About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together

John 12:20-33

"He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die." John 12:33.

Jesus knows the kind of death he is to die. 

Is this a good thing? 

Would YOU want to know?

If you knew the KIND of death you're gonna die, would it affect who you are today? 

Would it change you? 

Would it liberate you? 

Would you take up shark wrestling, because you'd know, "That's not it."

If you knew the DAY you will die, how would you want to be, between now and then? 

Would you stay in your room, staring at the calendar? 

Or would you, as Warren Zevon said, "Enjoy every sandwich"?

Would you be grateful beyond grateful for every minute, every day?

What would knowing this deadly important information do to who you are NOW and how you BE who you are?

Moses asked God for God's name. 

And God said, "I Am."

That's a funny name.

But then along came Jesus, the Son of God.

And especially in the Gospel According to John, Jesus claims the family name – again and again.

God is "I Am." 

Jesus is "I Am." 

And we ARE. 

'Til we ain't no more."

Jesus lived the kind of life he lived and

died the kind of death he died – 

to show us, 

to give us a way, 

to free us to decide – 

that WE can be a different AM while we still ARE.

My father died a year ago today.

He was 92 and he was ready.

He knew how he DIDN'T want to die – incapacitated in a hospital bed –

And for the most part, my mom and I were able to honor that, 

thanks to her good care and a magnificent Hospice program.

I also turned 62 this year,

And while that's still very young in many of your opinions,

It does get one thinking about the end.

It's strange, but I know other ministers who feel this way.

I feel closer to God at a funeral service than I ever do on Sunday mornings. 

At a funeral, we know why we're there. 

We know what has been. 

We know what is. 

We're not worried about silly things, like sound systems and whether our belts match our shoes.

There's no sugar-coating. 

It is. 

Truly. And finally.

Connie and Clyde were married for over 70 years. 

Can you imagine? 

You can do the math. 

They were married prenatally, which is now legal in Alabama.

One day, they summoned me to their home, to help them plan their funerals.

As a minister, there are people whose funerals you've been planning in your mind.

But this was not one of those cases.

So, we sit down in their living room. 

Everyone takes a deep breath. 

The gravity of the talk presses down. 

Connie had this sharp voice that always made me feel like I was in trouble. 

And sometimes I was, 

and it was her spiritual gift to always be the first to tell me so. 

Connie leans back, she says, 


We haven't set a date yet."

No, they hadn't set any dates. 

But they knew what was coming. 

I wonder if that's how Jesus felt. 

He hadn't set a date. 

But he knew.

"Memento mori." 

Remember you must die. 

Did you know people used to keep human skulls on their desks with this saying, to remind them? 

It sounds positively ghastly, as the British say.

I'm glad we don't do that anymore. 

But it does put unsubscribing to emails in perspective.

How did speaking of the kind of death he would die help Jesus? Did it?

Who did Jesus think he was? 

A lot of people asked that question.

"Just who does he think he is?"

A long time before Jesus was Jesus, Moses was Moses. 

Moses was. 

In Exodus 3, Moses takes off his shoes at the burning bush and asks God who God is. 

God tells Moses his name. 

God tells Moses, "I am who I am." 


That's a funny name. 

"I am who I am." 

"I am who I am." 

God spoke in Hebrew back then and not even Hebrew speakers really know what this means.

By the time it got from Hebrew to Latin to English to whatever the British think we Americans speak, who can say?

A lot of Bibles translate it a lot of different ways. 

It would be interesting to get a bunch of Bibles and see what different people say. 

Christian Bibles. 

Jewish Bibles.

Bibles translated into Cherokee – because there are.

"I AM." 

That's God's name. 

What does that mean? 

For a start, at the very least, what God's name says is that God is the Great IS of all that is. 

"The ground of all being," said Paul Tillich, a great theologian from the 1900s.

God just, IS. 

And because God IS who God IS, Jesus is who Jesus is. 

Jesus knows God. 

God is IN Jesus. 

And because of that, Jesus knows who HE is.

There's a family resemblance.

I love the old saying: "The apple don't fall far from the tree." 

Spoiler alert: It's not about fruit. 

But it can be about nuts.  

If you want to know why people are who they are, look at their parents. 

