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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.

 

 

 

“Extraordinary Mercy. Surprising Grace.”

Katherine Todd
Micah 6:6-8
Luke 6:27-38

 

Micah 6:6-8

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

 

Luke 6:27-38

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”


 

 

This scripture is hard.  It sounds all nice and fine, …until you consider what it might mean to live it out.

Is Jesus actually wanting us to become doormats to injustice, enablers of evil? 

Growing up in the South, I was immersed in Bible-belt culture.  From that experience, I carry many blessings and many curses.  All cultures carry in them beauty and sin.  Southern Bible-belt culture in America is no different.

It was verses like these that reinforced a very passive way of being.  Women were supposed to be meek and quiet.  We were supposed to go along and get along.  I became masterful and accommodating others and making excuses for them.

 

So this instruction to allow someone who’s taken from you to take even more…

It falls right in line with my upbringing, as a woman raised in the south.

Instead of being raised with boundaries, I was raised to say “Yes” to most any request.

Now, there were the forbidden behaviors.  There were things I was not supposed to try or experience, but I was always supposed to be ready to help out.  I was always supposed to give more, be more, try more…

Raised in my mother’s home, we were always at church.  We were often the last to leave.  If something needed doing, we did it.  If someone was working, we joined them.

 

We were not raised to ask the questions:

What do I need?  or

How am I doing? 

 

These questions were seen as selfish.

We were supposed to put God and others first.

Attention to self, in the least, was vain at best and selfish at worst.

 

So reading this verses as a child, I used to imagine myself being robbed:

    “If they take my purse, should I offer them my car keys?…” 

    “Should I reassure them that I wouldn’t pursue or prosecute them?…” 

 

Part of me liked this.

It shows great compassion to look out for another ahead of oneself.

 

The other part of me couldn’t solve how one could live in this world with behavior like this.

How could I give away everything and be okay?

 

 

So as you can imagine, I had a lot of growing up to do.  I had to learn that it was not selfish but essential and, in fact, holy to look out for myself.  I had to learn that I could not give to others in my emptiness.  I had to learn to treat myself with the same compassion with which I would treat others.

And all this growth was pressing against the borders of what I’d understood this scripture to read.  Was standing up for myself wrong?  Was seeking justice wrong?  Was I to allow my abuser to take more?

 

And I came smack up against the realization that not all advise is for everyone in every season of life.  It’s part of the wisdom and wonder of the Bible; there is so much there, contradicting and at times divergent; something for everyone, in every season.  But we must allow room for each person to listen for God’s Words to them, through the scripture.

 

If someone is sinking, you do not push them down

If someone is floating away, you don’t blow a little breeze to give them more velocity.

 

No, to the sinking one, you give them a hand up.

And to the one about to float away, you grab a hold of them and pull them back down.

 

These opposite circumstances call for opposite responses.  What’s loving in one circumstances would be evil in the other.  This is not one-size-fits-all.  And the same applied to the Bible.

 

What I needed was to learn to love and to listen to myself.  I needed to learn that I couldn’t love others without first loving myself.  I needed to seek justice and speak out.

I was an example of someone who’d taken Jesus’ instructions out of context and missed the point.  And it wasn’t just me on my own, but the whole culture I was raised in that had turned some of Jesus’ instructions into prisons that held some down and twisted many up inside.

 

I had a lot of unlearning to do.  I needed to sort through my cultural inheritance – to determine which was healthy and whole and which was destructive.

 

Paul encourages us in the New Testament to let our words and actions be for the building up of one another.  But I had been routinely tearing down myself.

Micah 6:8 is beloved and quoted often:  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.  But I was slow to do justice, and quick to love mercy.  Instead of speaking out against injustice and speaking out for myself, I allowed evils to continue and to take root in those who were quick to take advantage of those more passive, like my childhood self.

Jesus instructs the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more, but I thought that turning the other cheek meant turning a blind eye to sins against me.  Instead of saying, “No more,” or “Sin no more” I thought forgiveness meant I had to give endless second chances and continue to put myself in compromising situations.

 

Now if you were raised more in the school of the world than in southern Bible-belt culture, all of this may sound absurd.  But if you were raised in some of this culture, I imagine you may have experienced the way Scripture was sometimes wielded as a way of keeping others down.  I imagine you have felt the pains of being twisted up inside by one isolated line of scripture, to the exclusion of all other verses.

And I so I entreat all of us, to be mindful that we read Scripture with an eye for the details but while keeping our peripheral vision.  Scripture is to be read and heard, in conversation with other scriptures.

 

And so now, I can read this verse and begin to hear Jesus’ call for us to not to rush to litigation.  I can hear Jesus’ call for us to crack open our hearts in compassion.  I can hear Christ’s invitation to surprise those who deserve punishment with unexpected, undeserved grace and mercy.  I hear Christ’s reminder that none of us are without sin.  I hear Christ’s invitation to treat others with the same mercy and grace, forgiveness and kindness that I have received from God.

Rather than pushing me into a position of self-harming giving.  I am more and more able to hear these words of Jesus reminding us not to demonize one another, but to rise up from evil and sin, confronting it with blessing and goodness – praying for those who abuse us, blessing those who curse us.  And I do not hear these verses in isolation, but remember Jesus’ prophetic voice in times of evil, Jesus’ voice of truth in times of falsehood, Jesus’ call to righteous actions and just living.

 

I do not believe Jesus is asking us to be a doormat here.  Christ led by example, withdrawing from the crowd who never stopped asking him for more, and spending time alone, in rest and prayer.  Even Christ ate and drank and slept during some storms.  Even Christ, drew boundaries on where he would and wouldn’t minister, saying he was called first to the children of Israel.  Even Christ, asked the comfort of friends in his darkest hours of fear and doubt.

 

And so let us hear these words of Christ, and remember that we are called to be unique in this world.  We have been shown extraordinary mercy.  We’ve been given grace upon grace.

 

May we be a people who like Jesus protect and say “No more” to sin.

May we be a people who work toward justice and healing, turning aside from the desires for revenge.

May we be a people who show the love, forgiveness, and forbearance God has shown us.

May we be a people who surprise – offering a hand up, when every fairness would understand if we instead threw a stone.

May we be a people who have received and therefore give

…extraordinary mercy and surprising grace.