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“I Am Who I Am”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Exodus 3:1-15

 

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.


 

If you spent any time in Sunday School as a child, you probably know well this story of Moses and the burning bush.  It is a beautiful and most surprising story – how God meets with Moses in a bush that is burning but not consumed!  And this story is also most relatable, as Moses makes every excuse he can think of, before accepting God’s call and following in obedience.

It makes me love Moses even more!

 

It strikes me on this reading that a bush that burns, yet is not consumed is what we want from our lives.  We want to burn with passion, energy, ideas, strength, and power…without being consumed.  But alas, quite often we burn until there is nothing left.  We are consumed.  We burn out.  We have long sought out pills and remedies, herbs and vitamins, exercises and regimens, energy drinks and caffeine, gurus and yogis…  But the fact remains:  our energy is limited.  We reach our limits.  And we must refuel.  We must rest.  We must retreat.  We must restore.

But here is God – speaking through a bush, on fire, yet not consumed.

God is that eternal source of energy, of passion, of brightness and hot power.  And yet God does not grow weary or reach the limits.  God does not have to put the cell phone on “Do Not Disturb” and take a break from the masses, seeking God out.

And I don’t know for sure about you, but I have long sought to live beyond my limits.  I have chosen to ignore my own bodily and emotional needs, to serve others.  But we are not God.  We cannot burn that brightly, without being consumed.  God is God and we are not.

And I find this attribute of God most reassuring.  When we sing the old hymn, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” we can sing that with the confidence, that God’s hands are steadfast, reliable, unwavering.  When we pray at all hours of the day and night, we are confident God hears our prayers.  In whatever state we find ourselves, high on life and feeling good or scraping the bottom of the barrel, God is there for the finding.

Thanks be to God!

 

I am also struck that Moses is in this wilderness precisely because he raged hot with anger.  He burned with passion over the mistreatment of the Israelite people and took matters into his own hands, killing the Egyptian who’d been beating an enslaved worker.  This Moses was a passionate young man, and it got him here – in the middle of the wilderness, alone, and needing to find himself again in running away and a quiet life.  He burned so brightly with rage that he utterly burned out, for decades!  And it takes God – burning hot in that bush but not consuming it – to get Moses’ attention and to set him back effectively on the path of freeing his people.

 

The second thing that strikes me about this story is God’s response to Moses’ question:  “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God responds, “I am who I am… Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Now, is this not one of the most vague answers ever?  What does it even mean?
“I Am” is not a name, is it?  …And yet, there is so much this says and doesn’t say about God.

First off, it is not gendered.  Though Moses’ question assumes a male, God’s answer does not.  God is not to be limited by a name.  God is not to be hedged in by our assumptions about a name.  God is God.  God is.  And God is indescribable.

In the Hebrew faith tradition that would emerge from these stories and experiences with God, the people took to calling God Yahweh.  But the name was never to be written with the vowels.  With consonants only, it was a word never to be spoken.  It was considered too sacred to be uttered.  And perhaps they recognized that every name would be too small to hold the God of all the Universe in its meaning.

God’s answer, “I Am who I Am,” refuses to be pigeon-holed.  It is a name that instantly reminds the listener, that God is far and away, above and beyond anything the listener could understand or imagine.  No words are enough.  But God is real.  God is alive.   And God is present.

 

What would happen if we started using these words for God:  I Am?

Would it cause us to pause for a moment?

Might we stop to realize that God is unknowable, God is unpredictable, God is surprising and uncontainable?

Might we step back from our efforts to the control – those efforts that seem so well justified because we are so very sure we are right?

Might our entire positioning…change
When we remember, rightly, that we now only “see, as through a mirror, dimly”?

Might we expect to be amazed and humbled when we finally see the great I AM, face to face?

 

Might we remember humbly,
…That God is God, and we are not?

 

 

Listen to the Song, “Cannot Keep You” by Gungor. 

