‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ John 8:58
There are those moments in life, where everything changes. The great ‘turning points’ that are as real in our mind now as they were on the day they took place. I can certainly think of a few big changing points in my life but few stick out as vividly as the night that Maisie was born. Most of you know the feeling and the rest can probably imagine, that after the hours of panic, stress and pain, the uncertainty and fear – which I’m told is a little worse for the woman than it is for the bloke – after all the whirlwind of packed bags and last minute texts, past all of the drawn out agony, there, at last, is this little human being who is put into your hands. Nothing can really ever prepare you for that feeling, can it? Your whole life pivots on that moment as you recognise that for the rest of your life, you will be devoted to that little person. It is a massive turning point as, now, the rest of your life is going to be devoted to this little person. Well, it could be said that today, what we encounter on passion Sunday, this Sunday, is one such turning point.
In our Gospel reading today (John 8:46-59), we reach a turning point. The people are questioning Jesus and Jesus says that Abraham knew what was going to happen in Jesus’ ministry, that he had a foretaste of Jesus in the promise God gave to Abraham that his decedents would lead to divine blessing for the world. The people are obviously shocked by this, because Abraham has been dead for over a millennia, but Jesus says that Abraham knew of him. Here comes the turning point, Jesus doesn’t just say He was around before Abraham, or that He was ‘born’ before Abraham, which would have been shocking enough, instead he goes for those divine words. Verse 58: “Before Abraham was born, I am.” I. Am. “I am” is the way God chooses to reveal Himself. “I am” implies continued existence, that at the time of Abraham’s birth, Jesus existed. “I am” was like the title of God, it often came with a turning point. In Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks God for a name God says “I AM who I AM.” The great “I AM” is the One who set the captives free, the great I AM was the One who liberated the people of Israel from slavery and led them through the wilderness into the promised land. The great I AM is the Promise Keeper, the World Shaker, the History Maker, the Protector and God of Israel and here, Jesus says, before Abraham was born, “I AM.” The Jewish people knew who that “I AM” was, they understood, and then they got pretty blooming angry about it. So angry that, presumably in a rage, they picked up stones to throw at Jesus and, let me be clear, the reason they threw stones back then was so that no one person shared the blame of death from an execution. They wanted to stone Jesus to death.
“I am” in today’s gospel reading comes at a turning point. This is the point at which the people of Israel, for the most part, start to reject Jesus all the more in John’s Gospel. The Jewish people have had the chance to accept someone greater than Abraham and yet what did they do? They drove Him out of the temple. Jesus, in a sort of preview of the cross, is seen having stones thrown at Him for His saving works among the people, for His attempt to bless the world in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham’s. This is a turning point, both a turning point for Jesus ministry, towards the cross, and for the people of the world. It’s a turning point for the people of Israel and of the world because here he is, the ‘I AM’ is walking among the people! The Battle of Britain is being fought over the people’s heads. Yet it’s also a turning point in ministry of Christ because now His ministry is changing, His ministry is turning to look towards the cross, towards persecution and death.
And the Cross, towards which we now look, is the greatest turning point in history. More than any physical battle ever fought, our lives were saved by the Cross; more than any physical liberation, our freedom from sin has been achieved by the cross; more than any physical birth, we can be new creations in the Cross, if we only have faith in what Jesus did there! The perfect I AM who died for you.
I also think that these next few weeks could be a turning point for our church. Both in the sense that we can, through faith, step out and see our church grow in stature and depth, but also as we turn towards Easter and towards the cross, with Christ. Historically this is the time during which all of the statues and icons in church would have a veil put on them, so that we could remember to put ourselves into the true story of Jesus – to live by faith and not by sight – to focus our hearts, not just our eyes, upon the Cross. This is the season we turn our focus towards the cross.
As we turn towards the cross, maybe we could all go off and think of a 30 second way to share our faith with others, a practice that myself and Father Mike both had to do in college and found really helpful. We could think of a 30 second way to share the Gospel, and then actually go and do that. As Jesus did. That will all come, I think, if we hold the cross in our hearts over the next few weeks, if we realise what Jesus did there. If the longing in our heart is to see more people in this place, not to make our church look important, but to see people with an understanding of Jesus and freedom from sin, then that’s going to mean that you go out and tell people about him. Today we are at the turning point. Let’s turn our town towards Christ. Let’s turn ourselves towards the Cross. Amen (from Fr Jordan).