Home      Back to Passion Sunday       





Passion Sunday--April 9, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: Hebrews 9:11-15 and John 8:46-59 
"Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? Jesus answered, ". . .If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you. . ." 

When we hear this Gospel on Passion Sunday, it strikes me that there is an awful lot of name calling going on. It sounds like a childish school yard brawl. The leadership of the Jews have had an ongoing discussion (if you want to call it that) with Jesus, and Jesus is trying to assert who he is to them, and their response is to call him a name. They call him a Samaritan, a heretic. They say, "You must be crazy." That's really what it means when they say, "He has a devil." 

You're out of your mind. You're crazy. If you're not a heretic, then you're crazy. And Jesus' response? "Look! If I tell you that I haven't seen my Father, I'd be like you, a liar." So heretic, crazy, you're a liar, and then it really degenerates into the school yard brawl when they pick up rocks to stone him and Jesus has to hide himself. His "hour" has not yet come. 

Strange little Gospel that we have here. Amid all this name calling, it's difficult for us to pick out what it is that St. John wants to communicate on this Passion Sunday. What is it that St. John is trying to teach us about Jesus, about ourselves? 

First of all, there is a great deal here that has to do with names. Name calling, of course. But even more importantly, Jesus is developing an idea for these people who couldn't accept who he truly is. "Before Abraham came to be, I AM". I AM! Yahweh! This is the name for God. This is the culmination of the whole discussion. He is revealing to them, in no uncertain terms, who he is. I am God. No wonder they wanted to pick up stones because to assume the rank of God is blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning. Jesus tells us straight away who he is. Pretentious, isn't it, for this man to be saying, " I AM." I am God. 

Two weeks from now, we will be celebrating just that. In the resurrection of Jesus our Lord from the dead, he is vindicated by the Father. His sacrifice has been accepted by the Father. His sacrifice on behalf of all of us. His very life given up on the cross. That sacrifice is accepted by the Father and the Father raises him up again on the third day. He is God. He is the Son of God. 

So what do we do with all of this name calling? Perhaps we might stop and think about who we call God. Who is God for us? The "deus ex machina" of drama? In the old Greek dramas, when everyone got in a turmoil and the plot got thicker and thicker, they used to lower a god on a pulley, who settled everything. Is that our God? The one we pray to only when we are in trouble or when we are ill or when things are going terribly badly? Then it's "0 God, please help me." 

Or is our God (if you will excuse the term) the "man upstairs". (What an abominable name for God!) What we do with that name, if it can be called such, is take away all of His glory and transcendence. God, as one theologian said, is completely "Other". He is transcendent. He is so completely beyond us. He is God. He is not just the “man upstairs”. 

Who is our God? Many people in society take their own notion of God, an inaccurate one, conjure it up and make that into their god. “And man said, ‘Let us make God in our image and likeness.’" A perversion of Genesis. Throughout history, that is what happened. The gods of the Greeks and the Romans were given their anthropomorphic characteristics, their human characteristics, and their faults, because in that way they could control their gods. Our God is beyond our control. Thank heavens! We don't make our God in our image and likeness. Who wants to worship at that throne? Our God is completely Other, transcendent, above all, the unmoved Mover. Whatever you want to say, He is. And that is what Jesus says in the Gospel: simply. "I AM" 

And what do we say about ourselves? In this school yard brawl in the Gospel today, these individuals disputing with Jesus would say, "We are the sons of Abraham, therefore everything that we say and do is perfect and wonderful." Jesus says, "Before Abraham came to be, I AM. Abraham saw my day and rejoiced." You know what John was thinking when he wrote that? Remember the story of Isaac's birth? "And Abraham laughed for joy." Jesus is the new Isaac, if you will; the fulfillment of God's promise. Abraham would rejoice because he knew that here God is true to His word, that he would be the father of a great nation, that his people would be God's people. 

What can we do with this? Who are we? There are a wonderful little pair of verses in the third chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians, 

"All of you (that's you and me!) who have been baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves in him." We've put on Christ. "There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ. Furthermore, if you belong to Christ, you are the descendants of Abraham, which means that you inherit all that was promised".

We are the descendants of Abraham. We are the descendants according to the promise, not according to the flesh. Remember that very difficult reading last week.? That's what it was about. We are the children of Abraham according to the promise. What God promised to Abraham and to his posterity he has promised to us. We are God's own people. We have been given a spirit of adoption whereby we can call out 'Abba', that is 'Father'. This is our dignity. This is who we are. I think it is much more beautiful to acknowledge who God is and who we are in the context of the Scriptures, rather than to attempt to conjure up all kinds of notions about who God is and what we are. 

In a few days we will be celebrating the mysteries of our redemption: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. We will be celebrating not only good theatre (which all good liturgy is) but we will be celebrating the very mysteries of our salvation. We are immersed in those mysteries as we participate in the Liturgies of those days. As God's holy people, we are one in Christ Jesus. If we are one in him, if we are so intimately joined to him, then, in Christ, we enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We celebrate the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday. We go to the cross on Good Friday. And we rise with Him on Easter Sunday. That's what our liturgy is about. It is not a spectator sport. It's the participation of all of us in the mysteries of our salvation. 

Amid all of that name calling in today's Gospel are some wonderful golden nuggets of truth: who God is and who we are. Meditate on those words of Jesus today --who he truly is: "Before Abraham came to be, I AM." Think of them during the week. "I AM." Think of who you are. Remember, each one of us is a member of Christ's Mystical Body. We live in him!

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstan’s Church and Fr. Sisterman.