They tried to keep you in a tent
They could not keep you in a temple
Or any of their idols
To see and understand
We cannot keep you in a church
We cannot keep you in a Bible
It’s just another idol
To box you in
They could not keep you in their walls
We cannot keep you in ours either
For You are so much greater
Who is like the Lord?
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord?
We’ve tried to keep you in a tent
We’ve tried to keep you in a temples
We’ve worshiped all their idols
We want all that to end
So we will find you in the streets
And we will find you in the prisons
And even in our Bibles, and churches
Who is like the Lord?
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord?
We cannot contain
Cannot contain the glory of Your name
We cannot contain
Cannot contain the glory of Your name
We cannot contain
Cannot contain the glory of Your name
Who is like the Lord?
You took me from the ashes
And healed me of my blindness
Who is like the Lord?

 

 

PRAYERS                     (Iona Abby WB)

O God, you have set before us a great hope that your kingdom will come on earth, and have taught us to pray for its coming;  make us ready to thank you for the signs of its dawning, and to pray and work for the perfect day when your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

O Christ, you are within each one of us.  It is not just the interior of these walls:  it is our own inner being that you have renewed.  We are your temple, not made with hands.  We are your body.  If every wall should crumble, and every church decay, we are your habitation.  Nearer are you than breathing, closer than hands and feet.  Ours are the eyes with which you, in the mystery, look out with compassion on the world.  Yet we bless you for this place, for your directing of us, your redeeming of us, and your indwelling.  Take us outside, O Christ, outside holiness, out to where soldiers curse and nations clash at the crossroads of the world.  So shall this building continue to be justified.  We ask it for your own name’s sake.

 

 

 

“Alone, to Pray”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 10:5-13
Matthew 14: 22-33

 

