The Rev. Canon Barbara T. Duncan, D.Min.
“Who am I?” is a question that seems to have no conclusive answer. It’s because each day and each new encounter with another person affects my responses to others as well as my understanding of my life in Christ. I struggle with it from time to time. But that is not the sum of it for any of us.
A little over twenty-seven years ago, a tiny bundle of joy was born into our family. For a while I turned my attention away from myself and to this new person who had entered and transformed our lives. As I looked at this newborn, I asked, “Who are you?” As the years passed and I watched him grow, I observed that this person marched to his own drummer. Every new thing and place became the object of intense concentration. Neither could he be simply called to come in from play but had to be given a countdown—five minutes, three minutes, it’s time now.
The second born is very different, equally as good in academics, but hardly as interested in the details. There was just too much fun to be had in the classroom and neighborhood. The gleam in his eyes was a dead giveaway to knowledge of or complicity in some mischief. A part of the identity of this child was his generous heart—always helping the older neighbors or including others at our table for meals.
Then there were numbers three and four, one quiet, introverted and content to just be with mom and follow the few rules. The fourth, in therapy, sorting out her confusion of birth family and adoptive family. She, too, struggled with the question, “Who am I?” Rules were not only a nuisance for her but they were there for the others.
That my four children are so very different doesn’t come as a surprise. We see how different we all are through the lenses of our siblings, our friends, our coworkers. Sometimes we are even guilty of comparing ourselves to them—our shortcomings as well as our strengths—searching for our own identities.
As we hear the conversation between God and Moses, God establishes an identity with Moses. “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell the people I AM sent you. God apparently realized that Moses was going to have to say a little more about I AM to the Pharaoh and the people of Israel. That response would hardly answer the identity question for most people. But to further clarify God’s identity to the Israelites, a point of reference is given. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
So what? These three people were very different from each other. They had suffered their own identity crises. But they were known because of their encounters with God. Their stories were the stuff of legends.
All of us may find ourselves included in one of these three personalities.
There was Abraham who had been called as an old man to pack up his goods and kindred and head out into unknown territory. Abraham trusts God enough to just go, carrying his doubts and, later, the many disappointments in one of his satchels. The nomad spirit was alive and well ready for a new adventure.
Our God, I AM, does not seek adventure only but is also Isaac’s God. Isaac is a quiet man, uninteresting and a person we might call a “homebody.” And in truth, this is how most of us are—not likely to set the world on fire but steady and dependable, regular in worship and work and lending a helping hand when we can.
It is said that Abraham Lincoln was once called into question about a friendship that he kept with a certain man. “He is such a common man, I wonder that you can endure him,” was the critic’s comment. Lincoln’s reply was memorable. “I sometimes think,” he said, “that God must like common people. [God] made so many of them.”
But our God of Jacob deals with another personality altogether. Jacob is dishonest and pious, crafty and devout, a man of the world. We may even be a little indignant that God would show him any favor since Jacob could be so treacherous and a person who wanted his own way. Yet, Jacob needs God probably more than the others. For it is in his bold sinfulness that Jacob struggles and that God is able to use him for the glory of Israel.
All of us experience God differently. Our life experiences lend a certain bias to how we interpret God’s action in our own lives. But the one certainty that we have is that God does not change.
I AM WHO I AM has reigned throughout human history, in every time and place, as our God of unchangeable power and might. Many of the people who are here this morning have come from New Hampshire. Their motto, The Granite State, is a wonderful testament to Jacob’s characteristic name for God, the Rock of Israel. This rock is hard and symbolizes sturdiness and dependability. Jacob was probably doing a little projection, for this title was indicative of his tenacity that could not be overlooked. And as we know, Jacob banged himself against God, the Eternal Rock, until it became to clear to him who God really is. Jacob’s experience brings to mind our presidential primaries, a time of testing one’s call to this nation’s highest elected office. Of course, the first place of testing is where else, other than the Granite State itself. Many a candidate has risen or fallen based on the tenacity and discernment of the people of New Hampshire.
I AM WHO I AM calls to us each day to say to us, “I love you just as you are.” If we wait until we think that we are fit to be used by God to carry out the mission of Christ, we are doomed. The same Rock of Jacob is our Rock of today and all of our tomorrows—Jesus the Christ.
Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?
We are all different yet share our common humanity as children of God. Some of us are introverts, others of us are extroverts. Many of us are wrestling with God to have our own way and to do what we please and in our own time. But God has a way in God’s time of commanding our attention. It took a burning bush for Moses. The best part of the mystery is that God uses us in spite of ourselves. God uses our strengths and our weaknesses. We are created differently that the body of Christ might be whole.
Edward Mote wrote in the early nineteenth century the words that conveyed his understanding of where his Rock was to be found no matter what life dealt him. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…” begins the chorus to his hymn. We can join the hymnist only as we are able to give ourselves over fully to our Lord: not as people free of struggle or pain but as those who are willing to venture into our personal wilderness, trusting that Jesus is in the wilderness with us, our Rock and the hope of our salvation.