“I am, we are, He is”

August 1, 2013

Louisville

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! … Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord. May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion. (Ps. 133:1; 134, NRSV)

Following South Africa’s struggle for equality during the apartheid regime, Archbishop Desmond Tutu popularized for the West the South African notion of Ubuntu, signified by this symbol:

ubuntu

The term is roughly translated as “human kindness, virtue, goodness.” Ubuntu speaks of the life of the human community, namely that our actions and decisions are not exclusive to us as isolated individuals, but that one tree affects the whole forest: “I am because we are.”

At the recent Presbyterian Youth Triennium last month at Purdue University, about 5,300 teenagers and young adult leaders gathered for a week of worship, Bible study, small group reflection, recreation, energizers, and mission service, under the banner, “I am,” based on the various “I am” sayings of Jesus Christ in the Gospel according to John. In the midst of the many societal, cultural, and relational forces that dictate to us who and what we are, at the root and core of who we are is our identity as children of God, followers of Jesus Christ, sisters and brothers in the faith, and members of the family of the triune God. No volume of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram followers can convince us otherwise.

The series of Psalms called the Song of Ascents—Chapters 120–134—depicts the community of God’s people making the pilgrimage from disparate places, eventually ending up in the Kidron Valley and ascending towards the city of David, Jerusalem, where a pilgrim would behold the gates of the great city and the holy Temple. These songs expressed the praises of God’s people to the living and true God, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the very God who beckons them to come, to meet, to worship, to pray, to delight in the presence and power of God. And to do so, together. What the Psalms did—in the context of the community’s worship—was enable the covenant community to rediscover, embrace, and celebrate the community to which they belong; and more importantly and supremely, the very Lord and God to whom they belong, and who covenants to be their God … to be our God.

Because we are followers of Jesus Christ—the Son of the God of Abraham and Sarah, the living Lord himself—he unites us to himself, to the heavenly Father, through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord does this to us, not as isolated individuals to enjoy God’s blessing all by ourselves. At the core of who we are is our identity as the family of God, the covenant community. But we are not a community unto ourselves. I am impoverished apart from you. You are impoverished apart from this community to which we belong. And we definitely “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28, NRSV) only in the very life and love of the community of the triunity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As with the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, whenever we gather around the Word—in worship, in Scripture, in pulpit, in Sacraments, in prayer, in song, in fellowship, in mission—we are reoriented to God and to God’s people.

Truly, I am because we are, because He is. Thanks be to God!

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