07-23 - I AM

          My wife and I were on vacation for the past two weeks. We had originally thought we would go away for a few days – probably to Lancaster, PA.  But we decided to change our plans and stay close to home when it appeared that our daughter-in-law might be delivering her third son, our fifth grandchild, a bit earlier than his expected date of July 26.  Sure enough, on July 4th, we received the call that our daughter-in-law was in labor.  The next morning, our grandson, Wyatt Nicolo, was born.

          Being closer to home for those two weeks gave my wife and me an opportunity to attend a couple of local Baptist churches for Sunday services.  We had a chance to reconnect with some folks that we do not get to see very often.  At one of the churches, the pastor commented to the congregation that it was wonderful that Becky and I were here in church on a Sunday even though they were on vacation.  I thought for a moment, “What does being on vacation have to do with whether you are in church on Sunday?  Doesn’t everyone go to church on Sunday when they are on vacation?” But more significantly, the pastor’s observation left me wondering afresh what is our purpose, our goal, our desire, for attending church?  The writer of Hebrews said to this point, “23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

So, part of the reason for attending church on Sunday is to spur one another on by doing deeds that are loving and good, and to encourage one another in the faith.  Now it is true that each one of us needs encouragement and that each one of us is the source of encouragement for one another. Every person here has, is, or will fight some battle in life.  That battle may be waged as a physical attack against the body by some disease.  That battle may be waged as an emotional battle with anxiousness or conflict.  Or that battle may be waged against us as a spiritual battle that leaves us shaken with doubt or uncertainty about our purpose and destiny.  And Many people, maybe even most people, will wage those battles alone.  Too many people fight their worst battles alone.  Alone is such a depleting word and place to be.  As the author of Hebrews points out, Church, as conceived by Christ, was to break that aloneness and instead, give to every person waging a physical, emotional, or spiritual battle the collective resources of the church, the body of Christ, as a source of encouragement and strength.  The idea is simple.  If you are alone in a battle, come to church, and gather strength your brothers and sisters for whatever lies ahead.  If you are not presently engaged in battle, come to church, so that your strength measured by your time, talents, treasure, and tears can be given to another from the church who is engaged in battle that they would otherwise have to fight alone.  We, therefore, come to church that we may as a unit “spurring one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another—all the more.”  If you are in a battle today, please make sure your church knows it so that we can help.  If you are not in a battle, please make sure your church knows so that you can help bless others.

The second reason to come together on Sunday the writer of Hebrews said is “to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  We come to church to be part of that place on this earth where consistently the hope of God stirs us up such that we feel more alive when we leave church than when we came in through the door.  Church was created by Christ to refresh and animate the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ who is faithful.  We need to have our appetite for God stirred up such that our desire for God is more than our desire for anything or anyone else this world.  We cannot get spiritually stirred up at home alone, or on the golf course, or fishing, or sleeping in, or planting flowers, or you can fill in the blank. We get the opportunity to be so stirred up and moved towards God in church.

And how then do we get stirred up for God?  Sometimes we are moved by the music, other times, perhaps by a sermon, but mostly we get stirred up when we in worship open ourselves up enough to realize that God, not for his own benefit, but for our benefit, desires that we would have a love relationship with him.  And who is this God?  He is the God of all creation.  He is the God who said his name is “I AM,” אֶֽהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶֽהְיֶה, haw-yaw ash-er haw-yaw, “I AM that I AM.”  This is how the people of the Old Testament understood God, “I AM.”  I am he who always existed and will exist.  I am he who is truth.  I am your shepherd, your giver of law.  I am your savior and your judge.  I am unchangeable and forever faithful.  I AM stirred up the people of Israel as he sought to make them the light into the world.

Then I AM, God, decided the time was right to be present among the people, all the people, to bring them into a final personal relationship with him.  And so, I AM, came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and at birth was heralded as Emmanuel, God with us.

But this “God with us,” did not come in some grand manner with heavenly trumpets and flaming skies. Instead, this “God with us,” the great “I AM” was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop or as a laborer until he was about 30 years old.  And then for 3 years he walked and preached, preached and walked the surrounds of that obscure land called Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. He never wrote a book.  Never held an office.  Never owned a home.

What this I AM did was he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, healed the lame, and controlled the forces of nature.  The spiritual leaders of Israel, instead of being stirred up and animated by the presence of I AM, ridiculed and fought him at every turn.  How sad.  The friends that I AM surrounded himself with never seemed to fully understand who he was. When things got dangerous to be around this I AM, his friends ran away.  The great I AM was arrested, bound with simple rope.  He allowed himself to be spat upon, flogged, ridiculed, nailed to a cross, and killed.   This I AM then showed who he was by raising Jesus from the dead and into resurrected life. This God who held nothing back is the God who desires to stir you and to stir me up to come into a relationship with him and to see the hope and promise in life with him.  This is the God, this is the I AM, who wants you to follow him out of the darkness of evil that he experienced and into the light he created.

