I Am Everything
Annette Hill Briggs
In John chapters 7 and 8, Jesus is in a protracted fight with religious Jews who supposedly believe in him – which is not to say they were his disciples. I'm not sure what they were, exactly. The opposite side of the aisle maybe. Men ideally trying to work with Jesus… but they just cannot get there. Jesus and the Jews insult each other repeatedly. He suggests their scholars are stupid. He calls them Satan. He calls them murderers and Haters of God.
They call him a Samaritan – which doesn't sound like much to us, but was a real cut to a
full-blooded, devout Jew. The comparable modern words I'm not going to say here. They
call him demon-possessed. "If I am, so are you!" Jesus essentially says in 9:52, "and while
you are possessed by demons, I myself will never die." For the life of them they could not
think of a reason to let him keep talking. He was clearly insane.
Verse 58: "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I Am."
This kind of talk has a clinical diagnosis: delusions of grandeur – unless, of course, one
really is God. We know this language – I AM. “I AM” was God explaining God’s self to
Moses, remember? These Jews might have gotten along with Jesus, had Jesus met them
even half-way, had he appreciated the prudence of placating Rome whenever and
wherever possible. This was festival season, after all. Rome was on higher alert than
usual. Israel hardly needed country rabble-rousers stirring up crowds in Jerusalem. They
– the Jewish authorities in charge of keeping Rome happy enough to let them have some
religious autonomy – found themselves with three choices:
They want him to change: to change/soften/moderate his message. Jesus refuses. Jesus
insists on framing his presentation of the relationship between humans and God as the
difference between being the slave and being the child of a master. They claim to be
children of Abraham, and thus free. But if being Abraham's child forbids them to
consider God in any new light, are they not therefore enslaved?
Of course this is all crazy talk to them. As they see it, on the subject of Abraham there
wasn't anything TO discuss. That was established Jewish theology – not open to change.
Jesus says if they cling to their understanding of Abraham, they will never understand
what he has come to say.
But they are not the only people listening. Also listening was the early church to whom
John was writing, a church trying to figure out how to welcome Gentiles into full
fellowship and stay together as one body. They were facing the same trifecta of choices:
personally and constitutionally. How we view the world and other people. How we think
and behave. What we believe.
Meeting Jesus changes people, personally and constitutionally. The larger question being
argued and settled between Jesus and his opponents was “Who Am I?”
“I Am Everything!” was Jesus’s answer. Those trying to believe in him needed him to
change that answer if they were to believe.
Or shut him up.
They couldn’t change him. They wouldn’t change themselves. They tried to shush him.
Meeting Jesus changes us. Sticking with Jesus changes us again. And again and again and
again for the rest of our lives, hopefully. So much so that if we stick with Jesus long
enough, we will find ourselves strangers to the person we were before we knew Christ.
And different, hopefully, than we were ten and twenty years ago.
When my darling friend came out to her Southern Baptist parents as gay, this child upon
whose faith they had bragged and prided themselves for 24 years was all at once, in their
mind, hell-bound. And they told her so. Repeatedly. Because the faith they'd carried for
40 years did not include the possibility of being gay and being Christian, any more than
the faith of Jewish Christians in Jesus's time included the possibility of Jews and Gentiles
This is a zero-sum faith construct: you can keep your faith – in which case your daughter
is hell-bound; or accept that your daughter is Christian, thereby forfeiting your own faith
– in which case you are hell-bound. Solution: maintain limited contact with, while
withdrawing all approval and affection from, your child. Then pray for her to repent, for
the next 24 years. Skip her wedding and forbid her wife to visit your home. Invite her
but not her family to family events such as reunions and weddings. Acknowledge but do
not ever pick up, love on, or touch those four babies who are legally your grandchildren
but only know you from pictures.
My friend's wife also grew up Baptist. When she told her parents she was gay, they were
surprised and sad. When they told their church friends, their friends treated them like
their child had died. They never went back to that church again and are Presbyterian
now. They paid for the wedding. They are grandma and grandpa to those four kids. The
grandpa said that when his girl told him she was gay, he had three really hard weeks. “I
prayed about it and then I knew she was my same girl she'd always been – the girl God
gave me – and my job is to be her daddy no matter what. She is perfect and I am so proud of her.” His girl is a home-owning, tax-paying, church-going high school science teacher and a mom and a wife.
The thing is, Friends, the two sets of parents came from the same faith construct, but
were so different in it. For one, faith was very strong but also brittle. Big. And breakable.
A faith to be respected, feared, obeyed and strictly maintained as is and at all costs. Such
faith gets explained or justified in the language of sacrifice and suffering. I've no doubt
my friend's parents are much admired for the cross they've carried all these years in not
giving in to the temptation to accept their daughter's sinful lifestyle, thereby suggesting
to her that she is not in danger of judgment. While for the other, faith turned out to be
very strong. But also supple. Still big. But not always clear and evident in every detail.
But with plenty more room for faith while at the same time not knowing every detail. Big
enough to contain all different ways of being human that have nothing to do with being
Christian. Because being a human is the only condition for faith in Jesus. This faith is
bigger than the courage required to break from faith communities who expect a brother
to abandon his child in the name of Christ. Emotional abandonment is still
The religious Jews couldn’t change Jesus. They wouldn’t change themselves. So they
killed him – and failed to shut him up after all. Because he was and is the God “I AM.”
“I AM Everything.”
He rose. The church got the spirit and the gospel spread. A good number of the folks who believed it ended up finding that same gospel annoying. One of our Chinese women says, "Oh, that is so ‘annoising,’" which I think is a fabulous word! The gospel got “annoising” to the very people who believed it, when it wanted them to change too.
Include these Gentiles, the gospel said. And these women. And these really poor people.
Oh, and also, these Romans – you know, the ones who oppress you all the time. Them too. And when you can't figure out how to love a person, imagine how you'd want to be loved if you were them, and do that.
They tried – as hard as people can, I expect. But eventually Jews drifted out of Christian
faith and now it's mostly just us Gentiles – which isn't to say the problem got solved.
Turns out the difficulty wasn't Jewish after all but human – this impulse to take this
supple faith and make it hard and fast, as if to last forever just the way it is right now. As
if our rendering of the gospel here and now is how the gospel always was and shall
Another of my favorite moments at the Shattered Masks event was Laura Beth talking
about this church she attended in Texas that was full of people in recovery and how so
many of the people vaped during worship, and my instant thought – INSTANT! – was, “No
way are we EVER having people vape during worship." And I laughed inside at myself –
AT THE PROGRAM TO SHOW OFF HOW PROGRESSIVE and OPEN-MINDED MY CHURCH
IS, I’M ALREADY MAKING PLANS FOR WHO WILL ABSOLUTELY NOT BE WELCOME IN
All of which is to say that so long as we are breathing we are never done with faith, that
God is always going to pull us into deeper water to see what faith we are made of, to take us places we never thought we’d go.
For so, so, so, so, so, so long I thought faith was hanging on and climbing higher without
letting go, that believing was like working out. But faith is letting go, Friends, letting go
and falling into whatever future comes our way. Believing that the God who promised to
stay with us forever keeps that promise for all time. And then longer.
You can’t change me. You can’t quiet me. I am everything, Jesus says, Let me help you change yourself.
Would you pray with me?