Introduction and Call to Worship
God is the great “I am”, in whom we find our meaning and salvation. With the Holy Spirit in our midst, let us seek a renewal of our understanding through the grace of God.
First Reading 2 Samuel 18:5-9. 15. 31-33
The death of Absalom in a battle with his father, David. Despite David ordering his commanders to go gently with Absalom, when his head becomes stuck fast in a tree, ten men surround him and kill him. A Cushite (African) gives David the news but tries to put a positive slant on it.
Second Reading Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
The writer exhorts his readers to be truthful, tenderhearted and forgiving, and not to hold grudges or steal. In short, to be imitators of God and to live in love as Christ loved us.
Gospel John 6:35. 41-51
Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” When the Jews accuse him of blasphemy he goes further, saying he is the living bread, and that whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.
HOMILY “I am.” (John 6:35)
“I am what I am, I am my own special creation! So, come take a look - give me the hook or the ovation!” No, I won’t sing it for you, because I couldn’t do the song justice. But hearing Dame Shirley Bassey sing this live, at the London Television Studios just a few years ago was a very memorable moment. She may have just celebrated her 80th birthday but her voice was just amazing.
From a 1953 touring variety show entitled, ‘Memories of Al Jolson’ to her Boxing Day special on ITV in 2017, Shirley has kept people entertained and enthralled, not least with her three Bond theme songs. But the lyrics of ‘I am what I am’ by the American composer and lyricist Jerry Herman (born July 10, 1931) stand out. They speak of identity as well as fragility. Who am I? A question we all ask of ourselves at some stage in life, sometimes many times over, until we conclude that we can only be the people that God has made us to be, not simply a product of our genetics and upbringing and the culture that pervades upon us.
But when God chose to come among us in human form, to share in our lives and our struggles, it was clear that no amount of culture could shape the Lord and divert him from his God-inspired task of salvation, however much people tried. Jesus statement “I am” in today’s Gospel is a bold claim because He is God’s very presence among the people, whether they like it or not.
In John’s Gospel Jesus is recorded using seven ‘I am’ sayings including, “I am the light of the world” and “I am from above”. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep” and “I am the good shepherd”. He looks to the future and says, “I am the resurrection and the life” as well as “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. He promises to feed us spiritually and says, “I am the true vine”. And in today’s Gospel reading, “I am the bread of life”.
Each time he makes an “I am” statement, it is highly inflammatory for his listeners and certainly dangerous for himself. In Chapter 8 Jesus claims: “Before Abraham was, I am!” As a result, the crowd picks up stones to throw at our Lord! Then in chapter 10 he says: “I am in the Father” and the religious authorities try to arrest him.
These “I am” sayings lead to a place of vulnerability because they reveal everything we need to know about Jesus, the Lord of all life and eternity. They speak of his God-given authority, with echoes of the Old Testament and God’s very divine and holy name. Think about Moses and the burning bush, when God instructs this fledgling leader to gather up the Israelites and lead them out of Egypt. Moses is overawed by this task and shrinks from it, and he questions God’s call to him with the words, “Who am I?” He rightly fears that if he tells the Israelites he’s been sent by the God of their ancestors, they’d ask: “What is his name?” So, Moses asks God, “What shall I say to them?” But God replies: “I AM WHO I AM… you tell the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3)
“I am” claims Jesus! No wonder the religious leaders of his time thought Jesus was effectively claiming to be God and yet they didn’t see he was telling them he is God and is from God and will, in time, return to God. But first they need feeding, spiritually. They need teaching – and so do we. Jesus says to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
They complain, mutter, whinge and gossip, pouring scorn on our Lord saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus continues, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6: 50,51)
What Jesus offers them is so amazing, so wonderful and yet they get caught up with their own blindness. He pledges them spiritual nourishment and he is so committed to revealing who he is fully in their presence that he is willing to give his very body for them. And we know how that ends, with the Cross and his agonising death but ultimately the salvation that only God could offer. Surely, if Jesus can be completely honest about who he is and offer everything of himself for the sake of others, then we, his disciples and followers today, should be willing to do the same, to sing out loud and clear with Shirley Bassey and all people of faith, “I am what I am!” And who are we?
We are a pilgrim people; whose journey is with the Lord of life who feeds us with his very presence as we move through this world. We are a pilgrim people whom the great ‘I AM’ is calling into his very presence to be renewed and strengthened that we may serve and minister his love to others.
Jesus reveals who he is to us, that we may be caught up into the very life of discipleship that transforms and heals, renews and reshapes, that we may be the people God has made us to be and share that faith, that joy with others.
In return we commit ourselves to regular, faithful and honest worship, prayer and celebration as we gather here at St Mary’s and then, built up through the Scriptures and Sacraments, are sent back out into the world to scream from the rooftops, “I am what I am – a person of faith, forgiven, fed and renewed by the Lord of life and loved by God who made me and saved me!” If you are unsure of your spiritual identity, if you question God’s love for you, if you find worship difficult to commit to or the faith hard going, then you need our Emmaus group this autumn. If you know someone who struggles to say, ‘I am what I am’ then bring them with you to Emmaus this autumn.
If you question the identity of Jesus or your worthiness to be loved by God, then you also need to participate in our Emmaus group this autumn. Because Jesus is the great ‘I AM’ and God does love you to the very core of your being.
Don’t be afraid to be you – the very best kind of you that you can be, because that is the you Jesus died for, and that is the you who is redeemed. Amen.
Dame Shirley Bassey is a British institution in music. One of her most famous songs is entitled ‘I am what I am’.
Jesus teaches ‘I am’ and this causes offense to some because they fail to see who he really is: God’s Son.
We all ask, ‘who am I?’ Our Autumn Emmaus Course is there to help us answer this question in relation to our faith and the love that God has for each one of us.