I am what I am

The Propers for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Deus in loco

JMJ

FOR TODAY’S MASS the Church has given us a reather powerful Collect, asking for what we dare not ask, begging forgiveness for what we dare not name. The recognition of our sinful failings manifested in our weakness is important. Sometimes we do know what we need but we dare not say it out loud. I don’t think this is like St. Augustine’s famous “make me chaste but not yet” prayer. We’re too afraid to even say these things out loud. This might be a prayer useful for everyday, in fact, but I think it ties in particularly well with today’s Gospel, the Healing of the Deaf Mute. He can neither ask nor, as we shall see later, even think what he needs. We are like him and we need Jesus.

The Introit calls us all to a “unity of mind” while reminding us that it is God that gives this unity. So right up front, it seems possible that this Unity is one of the things that we dare not ask for. We seem to enjoy being disagreeable, or rather to enjoy being in disagreement. Think of how many times politics have easily divided us as a Christian Community. Think of how many partisan conversations you may have heard at coffee hour or read on Twitter. Even as I write I know I am guilty of this as well. What would it be like to find myself at unity of heart and mind in one house with people with whom I have great political disagreements? Dare I ask for this? Can a person experiencing oppression seek a unity of mind with those, in the same Church, who are the oppressors? More importantly, can the oppressor seek a unity of mind with the person he is oppressing? The oppressed can seek unity through constant acts of love and forgiveness. The oppressors, on the other hand, can only seek unity by ceasing to oppress. Dare we ask for this?

In the Epistle St Paul clearly states his right of place as an Apostle who preaches the Gospel. It is this Gospel proclaimed that is our unity.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I Corinthians 15:3-8

As we used to say in the Mysterium Fidei, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the Gospel that we proclaim. When we proclaim it we are in line with Paul and the other apostles.

Paul says, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” That last line is of interest because it seems to include the holy name of God, I Am. In Greek he says, Χαριτι δε θεου ειμι ο ειμι chariti de Theou eimi ho eimi with the eimi ho eimi being I am what I am. In Exodus 3:14, though (LXX) the Greek is very different: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν ego eimi ho on using four words that could be rendered I I-am-being the Being. Paul settles for just I am what I am. It’s not the Divine Name, but it is a claim: God has made me as I am.

If you are of a certain age you may have heard St Paul’s claim echoed in another context on Broadway. In the early 80s, the musical La Cage aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman included a key song called I am what I am sung by a character proclaiming his status on stage proudly. But it contained a crucial error in that it celebrated the character as self-made whereas St Paul identifies himself as God-made. The “back story” of each is not important, but the parallels are: both were doing what they thought was right. Paul is who is his not despite his history, but rather because he has turned his history over to God’s grace. He knows that God has to work with the self that St Paul brings to the party. God’s grace builds on St Paul’s self. To parallel last week’s Gospel, St Paul is the Publican who knows his history and says, “God will do something anyway. The Broadway character is a Pharisee singing out, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”

Grace builds on nature – if we bring our nature to the altar. So the Gradual and the Alleluia help us: Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent; depart not from me. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob! God is no far from us, but rather in him we can trust and we will be helped.

To this writer the Gospel in today’s Mass is one of the most important in our (EF) lectionary. The full content of this Gospel was not known – could not be known – until the 20th Century. A man deaf and dumb from birth – we know now – does not even have the brain cells or neural pathways needed for speech. We also know that the brain is thermoplastic, it looks set in its ways but given the right heat, it can be reformatted. Jesus’ cry of “Ephpheta” is like a nuclear blast changing all the circuits in this man’s brain. He goes from nothing to full grasp of the language in a moment. (The same sort of neural explosion happens again in a passage about a man born blind.)

When we turn our nature over to God’s grace what is there that he cannot do to us? He can turn an attacker into an Apostle. He can get a rich man into heaven. He can turn a prostitute into a preacher. He can turn death into life. What can he do in my heart if I but let him? What can he do not in spite of my nature, but through it? If enough people offer their hearts what can he do in a society or in a culture? If Salvation is preached to the world what will the kingdom of God look like? We will be like the voice in the Offertory saying, “O Lord, I have cried to Thee, and Thou hast healed me.”

Although the Secret is speaking of the bread and the wine, we can pray this over our whole lives: Look down in mercy upon our service, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that the gifts we offer may be acceptable unto Thee, and a support in our weakness. If we are looking for God now it is because of his action in our lives. Those prompts which we have reacted to and cooperated with have brought us to where we are. We offered these which have already been our support. These things which brought us here have already been your gift. We offer them and we hope you will build on them to do more in our lives.

In the Communion we see: Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first of all thy fruits: Substance here is everything. Honor the Lord with your offering of “I am what I am” and let God cry to you Ephpheta and thy barns shall be filled with abundance, and thy presses shall run over with wine. You will feel supported in soul and body; that being saved in both, we may glory in the fullness of the heavenly remedy. (Postcommunion.)

Today’s Missa Deus in loco Does not mean “God is crazy”, but we certainly know that our world at this time is very crazy. God is “in the crazy” with us. Our religion is one of incarnation – not escape. God’s holy place is here, with us, in our hearts and in our lives as he opens us to more grace that we may be filled with abundance to give to all the world around us. What this may be, we dare not know – but God will do so if we let him even if we do not dare. God takes our “I am” and makes it his own, that we may proclaim his salvation to all those around us.