Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
A few months ago I received an email from a lady who wondered whether we were related. We had both had our DNA ancestry composition analyzed by one of those highly marketed companies that offers those services, and our names appeared on a list of possible DNA matches. After an exchange of family information, it turns out that she and I are second cousins.
This discovery has led to a joyful reunion with two of my paternal cousins whom I hadn’t seen since we were teenagers. We recently gathered on Zoom and celebrated our reacquaintance. One of my sisters joined the conversation. We have arranged to meet monthly and invite other siblings to become a part of our expanding family circle.
Deborah, the daughter of one of my cousins, initiated the contact. Since that time, we have been filling each other in on the gaps in our common family history. It has been a delightful discovery. Thanks be to God for the gift of technology.
My wife had bought me the testing kit as a Christmas present in 2018, and it sat on our living room coffee table for more than nine months, until I finally felt moved enough to spit into a test tube – which is hard work, by the way – and send in my sample to be analyzed. I confess it took more than a little prodding from the giver of the gift, who was more anxious than I was to know what secrets my saliva would reveal.
Though I was at first suspiciously reluctant to poke around my family tree, I understand why it matters to some people. Rightly or wrongly, our origins become a matter of reputation, status, and class in society. Where one is born, one’s family history, or where one’s family comes from can be a source of pride or shame. Earlier in our Lenten journey, we read Nathanael’s disparaging comment about Jesus in the Gospel according to John: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46]
Jesus’ words in today’s focus verse at the top, “Before Abraham was, I am,” comes in the midst of a heated debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, the Jewish authorities who claim that their ancestry gave them special spiritual status before God. Jesus, however, argues that they cancelled their claim to privilege by refusing to obey God’s word. I would encourage you to read the entire chapter to get the context.
Sadly, the church today, despite its many years of existence, is just as guilty as the Pharisees. Far too often we have ignored our mission as a community of faith: to bring the living gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken world, where we are wrestling not only with a pandemic, but with political polarization, systemic racial injustice, civil unrest, hunger, poverty, and homelessness.
As Americans, we struggle with our origins, our identities, and our relationships with God, with one another, and with the world. We have seen a rise in “Christian Nationalism,” a form of political idolatry that weaponizes the church’s mission and suppresses our racist history. When carried to an extreme, it can result in horrendous and appalling scenes like what we witnessed on January 6, in the attack on our nation’s capitol.
People want dominance without understanding that it goes against everything God wants. Jesus knew, understood, and was totally obedient to his mission – to journey to the cross. Our world today, however, moves in the other direction. It runs away from the cross.
It is crucial for us to live as disciples of Christ because many seekers are looking for God, but are reluctant to enter the doors of a church. For some, the closest they may get to the Christ and the cross, is the Christ and the cross they see in us.
In a world where all too often it seems like everyone lives and dies for themselves alone, the Christian community must be the one place where all are brothers, all are sisters, and all are friends.
It must be the place where we live for each other, where we care as much about the lives of others as we do our own.
Like Jesus, each and every one of us, no matter what one’s ancestry, has an identity that transcends race, ethnicity, culture, or lifestyle. That identity is: child of God.
And that is the message that inspires our Lenten journey – God’s love for us. It is a love that frees us and redefines us as people of God, and as members of the whole body of Christ.
† † †
There is no post tomorrow, the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
Don’t forget to set your clocks one hour ahead before going to bed tonight.