Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
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SERMON
3 Lent
March 11, 2007
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The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Click here for today's Bible readings and Collect.
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Our lessons, today, are “uneven,” to say the least.

Two of them would seem to be, essentially, warnings – warnings of dire consequences to those who
stray – and calls to repentance. Rather grim readings that show us a possible side of God that isn’t
comfortable, isn’t very attractive; readings that refer to a God who acts in the world to punish
wrongdoers!

But what a different picture is painted by the psalm – and what a beautiful psalm! A hymn of praise for
God’s goodness and mercy!
  Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
  And all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
  He forgives all your sins*  and heals all your infirmities;
  He redeems your life from the grave* and crowns you with loving kindness.
  He satisfies you with good things,* and your youth is renewed like an eagles.
  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,* slow to anger and of great kindness.

What a different picture the psalm paints! What a different God it seems to extol! And what a glorious
faith that knows such a God!

The difference between these readings – the Epistle and the Gospel, on the one hand, and the Psalm  
on the other – is that the Epistle and Gospel aren’t really about God and God’s nature, at all – they’re
about us, and about what we need. while the Psalm is about God; about his loving kindness; about his
compassion and mercy; about his love that truly does conquer all things, conquers our worst failings,
and overcomes them with Love! What a magnificent song!

But then there’s the first reading, the Old Testament reading – the reading from the Book of the
Exodus.

This one is about God’s loving kindness and God’s mercy, too:
  “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry….; I know
  their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…, and to bring them out of that land
  to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

But this one – this reading – goes far, far beyond the other readings. This one goes right to the heart
of who God is!

And it’s all about the Name!

We modern folk don’t think very much about names. We choose names for all kinds of reasons”
because they’re connected with our families, or because they remind us of someone we like, or
because they sound nice, or just because they’re all the rage!

But we don’t often pick names for our children because of what they mean, which is something that
separates us from the generations that went before us, and certainly from our forebears in the faith –
the Hebrews – and that’s what this lesson is all about.

To the Hebrews, names were very important. In their thought, a name was not just some made up
thing, nor just a connection with the past or a way of honoring someone they cared about. Rather, it
had a meaning that bore the nature of the person named, and conveyed his essence; it summed up
the history and the reputation of the person and told exactly who and what the person was.

In our lesson, Moses, the Hebrew child who has been raised as an Egyptian, has gotten into trouble
and run away. And many years later – as his people are increasingly groaning under the weight of
their slavery, back in Egypt – he comes upon a burning bush in the wilderness – a bush that is
burning, but doesn’t burn up. When he stops to investigate this wonder, God speaks to him out of the
bush, and charges him to return to Egypt and to free God’s people!

That doesn’t sound like a great idea to Moses, so he begins raising all kinds of objections and
reasons why he really can’t do that. The first objection is that the people won’t listen to him unless
they know what god has sent him to free them – so what shall he tell them? “What is your name?”, he
asks God.

And God tells him, “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell them “I AM has sent you.” This God gives his name – that
appellation that describes Him and defines Him, as “I Am Who I Am.”

For over two thousand years, Christians and Jews have taken that name to mean, “I am the eternal
one; I am for all time and I am unchanging and true!” And that name has been a comfort to believers
through the ages.

But however long there has been that understanding, there’s a problem with it. And the problem is
that, while the Hebrew letters are right there in the ancient Bible texts, their real and full meaning has
long been lost. We just don’t really know what the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh (or YHVH in
English) mean. All that’s really known is that the letters have some connection with the verb form, “to
be”, and the rest is just a guess!

And there are those who don’t think the meaning can possibly be “I am,” and come up with another
conjecture – one they think is much, much more likely. And if you have a good, modern bible, you’ll
find this other possibility listed.

According to it, God’s name really means, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE!” Not “I Am,” But “I will be!”

And what possibilities that understanding opens up.

Classically, God has been conceived as being not only eternal but eternally unchanging; perfect in
every way with a perfection from which nothing can be taken away, and nothing added.  But there are
problems with that understanding, particularly if we believe in a God who loves, a God who relates to
his creation and to his people. After all, how can we conceive of relating to someone, and not being
changed by the relationship; how can we conceive of loving someone, and not being changed by the
mutual love? To love someone is for us to become part of the loved one, and for the loved one to
become part of us – to become one with us. And to be one with another – to love another – is to be
changed by the other, to be changed by the love! Life is not characterized by changelessness – but by
change, and, at best, by growth!

The classical understanding of the eternally unchanging and unchanged God presents us with a God
who seems cold, remote, uninvolved with his creation and with his creatures, because to be involved
entails change! It’s an understanding that led to the form of the faith called Deism – belief in a creator
God who is completely separated from his creation, and totally uninvolved in it.

But what if the Name of the God we worship is, “I will be what I will be?”

Then all kinds of wonderful possibilities open up to us – possibilities we always really assumed, but
which never fit the classical definition of God.

Suddenly the creation, itself, has meaning. And just as God created for the first human being a mate –
because human beings can’t be complete without someone to relate to, and, ultimately, someone to
love – so, in this understanding, God creates the universe to give himself something – somethings –
someones – to relate to!

This understanding gives God something – someones – to love!

God is love, the Scriptures tell us, but love requires an object of love – and God creates the world in
order to love it!

And in the love that God shares with God’s creation – God becomes more! God Grows in God’s
goodness. God grows in perfection. God grows in God’s capacity to love.

And this understanding gives us a part to play in God’s life, as the object of God’s love, and in
returning God’s love; a part to play in God’s becoming!

And with this understanding, the whole creation is elevated in its importance to God, and in its being
the object of God’s love, while at the same time, being God’s lover!

And with this understanding, the love of God for his people and the love of God’s people for God
become real and true; become the meaning of the universe.

And it’s this understanding that causes us to burst into song with the psalmist – singing, “Bless the
Lord, O my soul, and all that is in me bless his holy name!”

Because God loves us. And because we are important to the only Person who truly matters: the God
who will be what he will be – with our help, and with our love!

In Jesus Christ’s Name, amen.