Good Morning! It is so good to be with you once again, in person, for the first time in a few years! Before I begin the sermon proper, I’d like to take just a few moments to thank you all for all the ways that you supported me some 3-4 years ago. Thank you to all of you who came up to me after worship and said, “Hey nice job today!” and actually meant it, or “When are you going to be a pastor or go to seminary?” or “Have you ever thought about quitting your job and going to seminary? You wouldn’t do that, would you?” All of those comments and affirmations were the Holy Spirit speaking and working through you. So, thank you. Because without you, I wouldn’t be here today.
I want especially thank Pastor Julie for her tremendous guidance, support, and encouragement throughout my entire discernment journey and process. Without her steadfast support, I certainly would not have discerned the calling that I did. And a huge thank you to you all in the congregation for immediately asking for how you could support me, prayerfully, monetarily, and spiritually. All the prayers and check-ins have been so special to me and the financial support that you have given me from the Endowment Fund has made getting through seminary financially much easier. So again, thank you. The support you have shown me is truly a gift and so special. This is a gift and talent of this congregation and I hope that you continue to nurture that into the future.
So, If you were wondering why I’m here today, well yesterday, I had my synodical Approval Interview at the Synod House in Worcester. This is the last piece of the synodical process that leads to my ordination once I graduate from Wartburg Seminary in May of next year. I’m happy to share with you that yesterday I was approved for ordination in the ELCA contingent upon my graduation and reception of a call! I’m so glad this worked out for me to be here with you all while I was in town for this!
So, I learned a lesson in this whole process…read the texts for the Sunday before agreeing to preach J I contemplated sending Pastor Brian a “Can I rescind my agreement to preach?” text but alas the Spirit was at work, and I didn’t!
Well today we find ourselves with one of the more interesting and peculiar stories from the Bible…an apocalyptic tease from Jesus. And while it is tempting to just dive right into this apocalypse in the story, I’m going to invite us to ponder in a different direction.
In my Greek Readings class this week where we translate the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel text, my professor Dr. May Persaud commented about the significance of God’s name in this text. This was admittedly not something that I was immediately drawn to, but I think there’s some profound significance to this.
So, let’s take a look.
“Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’”
Beware! Immediately Jesus draws us in here and wakes us up in case we weren’t paying attention…
Beware! Of what?
Beware that many will come in my name and say, “Ego Aimee!”
“Ego Aimee” in Greek are the famous words “I am!”
What comes to mind when you hear those words? Perhaps the set of seven famous “I am” statements from Jesus found in the gospel of John:
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the door of the sheep.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
I am the true vine.
Or what about the name of God as we hear it in Exodus 3:14: I AM.
I think that’s what Jesus is harkening back to here…that many will come and say that I AM…meaning they are calling themselves the name of God…I AM.
I think this might be perhaps one of the best names or ways that we can understand God.
The expanded version of God’s name is I AM WHO I AM. So, in case you were confused earlier, this should clear it right up for you. God, always the clever one, plays the ultimate trump card here. In our constant quest to better understand, define, explore, or describe God, God says, “return to this when all else fails: I am.” God just is. Or perhaps in the most complete way that we can understand it, God was, God is, God always will be. For God was in the beginning before anything else was or came into being. And God will be even after everything we know ceases to be anymore.
And so now as we hear these words from Jesus again, I invite you to think of them in this light…“Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’”
The ‘many’ here might most logically come with an implication of people, but I think the real significance lies when we break it out of the people box…
many dollar signs…
What are those things in your life that you have given the title of God to? What are those things that are harmful in your life that draw you away from your relationship with God? Jesus is inviting us to reprioritize these things in our lives here for he knows that we so often fill our lives with things that take the place of I AM perhaps because they say to you that “I am” and you can’t change that. I kinda hear this like ‘nanny nanny boo boo, you can’t catch me’ like we used to say playing tag as kids on the playground.
But God makes something pretty clear in the Ten Commandments: You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain. Letting other things take the name of I AM from God? That is definitely not in line with God’s desire for us as creatures in this world. So, consider this an invitation from God to tell these things no. No, they have no place here. They can see themselves right out the door and as the writer of Malachi says, neither their root nor branch shall be left behind.
And know that in so doing, you are evoking the full power of the Great I AM, the One who promises to always be with us, no matter what comes our way.
And because this One is the One who is also the bread of life, the resurrection and the life, the creator, redeemer, sustainer, the Triune love, we can be assured that God will be with us and sustain us in this journey. God already is with you on this journey. And God will continue to be with you on this journey. God will never, ever leave you. And God is faithful to God’s promises, especially when they involve God’s name.
Now, what comes next in verses 9 and following don’t make a lot of sense to me and in fact, I find a bit harmful and unhelpful. We hear that bad things are going to come as signs pointing to Jesus’ second coming and that these very bad things are necessary as a part of the larger plan. While I don’t know why Jesus said these things and really what he means by them, the one thing I do know is that this is not a prescription for your life and what is to come. This is not a statement that you MUST suffer and if you don’t suffer, you aren’t doing it right. No, that is not at all what Jesus is saying. This is not a statement by Jesus that you must do nothing in the face of suffering and just accept it. None of that can be justified with these words from Jesus.
In fact, the promise here is actually the opposite: “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Jesus promises us life. A full, abundant life. And so, while this scripture reminds us that evils will exist in this world, that is not the will of God for us. God wills no evil or destruction for us because at the very center of who God is is existence and life: I AM does not will for us to not be…that is contrary to the core identity of who God revealed Godself to be.
But, God does promise to be with us in the midst of these trials and tribulations: “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” The fullness of the Triune God who is I AM will be with us through our entire life. Through all of it, especially the most challenging times. We needn’t look any further than the cross, upon which Jesus died for all of our sins and in so doing, revealed the identity of God as the One who conquered death and is always with us, even in the deepest, darkest places of our lives. And no opponent will be able to withstand or contradict what God gives to us in these times and places: God will not allow it.
I AM is ever present beside you in your whole life.
I AM has always been present with you.
I AM will always be present in front of you, leading the way.
I AM loves you.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Thanks be to I AM!
Kurt Saenger-Heyl, 11/13/22