In God’s Image; Working for Justice

A short invocation I gave on November 8, 2020, in Norristown, PA at the invitation of People 1st PA and other progressive organizations.

Good afternoon!

My name is Rabbi Maurice Harris, I live in Montgomery County, and I’m honored to start us off with a few words. I’ve been asked to speak for a few minutes and to offer a prayer. In my tradition learning is itself a kind of prayer, so I’d like to share some of my recent learning with you, and close with the kind of prayer that can be summed up in two words: “Help us.”

First, the learning part. You’ve probably heard before that all of the major monotheistic religions teach that every human being is created in God’s image. The first place we find this idea in the Hebrew Bible is in the very first chapter of Genesis. There we read:

And God said, “Let us make the human being in our image, patterned after our design. And God created humankind in God’s image; in the image of the Divine, God created the first human; male and female, God created them.”

Some of you might be asking, “Wait, what about the Adam and Eve in the garden story?” That story is in the Bible too, but there are two accounts of the creation in the Bible, and the one that speaks to this moment, and to the work of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, is the one I’ve just quoted from. The one in which the first human created by God has no specific gender, is the ancestor of all humans to come, and is created in God’s image. All people – you, me, our neighbors, our ancestors, our allies and our oppressors – all of us bear the seal and imprint of the Creative Consciousness at the heart of Reality.

This is … amazing. And it is also the foundation for the call to build a just society.

The ancient rabbis offered a metaphor to explain the huge implications of this teaching. They ask us for a moment to imagine God as being like a human king whose government has coins minted with his face appearing on all of the coins of the realm. Millions, maybe billions, of coins are minted and circulated, and in the case of a human king, the image of the face on each coin is identical. But in God’s case, it’s our human faces, created in God’s image, that are the faces on the billions of coins God has minted. Each coin has God’s face minted on it, and yet no two coins are alike – no two coins have the same face on them, because every human face is unique. This is the miraculous bond that all human being share: diversity and unity in the loving embrace of a Creator whose image we each reflect.

So, if all of us are the descendants of the same ancestor, and all of us reflect the Divine image, what does that mean?

It means that to humiliate a person is to diminish the image of God.

It means that to oppress people because of their race, their class, their gender, or for any reason, is a desecration of God’s image.

It means that if we deny workers, children, families, the elderly, disabled folks and newborns decent healthcare, we turn our backs on God in our midst.

It means that the way we know that all lives matter is when Black Lives Matter, because either the image of God is found in every Black and Brown face or it is found in no face.

It means that when you try to cheat people by not counting their votes you are trying to cheat their Maker.

And it means that if the structures and systems of our society are unjust and even cruel, then God’s image is diminished every time another person suffers or dies because of it. Every time a mother agonizes over where her child is because her family was separated in a detention camp at our southern border, a part of God is torn. Every time someone dies of COVID in part because of their skin color and their zip code, God loses a child. Every time a white person who is angry about being asked to wear a mask is allowed to roam the streets with an assault weapon, unmolested by police, while a black person is shot to death by police for holding a cell phone or a toy gun – every time the injustice that’s baked in deeply claims another victim, God’s image is desecrated.

A dear friend of Dr. Martin Luther King’s, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, put it this way: “God is every person’s pedigree. God is either the parent of all people or of no one. The image of God is either in every person or in no person.” Rabbi Heschel also said, “What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of inequality. … Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” We share the responsibility to strive for justice. We can’t be sure we’ll finish the work, but as Dr. King himself taught, we have Cosmic Companionship in the struggle for justice. And so now I offer my simple prayer.

God, help us. This is hard. This is exhausting. This is scary. We have been brave and we are brave. But we need help.

Give us strength.

Give us patience.

Give us solidarity.

Give us endurance.

And yes give us also the joy of pursuing justice together.

Answer us now, be with us tomorrow, be our companion along this long and winding road, and help us help each other. Amen.

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