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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.

 

 

 

“Family”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

 

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


 
Second Corinthians concludes with the passage we just read, and in it, most of Paul’s exhortations to the Christians in Corinth pertain to their relationships with one another.

I was most struck by the phrase interpreted here as “agree with one another.”  That caught me off guard.  For as much as Paul has emphasized the many different gifts, I thought he, of all people, would value the benefits of having folks in the congregation who do not all agree on everything.  And this question caused me to look further back to the Greek words behind our English interpretation of this section of scripture.

 

Not surprisingly, this search opened up a wealth of meaning, far beyond our narrow interpretations; for interpretations are not frequently a one-to-one relationship.  In other words, usually a word from another language is best described with many words, and not just one.  So in translations, the actual meanings get narrowed – simply out of the desire to not encumber the message with too many words.  But that also leaves us with the need to visit the original words from time to time, in order to more truly grasp the intended message of the writer.

So in this passage, if we add back in some of the breadth of Paul’s statement, we hear something more like this:

Finally brothers and sisters in the faith,
rejoice and be glad.
Mend, restore, complete.
Be knit together; be made complete.
Be restored; be made perfect.
Encourage and be encouraged.
Comfort and be comforted.
Exhort and be exhorted.
Commune, one with another.
Be like-minded.  Be together, the same, equal.
Make peace.  Be at peace.
And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet/welcome/embrace one another with a holy kiss.

All the saints greet you.

And in reading this expanded meaning, I find myself moved.

As you listen to these expanded verses once more together, what sticks in your mind?  Is there a word, an image, a thought?  If so I encourage you to write that down.  This is one way we listen for God’s word to us while reading scripture.

 

Re-read expanded translation. 

 

The word that comes to mind for me is FAMILY.

The word family doesn’t even occur in this passage, but all of Paul’s exhortations to the community speak of family to me.  Within family we have differences and disagreements.  We are kin, yet we are not the same.  And at the same time, we are all very much the same, and no one is better than another.

As family, we are knit together.  We are bonded, one to another.  We affect and impact one another.  Our interactions matter.  Our unity matters.  Our divisions matter.  Our actions and inactions matter.

Within family, we have responsibility – both to give and to receive.  We have responsibility to the whole, to one another.  And we have a part to play in whether the family promotes peace or discord, encouragement or discouragement, comfort or grief and anxiety, a true sharing of life or isolation.  And Paul is be speaking to this family of faith in Corinth, these brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

And so when it comes to the question of “agreeing,” I believe Paul is simply trying to re-orient their thinking.  This church has been dividing into camps based leadership styles, power, and authority.  Their actions during communion are causing division.  And Paul is exhorting them to remember they are one and the same.  They pull the same plow.  They are on the same team.  They are indeed brothers and sisters, members of the same family.  The grief of one is the grief of all.  The blessing of one is the blessing of all.  Therefore, they are to be like-minded.  They are to pull the plow to reap the harvest, as one, together, in the same direction.

And Paul’s wisdom takes this a step further.

Most of us have our comfort zones.  We like to give.  We like to help.  We like to fix.  We like to comfort.  We like to show up.  …But Paul doesn’t simply say, “Give, help, fix, comfort, connect.”  Paul encourages mutual affection and intention.  They are not only to give but to receive, to help but to be helped, to comfort but to be comforted, to show up but also to allow others to show up for us.

And when it comes to responsibility, some of us prefer to merely attend to us and ours.  It is our first responsibility, but Paul again takes it further, calling out their responsibility to one another.  They are not only to be at peace but to make peace, to be restored but to restore, to be complete but to make things complete.

Our calling and responsibilities – as one body, one family, one church, one faith –

Are both to give
And to receive.

 

So in these mere 3 verses closing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he encourages them to BE FAMILY, one to another.

 

We all know families by blood, but not by bond.

We know families by portrait, but not by shared experience.

We know families who hide their enmity behind hollow kind words.

We know families who exhaust themselves fighting one another, and never lift one another up.

 

WE are called to be different.
To truly connect
To truly do our part to make peace, one with another
To truly bear the common burden and pull the same plow.

For we are kin.
We are all alike, children of the Most High God.

 

Are we each doing our part,
to make peace,
to be restored,
to be made whole,
to make disciples and reap the harvest of the Living Christ?

Together? 

 

We are one family.
Thanks be to God.