“I AM…”

The end is surely coming.  And John’s gospel is unique in its description of Jesus’ preparation of his disciples.  He speaks about his death (12:27ff); he reminds them of his purpose (12:44 ff).  Jesus washes feet and makes predictions about the behaviour of both Judas and Peter (13).  He leaves a ‘new commandment.  John’s gospel offers a behind the scenes look at the confusion of disciples – the thorough nature of Jesus teaching – and lays the groundwork for the notion of Jesus unique standing in the history of God’s people.

Jesus is Lord.  One with God (the Father).  somehow and equal part of an eternal triangle of heavenly power with God and (the Holy) Spirit completing the formula.  John’s gospel – the last of the four to be written; the last to be chosen as part of the canon of Scripture – John’s gospel helped the church find the language to describe Jesus place in the puzzle.

It is language (in translation) that we continue to use.  Here we find images of great comfort and great challenge as we navigate a life of faith; assurance of an eternal home; the reminder that Jesus serves as the example for our earthly journey.  Heavenly mansions; resources to perform works of great power; an intimate experience of God, offered by Jesus, who answers Phillip’s request “Show us God”, by saying (effectively) “I’m right here.”  It is an astonishing development in the relationship between God and humanity – and it has been complicating matters for people of faith for centuries.

To claim knowledge of the mysteries of Heaven; to express spiritual awareness or mystic knowledge that is yours alone – these kinds of claims are not always well received.

Stephen, as the story is told, has already irritated the authorities by reminding them they have killed, not only an innocent man, but representative of the most high – THE RIGHTEOUS ONE – Jesus.  The authorities anger over being reminded of the “Jesus incident” explodes into murderous rage when  Stephen describes a vision of the Glory of God.  “Look’, he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’”  And that was enough for those students of the law – those steadfast men of God – to drag Stephen out of town and kill him.  Exclusive knowledge – especially knowledge of the things of God – can be a dangerous thing.

And yet the church has made similar mistakes, dragging cultures to the edge of ruin because their understanding of the mysteries of creation did not agree with ours.  Something about Jesus’ claims of exclusive partnership with God has given us permission to declare that we are right and no one else.  Such behaviour has been painful and continues to be a problem, especially in a world full of voices claiming exclusive rights, or particular knowledge.  To declare “no one comes to God except through [Jesus] makes it very difficult to understand Jesus ‘new commandment’ that “you should love one another…”

The church has spent centuries trying to hold the inclusive command “to love” in some sort of relationship with the notion that Jesus is the only way to access God’s love.  A complicated bit of business, and one that has always tied me up in knots.

“But it’s right there in John chapter 14”, you’ll tell me.  “…Jesus’ own words”Jesus – who in every other circumstance seems to pint to God rather than himself.  Jesus, the height of humility.  Jesus who knew that God cannot be divided; that God is ONE (Deuteronomy 6).  Could Jesus claim, not just equality with God, but unity with God?

It was shocking when he called God “father” – claiming an intimacy that seemed a little too bold.  Even in Jesus day, relationships between parents and children, while not always full of nurturing affection, were designed to impart knowledge and life-skills; tradition and history; such relationships gave purpose to the next generation.  So Jesus seemed to be saying “my purpose comes from God – and yours can too.”  No, as the troubles cloud the horizon, and his time to teach grows short, he emphasizes that important relationship – he speaks of a ‘heavenly homecoming’ and offers the most startling realization; His relationship with God is so close that his personality is indistinguishable from the mind and heart of God.

I was reminded, as I prepared for this morning, of a conversation I once had about the wording of the Lord’s Prayer.  Someone asked about the phrase “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”  His question was “why would God lead us into temptation?”  We puzzled over this together for a moment, and then I invited him to consider that when we speak the prayer, we are prone to ignore punctuation.  (and that the greek of the gospels had no punctuation).  I then suggested  that it could be read “Lead us; not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  The comma – the hesitation – the emphasis is everything.

So too with Jesus statement “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Jesus, the devout man of God.  Jesus, who knows his Scripture.  Jesus remembers the revelation of the divine name to Moses.  “Who shall I say sent me?  I AM.  Tell the people I AM has sent you”  What if…what if Jesus, so close – so devoted to the father that the two are inseparable – What if Jesus is still pointing to God?  would this not open the door to a different understanding of our relationships with other cultures, different understandings, unique points of view?

In the name of Jesus – exclusive and particular – we have been dismissive, deliberately and dangerously militant, and eager to be right.  In the name of Jesus, we have expelled those who think differently about God, we have made war instead of sought peace, and we have tried to make heaven a place for our own comfort.

The truth is elusive when we seek to define it in such narrow terms.  Many dwelling places, Scripture says – Many.  Not a single place where all are alike.  Many, suggesting diversity – suggesting something wonderful and multi-faceted in the character of God.  Something that Jesus claims as part of his character, and urges us to seek.  “How can we know the way?”  they ask (we ask..)  Jesus offers a simple summary.  I AM.  The way, the truth, the life.  Pointing to God – the great I AM – as he always has.  as he always will.  Jesus asks us (again) to consider the completeness in the character of God who is all things to all who dare put their trust – their hope – their faith in God.  And as Christians, we come to that realization through Jesus – by watching and following and striving to live as Jesus lived – he who lived in partnership with God – in close communion with the Creator – on a first name basis with the One “who IS.”

Seeking that kind of relationship – desiring that knowledge and understanding that comes as our relationship with God develops and changes – discovering the freedom that comes with faith; freedom to love, to live, to act, in the power of God – it is to this that Jesus invites us.  His is this faith, vast and promising, that we claim as our own.Thanks be to God for the promise of that faith, in our past, our present and our future.  Amen


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