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Sermons > Third Sunday of Lent

7 Mar 2010

“God replied, ‘I am who am.’” (Exodus 3:14)               In the name …

God’s name as revealed to Moses at the burning bush on the slopes of Mount Sinai is “I am who am.”  In Hebrew, the name is Yahweh.  There is such reverence for this name among our brothers and sisters of the Jewish faith that they will not speak that name.  If they come upon God’s name to be read, a pious Jewish person will see the name Yahweh, but will instinctively read out instead, “The Lord.”  Also, the name of God will not be written out in its entirety.  The vowels will be removed so that only the four consonants Y-H-W-H will remain.  Both the vocal and written rituals are designed to reverence the name because the name of God conveys the identity of God.

God reveals Himself in His name as absolute and necessary being.  All other being, all other existence, draws its life and purpose from “I am who am.”  No further reference is needed.  It’s not as if God’s name would be followed by the question, “I am what?” which is the basis of what Moses is trying to get at.  Names convey identity, and Moses wants to capture God’s identity by learning God’s name.  I can say “I am a priest.  I am a father.  I am a husband. I am 49 years old.”  But God is simply “I am.”  God owes His being to none other and God’s existence cannot be limited by I-am-anything-in-particular.  God is all being.

Also, the name of God is based on a verb.  In other words, God is action and movement.  God is life as it is being lived.  God reveals through His name that He should not be understood as stationary.  God’s name, God’s identity, is identical with what He does.  To understand the identity of God is to watch how God works.  This is why more than a thousand years after Moses the Evangelist John can say, “God is love.”  In Quantum Mechanics there is the truly bewildering concept of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. At the level of the basic building blocks of creation, a particle’s position or momentum can be known, but not both.  It’s not a matter of building a better measuring tool.  It’s simply impossible to know both states simultaneously because the act of measuring it, interacting with it, changes it.  Moses didn’t have the Uncertainty Principle, but he did have the burning bush that was not consumed.  To the ancient mind the imagery of fire is that of ever-changing essence.  When God reveals Himself through fire, it’s like that Uncertainty Principle.  God changes because of His interaction with us.  It’s part of the very definition of God that He allows Himself to be affected by us.  Truly, God is love.

This sacred and unutterable name of God, this mystery of God, this source of all existence and existence itself, and this constantly engaged nature of God, has entered time in the person of Jesus Christ.  To accept this is all that is necessary for the definition of Christian, but just think about what is being said here.  In Paul’s summary of his thought and teaching which we call the Epistle to the Romans, it is written:  “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (10:9) Remember that for Jews, and Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee by training, the most observant of the Jews, that when they would encounter the name of God, that instead of saying “Yahweh” they would say “The Lord.”  God and the Lord are interchangeable words. So when Paul writes that if we confess that Jesus is Lord, he is actually saying that if we believe that all of the uncontainable energy and existence and mystery that is conveyed in the unutterable name is found completely in Jesus, then we have discovered the path of salvation.

I hope this brings to mind that it is not a light statement of faith to say Jesus is Lord.  And in the season of Lent, it is no inconsequential footnote of history to remember that Jesus was crucified as a common thief, a rabble-rouser in an obscure corner of the long-extinct Roman Empire.  Jesus empties Himself of the glory of God to be as one among us, but He remains fully and essentially of the nature of God, and that means even as He hangs on the cross, that even as He dies on the cross, that Jesus dies as God.  The God who reveals Himself as “I am who am,” and who orders Moses to remove his sandals because where earth and God come into contact is by definition holy and sacred ground, is the same God who accepts the humiliation of the cross as the price to be paid to share life with us.  I hope that we as people of faith give enough thought and consideration to this revealed truth of our God.  I hope that Lent gives us the time and opportunity to realize that we worship a crucified God.  I don’t care how many Lents we have walked through together; Lent should change us each and every time.  And that change is what repentance is all about.  If God changes because of us, we should be able to change because of God.

     Repentance is taking a look at all that we do and care about, and sorting out the essential from the frivolous.  Repentance means centering our lives.  God is fortunate in that His identity is clear to Him:  “I am who am.”  Not I want to be, I wish I were, but I AM.  The rest of us, however, we have to search.  We have to try and figure out what is supposed to be at our center.  The rest of us have to figure out what we are supposed to do with our lives.  That again is part of repentance, and this takes time.  The flame of the burning bush is carried forward in the flame that is then shared with all of us as the spark that is our soul, that is made by God, and is in the image and likeness of God.  This is why we’re all the children of God.  Jesus died on the cross to bring God to us.  This is why John can say “God is love,” and this is why we must say that God changes when we interact with Him.  Our lives are important to God, even sacred to God.  Isaiah goes as far as to say that our names are inscribed on the hand of God, which is a symbol of slavery, that God has given Himself up to us and for us.  This is the imagery of the flame that never stops, that never repeats itself, that is always alive and changing.  The purpose of Lent is to find our way back to such a God by finding Him at the center of who we are, so that who I am is discovered as really being a part of “I am who am.”  And that we may make time in this season of Lent to pursue this spiritual journey, for this may we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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