Audio length: 9:59 minutes
Transcript published: August 30, 2012
If we can say to ourselves with St Paul, “I am what I am”, and at the same time acknowledge the reality that Christ died and was resurrected then we will be living out that reality that St Paul sets for each of us in his Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, verse 13, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”.
In the epistle for today, St Paul is writing to the Christians in the large, multi-cultural city of Corinth. This city, with its 250,000 free citizens and 400,000 slaves, has been called “the chief city of Greece” at that time. Now, Corinth was not a university town like Athens, but Corinth was a place whose people were interested in philosophy and wisdom. This 15th chapter of St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians is largely about the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, but in explaining the resurrection and how Christ had appeared to him, “the least of the apostles”, St Paul accepts not only the reality of Christ as a person, but his own reality as a person. St Paul knows his weaknesses, yet he insists: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove [in] vain”.
St Paul offers us here a model not only of his own life, but of what our lives can be. We can each accept the reality of Christ as a person, and our own reality as independent, loving persons. My wife, Sylvia, and I were talking recently about a difficult situation; and I would like to share our chat with you—with her permission. I asked her, “Are you O.K.?” and she replied, “I don’t know if I’m O.K. or I’m not O.K. I am”. That is quite a profound answer. In many situations in life, we don’t know if we will be O.K. or not O.K., but we still live in the midst of those situations.
In Exodus Chapter 3, when Moses asked God what His name was, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM,” which we translate into English as “YaHWeH”, meaning “Lord”. In a very real sense, God is the great “I am”, the Lord of our lives to whom we can turn, seeking help in any situation. When we look at our lives and say to ourselves and to others, “I am”, we participate in God’s statement of His name as, “I AM WHO I AM”. We are each created in the image of God. In a sense, He is the great “I AM” and we can each model our lives on His life, just as St Paul did.
Often, we don’t quite know whether we can cope with a particular situation, but we know that we are alive and relating to God and relating to other people. In a sense, as each of us approach our own lives with the words, “I am” we are saying to ourselves and to those around us and to Christ, “I am present here in this sacred moment. I am striving to deal with this difficult situation. I am trusting in you, LORD, to show me how to live”.
The alternative to saying “I am” is to deny that there is a problem, to turn back to a more attractive past and to pretend that the present reality is not real. As many of us know, that doesn’t work. The past is gone; and the future is yet to be. We live in the present, no matter what problems the present may throw at us. So I hope that you too are helped by Sylvia’s insight, as I was. Whatever problem we are facing, we can each say to ourselves, “I am”, meaning “I am here in the present, facing this particular problem, praying about what to do, learning how to resolve this difficult situation”.
Now, the fact that we are trying within ourselves to face a personal difficult situation does not mean we should reveal those private, personal problems to other people. As long as we believe in the reality of Christ and His resurrection, we can believe in ourselves and in the power of God’s grace to resolve our situation. It may well be appropriate to seek help in confession and advice from our spiritual father. It may be that we can gain a calmness and an awareness of how to face a particular problem through prayer and reflecting on the insights of the Bible.
Many people in many different books of the Bible face and resolve difficult situations in surprising ways. For example, Sylvia and I have often resolved difficult situations through what we call, “the Noah principle”. In Genesis, Chapter 9, verse 23, two of Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, became aware that their father was naked and drunk, but they “took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness”. When Noah recovered, he realized that he had behaved badly as he celebrated a magnificent harvest; and he was grateful to those two of his sons who had helped him rest alone until he had recovered. Yet Noah was also angry with his son Ham who had watched and joked about his father’s bad behaviour. Sometimes in life we cannot help someone quickly, but we can pray and wait for their recovery and not expose their behaviour.
The Hebrew word, “Amen” means, “So be it.” Thus when we say “Amen” we are expressing the conviction that our prayer will be answered, that our hope will be fulfilled. The hope that we express in prayer is most likely to be fulfilled when we face the reality of the present, when we live in what has been called, “the sacrament of the present moment”. Of course, we admit our past sins and we cling to our future hopes, but our central focus remains living in the present moment. When we can say to ourselves, “I am” we are very much in touch with God and in touch with our deepest hopes for our own lives and the lives of others, especially those who are closest to us.
To conclude, let us remember what St Paul urged us to do in his First Letter to Timothy, Chapter 4, verse 10—to “fix our hope on the living God”. c God will be at work in each of us, because we are one with Christ. We are accepting in our own lives the reality of both joy and suffering, confident, as the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews expresses his own hope in the closing chapter of Hebrews, “Jesus our Lord [will] equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen”. That is a realistic goal for every person who comes to worship at St Aidan’s—to do the will of God, because in our own lives we have accepted the presence of Christ who equips us to face reality, as we say “I am”.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.