Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Great 'I AM' of Exodus 3

Sunday August 31, 2008; Pentecost 16(A) Exodus 3, the burning bush and the great 'I AM'.

Strange name: I AM. This is partly God's way of avoiding ancient paganism's method of controlling a god by knowing the god's name. But there is more than this at work here. We are being asked to stretch our theological imaginations.

'I AM' is incomplete. I might say of myself, 'I am a human,' or 'I am Warren Huffa'. 'I am' needs further explanation and definition. In this way I am who I am over-and-against that which I am not. I am human, not a rock. But not so God. God needs no further definition than 'I AM'. God is already complete, and in no need to be defined over-against anything else. God just is.

This is stretching the theological imagination. God is complete, and is so without reference to me or you. (Or anything at all, for that matter.) Nothing more can be added to God, or God's life. God is already full and complete. An absolute fullness.

Sounds remote, self-sufficient and transcendent. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact exactly the opposite is the truth. For example, God is love, a complete fullness of love already; loving us does not add anything to God. And rather than this making God cold and distant it ensures that God's love is a free gift, with no ulterior motive (no matter how laudable) for God's benefit (not even a win-win for God and us). And because there is no ulterior benefit God's love is entirely trustworthy, because God won't arbitrarily change for the sake of God's changing needs. (This is the point Rowan Williams makes in chapter 1 of Tokens of Trust.)

Let's stretch our imaginations a little more. Jesus claims this great 'I AM' in the Gospels. Especially in John in those "I am ...": the bread of life, the good shepherd, the light of the world. And most especially John 8: "Before Abraham was, I am." But not only in John. In Matthew's version of the miracle of Jesus walking on water, Jesus calms the disciples with the "I am". So Jesus is claiming that God, who is complete and full, who is not defined over and against anthing else but just 'is', this Goid, has taken flesh in Jesus. Jesus, who is defined as himself by not being someone else, or not being a rock. How very un-Godlike. The Jesus who becomes tired, who thirsts, who weeps, and, most especially, who dies a failure on the cross. How very un-Godlike. That stretches the theological imagination.

Let's stretch it a little bit more. We hear in the Gospel today that the evidence of this claim is to be found in this most un-Godlike aspect of Jesus: his death on the cross. Not just a temporary aberration from which we should avert our eyes in embarrassment, but the evidence we need to know th claim is true. Now that stretches the imagination to breaking point - or the reformulation of who God is.

Indeed, and this is the point. The God who is absolute fullness is the fullness of love because of the cross of Jesus. There is no interruption between God and Jesus, and because of this what we say of Jesus can be predicated of God. The cross of Jesus becomes the cross of God, and God becomes the God who is for us. (Rom 8:31)

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