I preached this sermon one year on the First Sunday of Lent
to introduce our Lent course for that year.
One of the books we used for the course was:
“The ‘I AM’ sayings of Christ” by Douglas Connelly
published by Scripture Union Publishing (Nov 2007)
“I AM the Light of the World”, says Jesus, and
“I AM the Bread of Life
the Gate for the Sheep
“I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life
the Good Shepherd
“I AM the True Vine and
the Resurrection and the Life.”
These are the seven statements in St John’s Gospel which begin with the words “I AM”.
We’re going to be reflecting on each of these “I AM” statements of Jesus in our Lent course this year.
Today, though, I’d like us to think about the words which begin each statement: “I AM”
What do they mean?
What’s their significance?
Why were they so shocking to many who heard Jesus use them?
The answers to those questions lie way back in the history of the people of Israel. They go back to the very beginning of the story of how they were set free from slavery in Egypt, led through the Red Sea into the wilderness and on into freedom in the land God had promised them.
And at the very beginning of that story God speaks to Moses from a bush burning in the wilderness. It’s a wonderful story told in the third chapter of Exodus and always worth reading whether for the first or the hundredth time.
From the burning bush God tells Moses that he has heard the people of Israel crying out in their suffering as slaves in Egypt. The good news is that God is going to act to set them free. The bad news, as far as Moses is concerned, is that God wants Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.
Moses protests and finds all sorts of reasons why he’s not the right person to go. His first protest is that he’s a nobody: “Who am I that I should approach Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God dismisses that one saying “I will be with you”. It’s not really an answer to the question but it’s the promise of God’s presence alongside Moses and it’s his promise to us to be alongside us when we face an unknown, possibly scary, future, “I will be with you”.
Another question from Moses: “If I come to the Israelites and tell them that the God of their forefathers has sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what am I to say to them”.
And here’s the bit that’s really important for us.
God says, “I AM who I AM, tell them that I AM has sent you to them”
God has revealed to Moses his name for himself
“I am who I am”, or
“I will be who I will be”, or
“I am, have been, and always will be” or simply
For the people of Israel it is I AM, or, Yahweh, who has always been their God, he was the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he will be their God for all of eternity. He is outside time, the eternal one.
The Name is holy and sacred and is never spoken out loud. Instead, when the word Yahweh appears it is replaced with the word “Adonai”, or “Lord”.
Now, when Jesus makes the seven “I AM” statements he doesn’t use the words for “I am” which would be used if he was saying something like “I’m hungry” or “I’m going for a walk”. He uses the eternal Name “I AM”.
And any Jew who was listening, whether they were religious experts or not, would have known immediately that Jesus was making shocking, even blasphemous, claims about himself.
There are other instances in St John’s Gospel of Jesus using the words “I AM” in relation to himself. Sometimes the meaning of what he says is ambiguous, sometimes it’s clearer. And it’s not surprising that many of his listeners were outraged and angry.
It’s very easy for us to condemn those who charged Jesus with blasphemy. Perhaps we feel certain that we would have recognised the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth and believed him. But would we?
Have we never felt threatened by people who hold different views from us?
Have we never felt angry when someone challenges our way of doing things?
Or hurt and upset when someone ridicules something that is precious to us?
Have we ever met someone whose whole way of living calls into question the way we live our lives?
Maybe sometimes we need to listen more closely and with more honesty to what Jesus says to many of the religious people of his time and think about whether he might say the same sort of thing to us if he were to turn up here one Sunday morning. And how would we react?
These are some of the things we may want to think about as we meet together during Lent. Because the decision we make about who we think Jesus is has implications for the way we live our lives as individuals and as a church community.
So God reveals himself as being “I AM who I AM”
And Jesus makes these statements about himself which begin with those words “I AM”
In each of them Jesus uses picture language to show us something of himself – we might think of them as forming a self-portrait of Jesus. They also say something about him in relation to us. So, for example, when Jesus says “I AM the Bread of Life” he is perhaps saying that he is as essential to the life and health of our souls as bread is to the life and health of our bodies.
It’s as if he’s saying I AM
Your Bread of Life
Your Way, your Truth and your Life
Your Good Shepherd
Your True Vine
Your Resurrection and Life.”
So this Lent we are going to be doing something very exciting.
We’re going to be reflecting on what Jesus says about himself, and therefore about God, about his relationship with us and what that might mean for us in our ordinary day to day lives.
Because as God promised Moses, “I will be with you” so he promises us “I will be with you”. “I AM – with you – always, to the end of time”.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning is now
and shall be for ever,
world without end. Amen.