United Presbyterian Church of West Orange


“I AM…”

April 21, 2024

Rev. Rebecca Migliore



        Jesus said:  I Am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14) ALSO

I Am Bread of Life.  (John 6:35)

I Am the Light of the World. (John 8:12

I Am the Door, (John 10:9)

I Am the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25)

I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)

I Am the Vine. (John 15:1, 5)

        Here we are in the post-resurrection season of the church, in olden days called Eastertide.  Often at this time of the year we read stories of the community stunned and amazed by appearances of the resurrected Jesus.  Or we begin to make our way through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles—hearing again the story of the beginning of the church.  All this is to say, we are doing what those first disciples did as they tried to work out: Who was this Jesus, really?  What did his ministry mean?  What does that mean for us?  Where do we go from here? 

        The community that produced the gospel of John, the three letters of John and the book of Revelation, had its own unique way of talking about Jesus.  Yes, there were miracles, but they were called signs.  Yes, the arc of the story is the same, though in a different time frame—the Ministry of Jesus with the peoples in and around what was then called Palestine, leading to a cross in Jerusalem, an empty tomb on Easter morning, and Jesus appearing to Mary, and to the disciples.  Yes, it is John’s version of the story of who Jesus was, what Jesus did, and what that calls forth from us.


        One of the most distinctive things we recognize in John’s gospel is how Jesus announces who he is—I Am…bread, light, a door, a vine, a shepherd, the way, the resurrection.  And you might wonder, why is Jesus doing this?  Why I Am?  If you are well versed in the stories of what we call the First Scripture (or the Old Testament)—the only Scripture Jesus knew—you may remember the story of the burning bush.  There is Moses, out in the desert, minding his flocks, and he comes upon a bush that is burning but not being consumed.  And in conversation with this God, Moses asks for that God’s name.  And the answer God gives him is “I Am who I Am.”  (or actually to be technical in the translation, the Hebrew could mean I Am who I Am, or I Will Be who I Will Be).  This is God’s “name.”  This is how God describes God’s Self.  This is who God announces God is. I Am.

        So you can see how in the coded language of the community of John, wanting to state things that could get you killed, so you said them with a wink and a nod, the I Am statements are very important.  They tie Jesus to that burning bush.  This too, this is God, Word that was from the beginning, Word made flesh, come to be with us, Jesus.  I Am.

        I notice that Jesus does not say I am the dictator, or I am the King, or even, I am the Messiah.  He doesn’t lift up: I am infallible; I am always right; I am perfect; I am sinless.  None of these does Jesus elevate to an “I Am” statement in the gospel of John—although that doesn’t mean that his community didn’t come to believe many of those things.  No, Jesus focuses on everyday images-- shepherd, door, vine, bread, light—with a few phrases: resurrection and life, the way and the truth and the life.

        I notice that the metaphors are all connectional images.  Shepherd with sheep.  A door leading somewhere.  The vine and the branches.  Bread that is made to be eaten.  Light that is spread throughout the world.


        If we have paid attention to this intertwining of the one who says “I Am” and the others his orbit, we know that when we get to “the resurrection and the life,” and “the way, the truth, and the life,” this is not just Jesus talking about himself.  This is not just a picture of Jesus, but of us as a community, of us as a world.  No wonder the lectionary committee ended up including this Good Shepherd reading in all three years!

Our age and time is very attached to identifying ourselves.  We make sure people know our pronouns.  We are coached to be aware of the biases we bring to every decision, every thought.  We claim our ancestry proudly.  We post pictures that show who we are to the world.  We constantly revise our own story to show us in the best light.  We are very much a world culture that is fixated on who we are. 

        All the more reason to remember Jesus’ I Am statements.  Jesus, is God’s greatest I Am.  Yes, there are those images of the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, the shepherd, the creator.  But Jesus was creating more images.  Images that pinpointed our connection to him, and through him, our connection to God.  Jesus knows that he will not always be with his followers.  He leaves them with sentences to remember, with images to hold onto.  I Am. 

        So, let’s spend a little time with the image we are given today--I am the Good Shepherd.  It is hard to read this without having those familiar words of the 23rd Psalm ringing in our head.  Who is the shepherd?  “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Not so secret a way of connecting Jesus with God.  This is an image that our ancestors would have understood (left over from years when they were a people who traveled with their flocks of sheep and goats.)  They knew what a Shepherd did.  A Shepherd was responsible for the sheep—they guard, they watch for danger, they protect, they guide.  A Shepherd lives with the sheep, sleeping where they sleep, walking where they walk, living side by side with them.  A perfect image for “Emmanuel,” God with us.


        And not only is Jesus a Shepherd, but a Good Shepherd.  Identifying Jesus as a Good Shepherd recognizes that we are using a human image, and if you have humans, you have those who might behave in an all too familiar human way.  Yes, there are some shepherds who don’t do their job; shepherds that are neglectful; shepherds that don’t care; shepherds who are almost “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”  But Jesus isn’t that type of Shepherd.  Jesus is a Good Shepherd, like the Shepherd who is the Lord.

        If Jesus is the Shepherd, then we are the sheep.  I think we have this idea that sheep will follow blindly—but most of us haven’t lived with sheep.  And we can tell that from the story of the Lost Sheep that sheep can be much more independent than we sometimes imagine.  That’s why there are sheep dogs to help corral the sheep, and get them going “in the right way.”  That’s why there needed to be shepherds who watched out for the flock—if you left them alone on a hillside, no fences keeping them in, you never know where they might get to!  Sheep might get lost because they didn’t pay attention to where everyone else was going, or they stubbornly insisted on going where they wanted to go, no matter where the shepherd was.  I think we are more often like sheep than we would want to admit.

       Not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd, watching out for the flock, but Jesus is the one who tells us (albeit in other gospels) that shepherds go after the one who is lost, leaving the 99 behind.  The Good Shepherd doesn’t want to lose any sheep.  Even those who the other sheep might not recognize as part of their own fold.

If we want to know who Jesus is, the gospel of John is ready with some answers.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the Door, Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  Jesus claims these things, and we are invited into them.  They are not just I AM statements, but include a YOU (we) ARE.




We are the sheep, We are the branches, We are to follow the way, We are to knock on the door and step through it, We are to eat the bread, We are commanded to spread light everywhere, we are promised resurrection and new life.

        Yes, we are sheep, but we are also shepherds.  We too have those who depend on us.  We are to act like shepherds, looking out for each other, and looking out for those lost ones.  It is almost like a nesting doll of shepherds.  There is the Good Shepherd, and then there are shepherds upon shepherds upon shepherds.  Each of us taking turns being shepherds and being sheep.  For whether we are shepherd or sheep, we are supposed to watch for our Shepherd, to listen for that familiar voice we know, who will lead us into green pastures, and guide us beside still waters, and calm our souls.

        Continuing with the Psalmist, we move from Shepherd and sheep in the opening verses, to focus more directly on our lives.  For whether we think of ourselves as shepherd or sheep, we each have times of getting lost or being led astray, none of us avoids the valley of the shadows.  Even then, especially then, we need to remember The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  There is hope, there is blessing, in tables spread with good things, in company kept, in being anointed with oil, in knowing we are the sheep of God’s flock, even as we are asked to become shepherds ourselves. 

All these things are promised.  For Jesus is the Good Shepherd as The Lord is our shepherd.  And we are invited to follow.  We are invited to live in the house of the Lord forever. 

May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.