Romans 10:5-13

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Matthew 14:22-33

 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

~~~~~

 

In this story of Jesus and his disciples,
…after their great meal, the feeding of the five thousand,
…after hearing Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod…

Jesus has had one LONG day, has he not?

 

Any one of these things – hearing evil news of murder of one’s own family member, traveling, unexpectedly working and healing all the sick, teaching the crowds, feeding the crowd – any of these would aloe have made for a full day.

And here Jesus is, dismissing the crowd by himself. 

Notice, he has sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the sea for a rest.  But Jesus stays back to “dismiss the crowd.”

 

Jesus is the distraction.
Jesus is the feature.

The people are there to see him, and he takes those sacred moments and hours – to the end – to see them,
to be with them,
to heal them,
to teach them.

 

Now, I’d have recommended precisely the opposite scenario.

Of all his crew, I’d guess that it’s Jesus who has had the most emotionally draining day.  HE is the one most in need of retreat, of sleep, of solitude.  I would have recommended the disciples run interference.  In fact, they could have rallied the crowd beforehand and afterward in my book.  They could have saved Jesus’ time and energy considerably, if all he had to do was appear for a measured few hours in the public eye.

But Jesus has done the opposite.

For HE stays behind to dismiss the crowd.

 

Now, this image plays very well into the southern, Christian, stoic woman script I learned through-out my growing years.

As a southern, Christian, stoic woman, you come first and leave last.  You ask what is needed of you from others and not what you need.  You tend to others and not to yourself.  You press emotions and issues tidily into closets, and keep on going.  This describes my grandma to a tee.  Anything less would be selfish, would it not!?

It has only been in the past couple decades that the toxicity of living this script for so long began to reveal itself to me.  I was dying, more and more, to my truest self.  I was co-dependent:  caring for others while expecting them to care for me.  Frustrated but unallowed to be frustrated, the closet doors to my emotions were becoming harder and harder to close and tuck away.

 

Now my wife, on the other hand, was not raised within this American, southern-woman culture.  And she is good at taking care of herself. 

It used to make me really annoyed.

She didn’t play by my internal script.  SHE cared for herself – so she’d be renewed and have more to give.  SHE exercised regularly – taking time for herself.  SHE met up with friends and shared scrumptious meals.

And all of this grated my nerves.

 

Why?

Because I was downright jealous!  I wanted to exercise regularly.  I wanted to meet up with friends and share scrumptious meals.  I wanted to be cared for and to feel renewed.

 

But I had been fed this lie that self-care was selfish. 

I had been fed this lie that loving myself more meant loving others and God less.

I was living in the lie that this world is scarce – that some for me means less for you – and not in the abundance of Christ – that there is enough for both you and me, and that my wellbeing means I have more to give in relationship.

I had a lot to relearn.  I needed to learn her ways!!

 

And so when I read what Jesus does here – staying back alone to dismiss the crowd – I get anxious.  This is where I start to doubt my own self-care because Jesus’s action appears very self-less.

I bring this up to caution those of us who are tempted – like me – to return to those familiar places of guilt and self-neglect.

What we do see however, is that Jesus has more resources for taking care of himself.  It seems he does not need to leave early to head back home by boat, seeing as he can simply walk across stormy seas on his own two feet, at will.  He is not limited by his humanity – by fears and disbelief – he doesn’t sink like Peter; he is living fully within the power and possibility of God.

This plan of sending the disciples away first also affords Jesus the opportunity to be alone, and that is what he does.  He seeks out a solitary place.  He climbs a mountainside and there, he prays.

Jesus has done what he needs.  Jesus is taking care of himself.  EVEN JESUS, needs time alone, in communion with God.

How much moreso do we?
How much moreso do we need time alone?
How much moreso do we need time alone to pray?

 

As compassionate as Jesus is, he does not work through the night, no.   He dismisses the crowd.  He does this personally.  He does this compassionately.  But he does it.  He sends folks away.  He sends them home.

And then he retreats alone to the one place he is truly at home – with his Heavenly Father, with God.

 

This is Jesus taking care of himself. 

This is Jesus taking time for himself.
This is Jesus drinking from the well of living water.
This is Jesus waiting on God, and rising up on wings, as eagles.
This is Jesus setting his boundary.

Though God the Son, Jesus is still in the flesh; therefore, he still needs rest, he still needs solitude, he still needs deliberate times of communion with God.

 

And following this time of renewal,

…he once again seeks out his disciples in their time of great need,
…and once again he shows them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God
– preaching without words, as he walks across the very sea amidst the storm.

 

Jesus preached all the time and only sometimes with words. 

His actions speak the loudest.

And what comes through to me in this story is both his compassion to dismiss the crowds himself, face to face, and his boundaries at setting aside his evening to rest and prayer and renewal.

Some of us find it quite difficult to BOTH have compassion AND set boundaries.
But Love showed us both.
Jesus showed us both.
God shows us both.

 

When we love others while loving ourselves – setting healthy boundaries to take care of our own needs – we most shine God’s own love; we demonstrate God’s love, just as Jesus did on the evening of that very long day.

 

Let us pray.

God reveal to us when we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought; when we think we can and therefore try to do everything,

as if we ourselves were you,
as if we ourselves didn’t also need to retreat – to be alone, to hike and rest and pray.

God, we truly need you.  Help us to know and to acknowledge our own boundaries and limitations.  And may we honor who you’ve made us to be – limitations and all – by caring for ourselves with tender, gracious wisdom
…just as Jesus did on the evening of that LONG day.

 

