The Spittin’ Image of the Holy One

Sermon for All Saints + November 7, 2010

  • Saint, a word we tend not to toss around, unless you are a fan of the NFL team from New Orleans. 
  • Saint, a word from the Greek hagios, which means holy or set apart for God’s use. 
  • Saint, a word we use to refer to super-hero Christians, the twelve Apostles, Paul, Martin Luther, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu. 
  • Saint, a word we use to refer to our dead relatives, how many of you have saintly grandparents, parents, aunts, or uncles?  
  • Saint, a word used to describe all the baptized, people the Gospel or the Word has touched.

You brothers and sisters in Christ, all of you gathered here today, in this place, right now are holy.  We gather in this holy place, to hear God’s holy Word, to receive holy things God uses to forgive and feed those the Holy One claims as holy people, set apart for God’s use.

“Okay pastor that sounds all well and good, but my mother was (or is) a saint, but I’m certainly not!”  I’m far from perfect you may be thinking, and you know, I know and God knows you’re right.  But the good news is that it doesn’t matter to God… God gave you and me Jesus, our inheritance so that we who listen and live in Christ are holy people. 

So while we might usually think of a saint as some sort of super-Christian, we know from the Holy Bible that Paul addresses all Christians in Ephesus and at Corinth as saints.  We also know from the letters of the New Testament, that some of those “saints” were living less than “saintly” lives.  So you see a saint is not only one, who is made holy, but also one who is blessed by God. 

In the beginning God spoke:

Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth. 

God created human beings; God created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature.  God created them male and female and God blessed them.  The famous Danish theologian of the 19th century, Soren Kierkegaard said,

God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.

So we are made in the image of the God, like Adam we remember we are dust and to that dust we will return.  But mixed with that dust is the creative power of God, the holy breath, spirit and spit of our Creator.

We and all the saints are made in the spittin image of God.  That wonderful phrase that you might have heard, or used when one person is so much like their parent that people say, he or she is the spittin image of their mother or father.  I didn’t hear that particular phrase when my parents were here for the installation, but did hear about how much I looked like them.

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I have a friend who loves to play separated at birth, the game where you name a famous person that someone in your life looks like.  He is not alone, and in popular culture, a doppelgänger is a tangible look-alike of a living person, the word from the German doppel(e) for double.  Even some of you play this game, thinking a former interim pastor looked like Radar O’Reilly or was it Father Mulchahy from M.A.S.H.?  We all look like someone. 

When I was in college, I worked as a restaurant assistant manager and bartender.  One day a waitress waiting to pick-up drinks for a table asked if I had a twin brother.  I said no and didn’t think much of it.  She came back for another table and said, how about a European cousin?  I said no, but she said that when I had a chance I needed to check on table number 12.  So I stopped by table 12 to see how everything was going and there in seat 2 at the table was a mirror image, well almost, he had brown eyes.  But there with his family was a face from Finland that looked eerily like me.  We all look like someone. 

Twenty years later as I walked across the campus of the university I worked at, two guys working on a building near mine stopped me and asked if I was related to Al Gore.  You may recall that after the former vice president lost the 2000 election, he grew a beard, and for months until that building project was done, I had construction guys saying hi Al every time I walked by.  We all look like someone. 

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The phrase spitting image itself is of an uncertain linguistic origin.  It comes from the informal spit and image, referring to a person who bears a strong physical resemblance to another, especially to a relative.  Some believe this phrase most likely derives from the dialect of the South where spit was a corruption of spirit and spittin’.  With a slight shift, spirit and image meant that a child, who is the spittin’ image of their parent, resembles them in both spirit and image.  It is as God spoke in Genesis, we are made in the image and nature of God, the two representing the both the intangible and the tangible.

So we holy people, are made in the spirit and image of the Holy One, Holy Three.  Which means that you and I are both the stuff that our God is made of (the spirit or spit) and we look like God too (the image).  In the old standby dictionary, Webster’s says that one of the older uses of spittin’ image dispenses with the image, as in “You are the very spit of your father,” i.e., he might just have spit you out.   

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We all look like someone, the same Holy One, Holy Three who made us, who sustains us, who lived and died for us.  We all are made holy, claimed, given an inheritance in Jesus the Christ, set apart for God’s use in the waters of baptism, and blessed.  We all as part of the body of Christ as individual Christians, and gathered together as the body of Christ the Church look familiar and act in similar ways, as holy spirit and image for the world.  

Blessed are you holy people, saints who gather together not to live perfect lives, but because we are drawn to Christ who is present in the reading and preaching of the Holy Book,  whose risen presence is at the center of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  When Christ is present, so are all who are drawn to him, who are in him, and who live with him, throughout time and space. 

The communion of saints gathers whenever and wherever he is.  In Christ holiness is relationship and connection to others.  This practice, or lifestyle of holiness involves as Lutheran Liturgical Theologian Gordon Lathrop says, the constant work on the open door, both that all others may come in and that what is seen in the liturgy may flow out.  The practice of holiness is the discovery of God’s gift to all of us [saints] together.

In many churches, particularly in the Swedish Church, the communion rail is traditionally semi-circular.  This visible half circle was a reminder that we are in communion with the entire cloud of witnesses, those who now kneel, those who generations ago knelt, and those generation to come who someday will kneel for Holy Communion.  The circle image of the connectedness of heaven and earth, the saints around us, the saints at rest, and the saints yet to be made in the spittin’ image of God.

  • Holy people, today we remember how a few ordinary sinners like you and me can gather together around holy things for holy people in places like this and in unexpected times and places in our lives.
  • Holy people, today we remember we are all made in the spirit and image of God, blessed so that we can be a blessing by living in and sharing God’s holy love with others. 
  • Holy people, today we remember and rejoice.  Blessed are you, holy are you!  Rejoice and be glad!  Yours is the kingdom of God!
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