June 4, 2023

From Trampling to Dancing

This sermon was published in the “Rewilding Preaching” issue of The Preacher and preached at St. Margaret of Antioch, Toxteth on Trinity Sunday, 2023

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
II Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

The Image of God & The Reflection of Trees

We are made in the image of God. What’s more, we are made in the image of the Triune God, the plural God who says, “let us make humankind in our image,” the one God who “created humankind in his image.” We are made in the image of the God who is a divine dance; the God in whom there is eternal motion and embrace; the God whose movements have no hierarchy, but from them overflows a creation infinitely beloved. It is this dance which St. Paul characterises with grace, love, and communion. We are made in the image of God.

We are made as a reflection of trees. On four days, God speaks only once. On the third and sixth days, God speaks twice. On those days, God makes something extra, something fruitful, something that grows from the soil, from the humus: trees and humans. Throughout history, we and trees grow together, we carry each other across land and water, we sustain each other with our every breath. In and out. Our respiration, their photosynthesis.

Let me tell you about three choices and three trees.
One day, humans chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life. We shattered the reflective connection with our tree siblings, lifting ourselves up above them. We marred the dancing, undivided image of God within ourselves, making hierarchy part of our character, separating ourselves from creation, and consuming instead of pouring out.
On another day, the humans lifted up a man and nailed him to a dead tree. We forgot the image we bear and didn’t recognise him when he came. As we chose the dead tree though, the man chose life, and was planted as a seed which bore new life.
On the last day, we will finally choose the tree of life, with which we will live and grow in the new heaven and the new earth, lifting high the God for whom we were created.

Dominion

God creates humans as reflections of trees, and then gives them dominion over creation. The word dominion is a rich one, with connotations of treading and trampling. God creates humans so that they might tread the earth: ploughing, forming and co-creating. Within that same power though is the ability to trample the earth: exploiting, manipulating and destroying.

Humans choose the wrong tree. We forget that we are created as part of this creation, and we lift ourselves above it. We don’t choose the life of cultivators, but the knowledge of manipulators. This knowledge of good and evil curses us even now. There are no neutral actions when it comes to our dominion over nature. We are constantly choosing to participate in an exploitative culture; or failing to challenge manipulation; or observing destruction. How then can we choose other than our first ancestors chose? How can we stop using our dominion to trample, and begin to tread again?

Authority

The answer is found in the second tree. It was in Jesus’ very submission to fallen creation and trampling humanity, that he was lifted high on the cross, and given the absolute authority which he tells his disciples about in the great commission.

Jesus, in his perfect humanity, has taken on the privilege and the curse of dominion, and is the human with authority over all creation. The commission which he gives in Matthew is simpler than that in Genesis: “Make disciples, baptize, teach, obey, remember.” We have, in that perfect human, a pattern and a model for treading and not trampling. But what’s more, we have a God who is with us always, constantly at work reforming us and creation into the new perfection.

We are being reformed into the humanity of Christ. The perfection of that triune image and treelike reflection. If we can only let go of our desperation for status and knowledge, we will find their fulfilment in our re-creation.

Dancing

So, let us grasp that hand which God extends in both commissions: the invitation to embrace our identity and dance. Let’s step, and sway, and embrace both God and creation. Let’s leap, and fling, and get out of breath, so that we can breathe in the oxygen our tree siblings breathe out, and inhale the Spirit which our Christ and God exhales.

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