcendent inspiration to place our hope and invigorate our souls for action. Who are we?

“God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). We are created to complement and help each other (Gen. 2:18). The image of God has been variously interpreted: male and female; memory, reason, and skill; mind, body, spirit; an inward Trinity and the capacity for endless love. We are, in the Father’s eyes, a beautiful reflection of God, walking icons of holiness.

A remarkable passage from Ephesians says that we are “what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:9). There is more to be said, however, about that phrase, “what he made us.” Translators have used a variety of words: workmanship, handiwork, accomplishment, creation. “We are the workmanship of God.” Even more striking is the use, by a few translators, of the words masterpiece and poetry. “We are God’s masterpiece!”

Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue, describes why God created human beings. “I want and ask for a special grace: What is that inestimable love that moved you to create humanity in your image and likeness? What or who was the cause of conferring such dignity on human beings? Indeed, [it is] inestimable love alone with which you have seen your creation in yourself, and by which you were caught [seized by love].”

Pursuing a similar thought, also through a vision, Dame Julian of Norwich, near the end of her Showings, wrote, “Thus I learned that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw full surely that ere God made us he loved us; which love has never slackened, nor ever shall.”

We have been created in the image and likeness of God; endowed with memory, reason, and skill; made for each other and mutual support; created from love and for love; adorned with beauty; fashioned a singular masterpiece; inscribed as a poem for the ages. Behold the height from which we have fallen!

Although we have fallen, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). In Christ, we are a masterpiece restored.

Look It Up: Ephesians 2:9-19

Think About It: We are the handiwork of God for good works.