I am who I am
We start today in Exodus 3, right at the beginning of the chapter.
And I just love this story.
One day while Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his
father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, he led the flock across the
desert and came to Sinai, the holy mountain. 2 There the angel of
the LORD appeared to him as a flame coming from the middle of a bush.
Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning
3 “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I will
go closer and see.”
4 When the LORD saw that Moses was coming closer, he called to him
from the middle of the bush and said, “Moses! Moses!”
He answered, “Yes, here I am.”
5 God said, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.
6 I am the God of your ancestors, the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” So Moses covered his face, because he
was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the LORD said, “I have seen how cruelly my people are being
treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave
drivers. I know all about their sufferings, 8 and so I have come to rescue
them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious
land, one which is rich and fertile ….
9I have heard the cry of my people, and I see how the Egyptians are oppressing them.
10 Now I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his
11 But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and
bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 God answered, “I will be with you, and when you bring the people out
of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. That will be the proof
that I have sent you.”
13 But Moses replied, “When I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The
God of your ancestors sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his
name?’ So what can I tell them?”
14 God said, “I am who I am.
So here we have the call of Moses by God and the start of his worries about the job he’s
taking on – some might call them excuses. There’s plenty more as the story develops
so please read on in your own time: Exodus 3 and beyond. It’s a great read. Now one of
the first problems that Moses brings up is how he will describe their God in a time of a
thousand and one gods. It is actually a fair point.
And God says: I am who I am.
That’s a brilliant answer but it leaves some people wondering what it means. Which is
the first great thing about it – God doesn’t do all the work for us. We’re supposed to
God doesn’t say I’m like the most powerful man you’ve ever met or the cleverest woman
you’ve ever known. Gender doesn’t get a mention, nor does strength, nor intelligence.
God doesn’t make something here out of what makes him different from other so-called
gods. I AM WHO I AM is all he says.
For me, it suggests consistency. However you look at God, wherever you may be,
whatever times you may live in, he is still who he was, is and always will be. There will never be a horrible surprise where you discover that God does something to you that is unfair or unkind or just plain thoughtless. That’s simply not who he is.
And, of course, we’ve increasingly used that phrase from Exodus 3. When people
challenge us, we say: Well, I am who I am. The trouble is that this often means we are
excusing ourselves. When Alison says you haven’t hammered that nail in straight, I tell
her I’m a poet. What did she expect? I’m declaring I am who I am and you get what you
get. These days, even our children don’t allow me anywhere near practical tasks in their
own houses unless it’s of the most basic sort. I’m not to be trusted.
Now there’s some truth me telling my family that’s just how it is with me – I’ve got a
poor-ish level of hand eye co-ordination and my upper body strength was always well
below average. But being not very good reduces people’s expectations of you and that’s
rather nice. In reality, some practical tasks, I complete relatively well – mowing a lawn is
one of them. So watch for the person who ducks out with a blanket excuse.
But I am who I am also has another effect on people. We look at others who do things
well and we think: “Well, it’s all right for them – that’s who they are. I could never do it.”
And, in saying that we start assuming these things are easier for them than us.
Often it’s not true. People’s lives are generally much more difficult than we imagine.
Their skills do not come easily or without lots of problems along the way.
I love leading worship and it’s a pleasure to be with you now but, across the years,
people have said: well, it comes naturally to you. I’m flattered that people think that but it
actually isn’t true. Unlike God, I am not solid through and through. I didn’t get to where I
am now easily. In fact, I nearly didn’t get anywhere at all.
The London Smog of December 1951 had a good go at making me one of its statistics. I
was 18 months old and for several years suffered from asthma, sometimes still do. The
doctors were concerned that I wasn’t “thriving” and I was marked down on my medical
notes as being “delicate”. Observe that they said delicate not subtle – no one has ever
called me subtle.
There were advantages. The clinic provided powdered orange juice for me and my
mother bought Radio Malt which I got by the spoonful on a daily basis. Delicious! Think
it was also marketed as Virol. But the truth of it is that I was a bit weak and I know very
well there were questions about whether I’d make it to adulthood.
Going to school didn’t help the impression I made on the world. In my Infants class I
was the second slowest at running. All the girls could beat me and only one of the boys
trailed in behind. Notice that there weren’t girls and boys races – gender equality was
alive and well in the 1950s at least until you started growing up!
The point was emphasised when I was with Sharon, one of the few people in the class
who were shorter than me. Climbing trees was her thing and we started doing this
together. She could get twice as high in the branches as me and leapt back to the
ground with the agility of a cat. I struggled up and clung on desperately as I slithered
Being this feeble probably wouldn’t have mattered if I had been intelligent. But I also
struggled with learning to read. When we moved from infants to juniors, I was put in the
slower-learning set rather than the group that would eventually be coached towards
grammar school over the next few years.
When you look at me today, that’s probably not how you imagine my early years in
school. But it’s true. It wasn’t dreadful. I made a few friends, went to Jeremy
Gathercole’s birthday party and discovered that this was the portal into the world of jelly
and ice cream. But I knew I wasn’t very good. At anything. And, even when I started to read better and got promoted to the higher group, I was more aware of my shortcomings than my achievements
So the first big thing about church for me was that I was accepted. Sunday school didn’t
operate with the rough and tumble of the playground or the cut and thrust of the
classroom. No one was telling me how I was doing. We just all mucked in together.
Church was a place of zero expectations about me. Given the way that church people
sometimes create the impression that they’re on a desperate self-improvement drive, it
may sound like an unexpected feeling.
But the thing about Sunday Schools is that they often have a much stronger grip on the
Christianity’s basic theology than the main part of the church. Both here and especially
in America, the message to the pew is time and again about Victorious Living – being
better, stronger, greater, and in some cases richer. It’s okay if you’re one of the fit and
fantastic but it’s a confirmation of failure for those who are struggling.
In Sunday School, I learnt that it doesn’t matter, what you are like or what you’ve
achieved, you’re accepted by God. Of course we need to say sorry for the things that
hurt others – but I knew that anyway. Of course we need to try better: that’s blindingly
obvious. But at the heart of everything is a God who wants to be our daddy – that’s my
preferred translation of abba
As some of you know, I’ve become not a dad but a grandad in lockdown and it’s great
… although Reuben is surely doubling both in weight and length every time I see him.
Now, when our daughter Rhiannon got back from her first day out since our grandson
Reuben was born, like all new mums, she wondered what she would find. Would the
baby be neatly tucked up in his cot? Absolutely not.
Instead dad was fast asleep on their massive sofa with Reuben safely tucked alongside
him, fast asleep as well. Not textbook care but lovely nonetheless. And, if God as our
father means anything, it does not mean he’ll tuck us safely away in some well organised place for our own good, it means he will be there with us. If we fall asleep on
the sofa, he’ll tuck himself alongside us and keep us safe.
And, somewhere along the line, I found out through the people I met in our church that I
was accepted, I was loved and God could even use someone like me. So that’s who I
am. I did crack the learning to read eventually and the learning to write. I never did sort
out the climbing trees very well but I got to realise that Sharon was my friend however
well or badly I did the tree thing. We’re all different but we are all loved. Amen