Mar 1, 2017 –Ash Wed – I Am
This year in Lent we’re going to be confronted with the scandal from seven of Jesus’ “I Am” declarations. Jesus uses these declarations in the Gospel of John to lead His disciples toward His cross and resurrection. The power of these scandalous declarations is such that they change the disciples’ world. Their power is rooted in the Old Testament lesson from Exodus. It’s appropriate that our first lesson for Lent on Ash Wednesday comes from the book of Exodus as we consider Lent to be our journey into the wilderness of our 40-day pilgrimage focused on reflection and repentance. This is then followed by our crossing over into the Promised Land that takes place for us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we wander through Lent, we are faced with the outrageous claim that Jesus is “I Am” and we too, with the disciples, will learn that the power of who Jesus truly is also transforms us.
So, we begin today with the understanding that Jesus is revealed as God in this word Yahweh, ego emi, I am. And that is one of the reasons why He is put to death. That’ll be seen as we go along in the weeks ahead.
But know and understand that Jesus’ use of I Am is a scandal in His day – it is shocking and even rude. It’s as if I were to use the “N” word to describe an American with black skin. That would be such a shock, that would create such a scandal, that I would hope to be run out of here on a rail.
Or perhaps, think of it this way, if I were to try and preach communism as the gospel of God. That too should be so scandalous to you that my days as a pastor among you, you would bring to an end. The scandal, the shock of that would be so offensive to you that you would hear nothing more of what I say. That is what you need to keep in mind as we walk through the I Am sayings of Jesus.
When Jesus uses this phrase, it comes right out of the Old Testament reading for tonight. When God answers Moses’ question of ‘who should I say sent me’ God’s reply is Yahweh. I Am. In fact, He repeats it, and says to Moses, tell them I Am that I am.
When you study this word Yahweh, you learn some fascinating things. First is, that it’s in the first person, always. God is I am. Not I was and not I will be, but I am. God is always now! Now! God has never not been. That alone stops us in our tracks.
Also, when you hear this word Yahweh, you learn that you are hearing God is. There has never been when He was not. And there will never be when He is not. Without God there is no past, present, or future because without Him there is no now. He is always now.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was, among other things, a leading intellectual and philosopher. Among the things he put forward as true is, that the first cause is Yahweh. That idea of ‘first cause’ must be given a moment of thought.
If God is ‘first cause’ then all else, all else, is derived. There is nothing original besides God. Only God is, everything else comes from the Eternal now. Which means that God, and only God, is unique and therefore the only holy thing. Because God is alone unique, only God alone should be worshipped.
So, when God answers Moses question of who should I say sent me, God says to tell them that the One who alone is creator, initiator, the source of all that is, has sent you. So why is this important to understand this Lenten season? It’s important because when Jesus uses this phrase, which in the Greek on the front cover of the bulletin, is ego emi, and in the English, I Am; when Jesus says this, the Jewish listeners are hearing Jesus essentially say, “the God who sent Moses is who I am”.
I know it sounds odd to be talking this way. We all think of who we are as “I am so and so or I am such and such.” But when you look in to this word, Yahweh, you begin to realize that I am… not. I am is what only God can say, for He is the initiator of all that is. We exist; we are, because He has chosen to make us to be.
The Jewish people of Jesus day and before then, as well as the orthodox Jews down to today will not speak this name, Yahweh. They will not do so because, as we read in the Old Testament from Isaiah, we are people of unclean lips. To speak the name of God with lips that also curse, swear, lie, and deceive is to cheapen, demean and in so doing, to bring shame to that name.
Therefore, the Jews would say, adoni, or Lord as – in the master or ruler. Or they would say elohim, meaning God in the sense of the Creator. But that was not what they would write. They would write the tetragammaton, so as to be faithful to the revelation of God. The tetragammaton literally means ‘the 4 letters’. That is what is on the front cover of the bulletin and that we pronounce Yahweh. But, so bound to the idea of God’s revealed name, the tetragammaton, as being holy, they would not speak it.
And so, in the Lenten weeks ahead we’re going to look at the ways, and the contexts in which Jesus uses this name for Himself. What God chose to reveal with this name is that He is a personal God. He is not wood, stone, or metal, a thing made with hands.
This name of God, Yahweh, is a God who chooses to put His name on our hearts, and in our lives, and yes, on our lips as well. His name brings His presence among us just as it did when Moses spoke it to the elders of Israel in exile in Egypt.
For us that is comfort as we go through our journey in this foreign land that we live in. We, like the Israelites in Egypt are sojourners here on earth. We too, like them, are merely passing through. And like them we’re given the personal name of God to see us through the hardships and trials that come our way.
Like the Hebrews of old, we revere and keep as holy, the name of God among us. And like them we are comforted by its living presence among us. And yet unlike them, we recognize that Jesus is one true possessor of that name. Jesus is the only one who can claim it of Himself because He is the only man who is also, truly God.
And that is also Jesus’ offense and scandal. That He is God and yet He is human. That He is Yahweh, ego emi, I Am, is what as we will see in the days ahead in Lent, that drives others to put Him on the cross. And yet it is only that He is the “I Am” that makes His blood, shed on the cross a covering for you and me. For if Jesus is not ‘I Am’ then we are lost in our sin and trespasses. Thank God, that Jesus is Yahweh and that by Him we are redeemed.
In His – holy – name –, amen.
Sermon #872 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Exodus 3:1-17
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’