In our LONG days, draw us into your presence and speak life into our death.
For we absolutely need you.
Everyday,
We need you. 

 

Amen.

“Trees Beside the Stream”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.

 

Psalm 1

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


 

These two passages, the first from Jeremiah and the second from the Psalms – they are strikingly similar.  They both contrast two different ways of living.  In Jeremiah, the contrast is between those who trust in mortals, in people, and those who trust in the Lord.  Then in Psalms, a contrast is drawn between those who follow the advice of the wicked and those who delight in God’s law.

These two different takes however, seem to be describing a related phenomenon because our actions and inactions reflect what we trust.  If we trust in our own minds, we rely on our own understanding when we make decisions.  If we trust in our own determination, we muscle through life’s obstacles.  If we trust in our parents, we rely on them in times of trouble.

 

In other words, our actions directly correlate to our trust.

 

Of course there are times when we rely on those we don’t much trust, but even then, we are choosing to rely on that person or tool because we think that’ll give us the best outcome.  And in that way, we are trusting in that person or tool for the outcome we want.

And in these verses, the authors are questioning WHO and WHAT we run to, when we face life’s challenges and enjoy life’s blessings.

 

Many of us are intelligent and resourceful.  We have come through storms.  We have found our way when all around us was scary and unclear.  You have sought to make sound decisions.  You have saved up for a rainy day.  You’ve disciplined yourself in order to get where you want to go.  You’ve worked hard and long.  You’ve made sacrifices.  You’ve given your life blood to provide for your family and to make the world a better place.

And it is easy to think we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is easy to forget the gifts of our parents and guardians – who may have taught us how to save and work hard, who may have given us a leg up in the world, who may have shown us what it means to be loved…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our teachers, those who poured themselves out so that we might learn – who may have taught us how to balance a budget, who may have taught us how to read and write, who may have taught us how to solve complex problems…

It is easy to forget the gifts of our friends – who may have taught us how to love one another, even while we disagree; who may have taught us how to work together to accomplish a goal; who may have taught us to laugh and not to take ourselves so seriously…

 

We stand on the shoulders of so many.

And even for those of us who remember and give thanks for the gifts so many have given us through-out our lives, it is easy to think that these visible gifts along our pathway are all that’s really going on.  It is easy to credit those who have loved and nurtured us with our successes and accomplishments.

 

But WHO gave us the gifts and talents we are wired with?  Who causes the crops to grow that feed us?  Who waters the earth with rain and warms it by the sun?  Who authors the peace that gives us space to live and grow in the world.  Who is light in a darkened world?

 

I hope you have met many who partner with God in the world.  I hope you have met those who coax life out of the dry earth.  I hope you have met those who do the hard work of peace-making, sometimes building bridges between people, sometimes drawing boundaries of protection.   I hope you have those in your life who are like the sun – brightening your world with the warm of their love.

But we love because God loved us first.  God IS love, and we learn what love is from God.

We experience true peace, peace that passes understanding, as the Holy Spirit grows the fruit of peace in our lives, as we spend time with and learn from Christ, the Prince of Peace, who claims us as God’s own, bridging the divide of sin between us.

We light up the world when Christ lives in our hearts.  We radiate the love and light of God, when we spend time in God’s presence, delighting in the Lord and remembering God’s mighty works.

 

In other words, all that we have, comes from God, Maker of all, Love embodied, the Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Bread of Life! 

 

When we remember that God is the true source of all good things, we find a Rock for every storm, we find our Guiding Light, we find our Mighty Fortress, our Refuge, our Deliverer, our Friend.

And as these scriptures so beautifully illustrate, we become like trees planted by the stream.  We are not anxious in times of drought, for our leaves do not wither.  We have placed our trust in God.  Our trust IS GOD.  And we do not cease to bear fruit.

It is perhaps why some can go through hell on earth and still give thanks, find joy, and grow.  It is perhaps how some have accessed more strength than they ever imagined possible.  It is perhaps how some have lost everything but not lost their faith or their gratitude.  It is perhaps why we are beaten down, despised, afflicted, forsaken,…and yet new life appears, new growth, fruit in the desert…

 

Wherever you are in your life – be it a time of drought or of plenty – I encourage you to take stock of all who gave of themselves so that you could be and grow.  I encourage you to remember all those you have learned from, even those who’ve taught you painful lessons you might rather have skipped, and even those from whom you’ve learned what NOT to do.

May we remember that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and that insofar as we live and breathe and have ever experienced goodness and joy, we have experienced God’s goodness and love poured out over us.

 

Therefore, may we place our trust in God.

 

Trusting God does not necessarily mean ignoring our minds or emotions.  It does not mean we are to be reckless with our lives, our finances, or our resources.

But it does mean that we rely on God.  We place our bets on God.  We remember that what we see is only part of the whole picture, and that the giver of all good things is our Maker and our Friend, who loves us and gives us a future, with hope.

We do our very best.  We use all that God has given us – our minds, our hearts, our talents, our skills, our resources, our time, our energy – but in the end, we don’t place our trust in those things to save us or to provide.

We place our trust in the GIVER of all those good things.

We place our trust in the SOURCE.

We place our trust in GOD.

 

May we be a people who remember.

May we be a people who place our trust in GOD.