“Exploring the ‘I Am’ Sayings of Jesus: I Am the Light of the World”
Exodus 3: 1-15 & John 8: 12-20 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ April 28, 2019
I would like to begin with an invitation for us to imagine. Imagine we are at a dinner party. Music is in the air; we might find ourselves a little bit dressed up; perhaps holding our favourite Christian beverage in our hand meeting new people. We might exchange names and even share some of our identity: parts of what makes us who we are. “Hi, I am Scott…Hi, I am Betty…Hi I, am Phil”. Personally, I find this sharing of our identity both fun and challenging because there is the inevitable second part that arises. Nice to meet you Scott. So, what do you do? I debate about saying that I am a professional hockey player because I know that when I say ‘I am an ordained Christian minister’ that I will get some very interesting answers. Answers ranging from people proceeding to tell you everything that is wrong with the church and why they don’t attend, to others sharing how guilty they feel about having lapsed their involvement, to the inevitable jokes: ‘have you heard the one about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Pastor?’
This morning we begin a journey into who Jesus is. A question that is sprinkled throughout the gospels. In our focus gospel this Easter season, we find questions of Jesus’ identity spread throughout: beginning in the first chapter, then in the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and even in the eighteenth. Who is Jesus? And since the earliest days, followers have pondered the mystery of Christ’s identity. As we explore this Christological question over the coming weeks, we will discover, I suspect, that our answers to this question will be both unique and also evolving for each one of us. Pondering Jesus identity is good spiritual work for us to be about, I think. Eastertide, well spent, is that season where we seek to deepen our awareness of, and relationship with, the Risen Christ. In the resurrection, God shows us, through Christ, the transforming power of love. And we respond, proclaiming ‘He is risen’ ~ ‘He is risen, indeed’. Our proclamations celebrate that Jesus continues to be, as he was, still with us. The Risen Christ walks among us and in this Eastertide, we explore this beautiful promise in our faith. We explore who Jesus is. How Jesus is. We explore the nature of the Christ mystery: that Christ has died, that Christ is Risen, that Christ will come again.
Our spiritual dialogue partner these Sundays in Eastertide will be the gospel writer named ‘John’. And this is a unique opportunity because, for good or for bad, our three-year lectionary does not ever take an exclusive year-long focus on this gospel like it does with the other three. And John presents Jesus, as do all the gospels, in his own unique way. John is the gospel with the very ethereal birth story ~ no shepherds, donkeys, angels or wise men. It is the cosmic birth of the Greek ‘Logos’ or “the Word”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”. John continues with his purpose as presenting Jesus as being ‘the Messiah’ ~ the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies. Further, he presents Jesus as being the incarnate Son of God ~ living love. And most strongly, John presents Jesus as being part of the pre-existent reality of God’s presence, “the Word that was with God” that existed prior to Jesus’ stable birth is now alive in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Right from the beginning, we are warned that we are in to meet a Jesus whose existence expands across time and space. And the unique way in which John invites us into a relationship with this Jesus Christ is through the creative use of Jesus’ ‘I Am’ sayings. The sayings I refer to are those unique references to Jesus’ identity that we will explore week by week: “I am the light; I am the good shepherd; I am the bread of life; I am the way, the truth and the life, and so on. Scholars of John note how these ‘I Am’ sayings are interwoven throughout the gospel, thereby, giving the reader further and deeper meaning to who Jesus is as they read through.
And what is even more powerful is that Jesus’ ‘I am’ sayings are not merely a simple description of his identity: ‘I am Scott’ for example. Jesus’ “I Am” sayings have roots all the way back to the Jewish tradition of God’s arrival in the book of Exodus. This was the first reading that Gwen offered. As we heard in the opening reading, God’s self-offering of identity is “I am”. Moses was drawn to the burning bush that would not consume itself; he realizes that he is in God’s presence; Moses then asks of God’s identity. God responds: “I am who I am”. It speaks of the power, fidelity and presence of God. This God is one who creates and causes all to be. This God is the one who be present in faithful ways to make possible that which had been but a dream. This name proclaims that God will be a God who will continue to be revealed throughout history: through offering deliverance…through offering liberation…through offering hope. As the pages of history are written, so will God be revealed. And, as we prepare to turn to the Gospel lections, what is so deeply powerful is that the same phrase used in the Greek version of the Old Testament “I am” in the Exodus story is the same one being used in the Gospel of John. John wants us to understand that this God who showed up at the burning bush, who liberated the Israelites, who showed up throughout history is now showing up in the person and witness of Jesus.
And the first ‘I am’ saying of Jesus we explore is the metaphor of Jesus as light. “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” For the Hebrew people, light had always been very significant. It is important to note that one of the main celebrations was the ‘Feast of the Tabernacles’ where light was essential. The lighting of the menorah lifted up the illumination and faithfulness of God. When we think of light, of course, we think of light being God’s first creation in the Genesis story ~ separating the light and the darkness. We also think of the prophetic readings when the Lord would come and be a light for all the nations (Isa). God’s light even went before them as a pillar of fire when they were lost in the wilderness. Not surprisingly, following the light was not unique to Judaism. It was in many of the different philosophies and competing religions of the day. And people who came to follow Jesus saw God’s light shining more brightly in him than in any other. John’s gospel used it twenty-three times!
One of the interesting ways that Jesus as being ‘light’ is presented is found in where John places it in the gospel. The story immediately before this passage is the story of the judgement of the woman caught in adultery. To those who were prepared to stone the adulterous woman to death ~ the penalty allowed in that time ~ Jesus challenges them saying: “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”. The story is somewhat unresolved as Jesus proceeds next to bend down and play in the sand and his listeners disperse. We never really know what befalls the woman under trial. But what we do know is that John follows that story up with this morning’s text. Jesus’ Way is becoming that which enlightens people to the truth…it is shining a new light upon God’s way of grace…it is a beacon of God’s Way. Jesus is light…enlightening us to a new reality.
Jesus’ identity of light, in fact, was offered at the very beginning of the gospel: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”. The world was filled with so much darkness: Roman violence ruling over the land, religious control claiming some as beloved and others not. And Jesus sought to enlighten a new Way. And this new reality was one of offering an enlightened consciousness that the world had not yet seen. The Pharisees, the religious leaders at the time, were teaching a consciousness that was a part of the collective consciousness of ‘the world’. Jesus was shining light on a new way of care, of love; a way to be ‘light’ to the world that is so often filled with darkness.
I have my paternal Grandfather’s desk lamp on my study desk at home. It has been glued back together a few times when soccer balls went awry, but it is still there. That light helps me see. I wonder what amazing things the light of Christ can help us see in our journey? Can it help us see the pain and potential in our being? Yes. Can the light of Christ help us see the pains and needs in a hurting world? Yes. Can the light of Christ help us see the unfolding of the Kin-dom of God ~ in and through each of us? Yes. Thanks be to God for our first Easter gift…the light of Christ.