Look at who raised them. 

Or, forgot to raise them. 

"Ohhhhh. Now I get it." 

THAT'S why they're like that, say so many wives about 2 years into a marriage.

I know or I knew some of your parents. 

I'm so old I knew some of your grandparents. 

We're all a bunch of apples that don't fall from the tree. 

We might try to roll away. 

But it's hard to get out from under the shadow. 

In the Bible, Jesus is always saying, "I am." 

I am – the bread of life (John 6:35). 

I am – the light of the world (John 8:12). 

I am – the door (10:7). 

I am – the good shepherd (10:11, 14). 

I am – the resurrection and the life (11:25). 

I am – the way the truth and the life (14:6). 

I am – the true vine (15:1). 

I am, I am, I am. 

Just like his Father. 

Like Father, like Son. Like parents, like kids.

That's Jesus. 

And if Jesus resembles his Father, how is OUR resemblance going to our Heavenly Father?

How well or how poorly do we resemble our brother, Jesus?

How far or how near are we to the family tree?

For the longest time, not that long ago, sadly, 

adopted children were treated the same way they treated left-handed children, or red-headed stepchildren. 

Mean older brothers used to make their siblings cry by telling them they were found at a gas station. 

That's just the way society was. 

Good news for all adoptees and for us all: 

God runs the world's largest adoption agency. 

The Bible tells us so.

Today's reading starts with this apparently extraneous info:

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."


Funny-looking foreigners, funny-talking outsiders, who don't know what Jesus even looks like, are the ones who get this conversation going. 

Then, the Bible tells us, that the disciple they came up to, Philip, was from Bethsaida in Galilee. 

Philip wasn't from another country, but he was from at least a couple of counties over. 

Why mention that?

Apparently, the family resemblance of Jesus's disciples, his true mother and sisters and brothers, fell far from the family tree. 


What difference does it make?

John, the writer, seems to be going off on a tangent. 

But then, he loops it all back around to the deadly serious word. In the middle of this strangeness, Jesus says:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL people to myself."

He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. (12:32, 33)

I think we all know the death of Jesus IS way more than just one man's crucifixion. 

The kind of death, the purpose of his death, is to draw ALL people to himself. 

To show ALL people THIS is how much God loves us; 

THIS is what true greatness looks like. 

To tell ALL people. 

Indigenous people. 

Immigrant people. 

Strange people. 

Broken people. 

Old people. 

Young people. 

People from mythical places like West Virginia. 

People who barely even look like people. 

People who don't even know what Jesus looks like.

People who ARE way, way, way, way MORE than who they are on the surface.

People who will be GLORIFIED just like Jesus is GLORIFIED.

BECAUSE of the kind of death Jesus died, ALL people can have peace, and love, and hope NOW. 

Everybody can have life and death the same way Jesus had life and death. 

We don't know what's coming or when. 

It might be nice to know. 

We may not want to know. 

But we DO know THIS – is what it's about. 

It's about SO much more than what's skin deep.

The family resemblance is in our DNA, in our souls.

God is "I am who I am." 

Jesus is "I am." 

And YOU – are.

A child of the I AM.

You ARE part of this family. 

Born into it. 

Like it or not.

We are ALL "children of the LIVING God." 

And if you're a member of the "I am" family, how you ARE isn't locked in to how near or how far you've fallen out of your tree. 

In your life (in your BEING, in your "I AM"), and in your death (how you'll be remembered, what you'll leave behind, whatever lies ahead) – you ARE already so much MORE than whatever "is" right now.

Because you are made in the image of the Great I Am.

You're welcome to stand up and claim the family name. 

You're able to say, "I am" too. 

I matter. 

I matter in life. 

I matter in death. 

I belong. 

I belong to God. 

I belong to God's family. 

God's strange family of strange strangers and stranger siblings. 

You're part of God's family of near and familiar, normal and abnormal. 

Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." 

The apple may not fall far from the tree. 

But the apple contains seeds of new trees. 

Seeds of new life. 

Seeds that keep producing, as long as the earth keeps turning and the sun keeps shining. 

That IS pretty darn close to eternity, right now.

Whatever that IS for you.

And whoever you ARE.