When this I AM, the person of Jesus Christ, was here on earth, no one spoke like him.  His words offered his audience fulfillment of the promises made in the Scriptures and reassurance that He was God with them.

This Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).  Every person ever born or to be born shares the same human condition and is we are of both the body and spirit.  In our body, we will physically hunger, and we will physically thirst causing us to seek food and water repeatedly and yet never be completely satisfied.  That is the nature of physical hunger and thirst. But deeper than that every person ever born or to be born hungers and thirsts spiritually for hope, for peace, for significance, for dignity.  Jesus said he is the “I AM” who meets that spiritual hunger and thirst but does so once and for all time.  For as long as we remain in the presence of Jesus, we will have a life of significance, dignity, peace, and hope no matter what may be going on in the body.  Jesus’ words stirred up people to see that God would meet their most basic needs in life.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  God, I AM, saw that the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over all.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4).  Without light there is no life.  Without life there is no goodness.  This is our human condition.  And yet spiritually, we see light as a symbolic of God bringing wisdom and clarity to our very purpose for existence.  What is our purpose?  It is to have life in abundance.  Jesus stood before his audience and stirred people up that so long as they were in Him, they would have light and thus life with purpose, wisdom, and clarity.  We want that desperately.

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9a).  Every human seeks a place of sanctuary, safety, and relief for their body, whether that is in a mansion or cardboard box.  There is always an opening to that place of safety, whether that is a door or a flap.  Spiritually, every human being seeks safety for their inner being, for their spirit. Jesus stood before his audience and said, “I AM that gate and all who pass through me exit the world, the darkness, exit the turmoil of worldliness and enter the realm of God, light, peace, safety, yes, salvation for the soul.”  Jesus’ words stirred up the people that there was a clear doorway through which they could be saved.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  The Shepherd is symbolic of God.  It is the shepherd to which David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He (The Shepherd-The Lord) makes me lie down in green pastures, he (the Shepherd) leads me beside quiet waters, he (the shepherd) refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you (the Shepherd-the Lord) are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You (My Shepherd) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord (My Shepherd) forever” (Psalm 23).  Beautiful words of promise that God would be the provision for the good times and he would be the force to sustain those who follow him in their difficulties.  Jesus stood before his audience as the Shepherd and his words stirred up the people knowing that through Jesus there would be provision now through eternity.

          Jesus said to those who grieve the loss of a loved one, ““I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  Jesus’ tender words were first spoken to his friend, Martha, at the death of Martha’s brother, Lazarus.  Jesus’ words did not caused people weeping in the pain of death stop grieving but his words did allow them to grieve with hope.  Jesus’ words caused that hope in the grieving to be stirred up because Jesus promised that those who believed in him would be extended life even though they died.  Death, the enemy that all humans fear, was defeated before the I AM, Jesus the Christ.

          Jesus said, “5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Jesus promised a fruitful life if people would just remain with him.  For apart from Jesus, they would never have life, light, salvation, provision, resurrection, or significance.  Jesus’ words stirred up the imagination of those who heard him speak and the desire to be forever covered by the grace of God.

          Finally, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  What a wonderful expression of assurance.  Jesus was making it clear that of all the possible ways that people saw or imagined a pathway to God, a pathway we all desire, Jesus said there is but one true way.  Jesus, the I AM, Emmanuel, God with Us, said, “If you want God and all that means, then follow God, who came in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to me except through me.”  The people’s hearts were stirred up, relieved, because they no longer had to guess how to be with God.  Instead, they had to believe and follow Jesus. 

          What do we do with Jesus saying over an again, “I AM.”  Some complain and ask, “Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Look.  I AM God, follow me.”  Afterall, the complainers say, “That is what I would say if I were God.”  Well, to that we have two comments.  First, you and I are not God, so what we might say if we were God is irrelevant.  Second, Jesus was not speaking to us when he said, “I am the good shepherd, I am the light, I am the bread of the world.”  Jesus was speaking to people in ancient Israel.  The Gospel writer John was speaking to the early Christian Church. Jesus spoke to be understood best by those who heard his words.  We need to remember Jesus’ words and the Bible were not spoken or written to us, but they were spoken and written for us.

          And so in these words that were written for us, we must come to see and seize upon their significance.  Jesus tells us in his own words, “I AM.”  I AM your savior if you let me in.  I AM your guide if you will follow me.  I AM your comforter if you will receive me.  I AM the one who will give you the words to say and the actions to take to spur on in love those seated next to you and to your neighbor. I AM the one who will stir you up to and ignite a passion within because I am your Lord and your God.  I AM the one who loves you and will give your life eternal purpose, meaning, and significance.  This is why we come to church.  To spur one another one and to be blessed with an improved appetite for God to live in and through him who has always been, who is, and who will also be, I AM.  Amen and Amen.