Many people who received Christian baptism as children today have little contact with the worship and life of their faith community. Their absence is a great loss for the church.
But the greater sadness is that many of these people think that they are also distant from God. This is not true. God is always very near to every person.
Those who see themselves on the periphery of the church often speak of the church with grateful nostalgia naming their Christian up-bringing as a solid training ground for a good life. Many are thankful for the moral code they received in their religious education. They are often generous in forgiving the imperfections of imperfect religious teachers. They live today with a sound sense of social justice often learned at the feet of those who lived the social teaching of the church.
But the fact is that too many of these good people speak of their connection with the church as a life that they have outgrown. While they have a positive nostalgia for the church, their faith practice might be little more than keeping a moral or social code or following an historical wise man called Jesus Christ.
The section of the Moses story in today’s first reading follows the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush. Moses was surprised that God would choose to speak directly to him. Moses knew that God had always existed but dwelt in the distant heavens. Now Moses was hearing the voice of a God who was choosing to be accessible to people, a God who was taking another step in being available to those who sought relationship with him. “Who shall I tell the people that you are” Moses asks God. “Tell them I AM who AM” replies God.
If you have the chance to share this story with children you can find a very helpful five minute video for children at this link.
In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus name himself “I AM.” He is speaking of himself in the present tense, not I was or I will be but I AM.
Perhaps it’s easy to believe in a God who lived only in the past or whom we might encounter in the future.
I might be able to talk easily about who I myself used to be or who I hope to be in the future, but we often struggle with the present reality of ourselves and the present reality of God. Perhaps this is why when God is speaking to Moses or to the Pharisees he emphasises “I AM.”
We might be aware of the presence of Jesus with us in the past, but this is not enough for us today. We can’t live life happily today looking only in the rear-view mirror. The one who is preoccupied with what is behind can not move confidrntly into the future and misses the grace of the present moment. Without a present experience of Jesus in the midst of the joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties of our lives today we are left feeling alone.
Whatever our feeling, even if we feel that God is not present, the fact remains that God is with us. You might be able to look back at a past struggle, a time when you were even uncertain of God’s existence let alone God’s presence, but with hindsight and grace you can see that even then God was present at a level much deeper than your perception and was supporting and leading you. You were not alone then, and you are not alone now. God is: “I am with you.”
Take a moment to call to mind the fact that Jesus is present with you in the reality of your life today. Jesus is not I was or I will be, but today for you and with you Jesus is I AM
Even if you do feel as though you are distant from the church of your baptism, remember that this is not a problem for God. The most important thing is to give Jesus an opportunity to rekindle his relationship with you today. Connection with the church may come later, but that is not the primary thing today. Today, simply know that Jesus is with you. You are not alone. Ask Jesus for the life and the love that you need.
This well known “Footprints” poem reminds us that even when we think God is distant, God is always the present I AM