I AM The Light of The World - August 27, 2017

John 8:12-19

I have to tell you, I love the riches of John....especially the I AM statements. They can seem a little odd...but, if we can unpack them, they are layered with meaning. And to get to that meaning, we have to dig a bit into the Old Testament—the traditions and the rituals. As you heard today, we dug into the story of the Exodus and then into the laws of Leviticus....but we actually need one more component...the

story of the call of Moses.
Maybe you remember, Moses was working for his father in law as a shepherd. He was out tending the sheep and a bush caught on fire, only when he went over to it, it wasn't burning up, it was just in flames. And it was there God spoke to Moses and called him to free the Israelites from Pharaoh. I know, if you were raised in the church, it's in the far, far recesses of your memory. But whether or not we were raised in the church, most of us have heard of the burning bush. Some of us have even asked for a burning bush. We wanted an obvious sign that God was speaking to us. And it doesn't get much more obvious than a plant that's on fire but not consumed by the fire.
Anyway, God calls Moses and Moses say, "yeah, no thanks. You should ask my brother." and God says, "well, I can ask your brother to help, but really I want you." And Moses retorts, ok, fine. But why on earth are they going to believe me? Hey, Guys! It's time for us to be free. It's not likely they'll believe me. God says, sure they will. And Moses, incredulous, basically asks, "Yeah, and when they ask, who should I say sent me?" And God says, "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh." In other words, "I AM". God tells Moses God's name...."I AM." Tell them "I AM" sent you. And from there, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story. Moses goes to Pharaoh, invokes the plagues, and eventually leads the people out of Egypt. And when the people asked who had given Moses the authority, he answered, "I AM."
I AM becomes a key name for God. And so centuries later, when Jesus says, "I AM" he's not just referring to a state of being....he's claiming his divinity. In essence, at the core of each of these sayings in John Jesus saying he is God. There's a connection. If we look to Jesus, we're looking to God, and if we're looking for God, we should take a look at Jesus. To know one is to know the other. So, if we get to know Jesus in these next 7 weeks, then we're also getting to know God. They go hand in hand.
Which is actually half of what Jesus is arguing in the passage from John. He's there in Jerusalem and some people are loving what he's saying and others think he's a fool. Still, others think he's a heretic. Jesus makes claims about who he is and the Pharisees retort, "yeah, but you're the only guy who says that." To which Jesus replies, "Well, me and the big guy upstairs." The Pharisees are looking for reasons to doubt him. But others can only see reasons to believe him. Jesus is different and they can see it. And it's powerful.
Alright, in Exodus, we heard God call Moses. And then Moses does as he is asked and prepares the Israelites to leave Egypt. After the plagues, Pharaoh says, "Get out. Go now! Take your people and your stuff with you." And so they go. First, they stop at Succoth and set up camp. Then they begin their long, long journey to the promised land. And one of the things God does for them provides a pillar of fire at night to light their way. For all those years and all those miles, as the Israelites whined about camping and even considered going back to Egypt....God was there....shining a light on them....a reminder that they weren't alone and they weren't lost. And then, when they finally arrive in the Promised Land, God says, "I don't want you to forget where you've been or what I've done. So every year, you're going to celebrate. You'll celebrate the harvest. You'll celebrate you aren't slaves. And you'll remember that I brought you here. You'll make a tent....a sukkot...a booth, and stay in it for a week, and each night you'll light a lamp to remember how I led you with the pillar of fire.
So, now, why did we just do a really long history lesson of Old Testament stories? Well, because this scene in John happens during the feast of Succoth. All of the Old Testament stories lay the foundation for Jesus' message. We can understand him as the light. We could leave it at that. But there's so much more. When Jesus stands up to say he is the light, it's on the last night of Succoth....the final night of celebration. And it's time to light the lantern in the courtyard. And so he goes to the place where people are expecting light....where they will tell the story and remember what God did for them....how God was a guiding light for all those years in the wilderness, in the midst of their fear, and doubt, expecting God to fulfill God's promises, but still in the time of limbo. And it's there, in the place of the lantern that Jesus stands and says, "I AM the light of the world. The person who follows me will never live in darkness but will have the light that gives life."
In essence, he's saying, "You've been remembering what God did, but don't you know God is still leading? And if you want to be following God, follow me. I am God's light. I will show you the way. I will be the light that tells you God has not left you. It's not just about what God did once upon a time...it's about what God is doing today. Which is pretty important for us, even today....
I think a lot of times we read the Bible as if it's just a history lesson. And while there is history there...that's not it's primary purpose. The purpose of the Bible is to direct us to God. It's to show us who God was and who God IS and who God promises to be in the future. So when we read about the Israelites and Jesus we can know that God's promises, God's light, was not just for them, they're for us too. We can remember and tell the story, but it's really only valuable if we let it become real in our lives. So the question becomes, are we focusing solely on what God did before, or are we looking for God to be doing something now? Are we hopeful? Expectant? Full of faith that God is with us? That God has not left us? In fact, that God will not leave us, but instead is taking us to a place of promise?
How exactly do we live that way? Well, I think it's about following Jesus with our daily living. It's about studying the scriptures to learn what he says and how he leads. And it's about praying and asking for answers and direction. It's about being faithful when we feel led. Letting Jesus be the light is about keeping his light in our path. It's not just about coming here to see the light from time to time, it's about taking the light with us, so that wherever we are we can remember that God is with us, that God is trying to lead us, and that God has a future of promise before us. Are we taking the light, or only drawing close from time to time?