May 3, 2015
1 John 4:7-21
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In John’s Gospel and letters, we learn a few things about God’s love:
- It is known best in the love that Jesus had for us, long before we loved him
- The love of God needs to live in us, and we need to live in it
- We will know if the love of God is in us and others by our actions
- The best indicator of God’s love being in us is loving one another
Trying to wrap my head around these images of Jesus being the vine and us the branches, it took me back to the second creation story in the Bible. Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7:
then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and the man became a living being.
The breath that we breathe allows us to live. We also know that the way the breath of life gets to those cells is through the blood stream. Picked up in the lungs, carried throughout the body, dropped off through the capillaries, where it them picks up the waste, carbon dioxide, and takes it back to the lungs to get rid of it.
EMTs remind me that air goes in and out, blood goes round and round; any change in this is a problem. Were it not for the breath, we could not live. Were it not for the blood, that breath of life would not get to where it is needed.
The Christian church has often used the expression “There is power in the blood.” It comes from scripture, and it points both to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, and also to the cross.
A culture that not only knew violence and death on a daily basis, but also the sacrifice of animals in religious practice, had an understanding of the power and significance of blood. This is why the kosher laws go far further than no pork, and no cheeseburgers. How the meat is drained of its blood is important, because the life of the animal is seen to be in its blood.
“There is power in the blood” is church shorthand for “What God has done in Jesus is powerful enough to save, to heal, to reconcile, to make new.” The old evangelical street preacher yelling, “Have you been washed in the blood of the lamb?” is asking if we have experienced the powerful, life-giving, life-altering love of God in Jesus? He is just using church code words for it.
Chances are that you are like me and blood is not a nice, dinnertime topic. I know this is not true in the homes of many firefighters, nurses, paramedics and doctors, but most of us are not them. Blood is, in a word, messy.
But life is messy. It is precisely in this messy stuff that life is made possible. This messy stuff cleans the body. Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today, writes
Blood eliminates toxins.
Blood protects us from pathogens.
White blood cells sacrifice themselves [for our health].
Blood heals our wounds.
Blood identifies us.
Blood unites us.
He goes on to say
Blood is beautiful. Blood is horrifying.
Blood means life. Blood means death.
Jesus’ blood is an object of deepest devotion and deepest horror.
While so much of the church discussion of the blood of Jesus is about how his sacrifice takes away our sin, we find in today’s reading something different. In John, Jesus says that his disciples are already cleansed, not by blood but by the word Jesus has spoken to them.
And Jesus goes on to use the image of a vine and its branches. Again, he says “I AM the true vine,” one of the many times in John he echoes the name of God given in the burning bush.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.
The image is not simply of what Jesus does for us, but what Jesus does in us and with us. For us to be the branches of his vine, for us to bear fruit, means that what is in Jesus is in us. The life-giving messiness that is in Jesus, by our baptism, through our communion, in our faith, is in us as well.
So imagine, if you will, that the love that brings life, that cleanses us, all the way down to the cellular level, that heals us, that allows us to live, flows through us like our own blood.
In John, it is not just that Jesus died for our sins, but that he lives in us and we live in him. And how will people know this? There is no blood test for the life of faith and the love of God.
The easy test is whether we love one another, the family member, the neighbor, the stranger. If we don’t, then it is just our own stuff flowing through us. But if we do, then it is Jesus. Let it be our prayer not just to know what is right and good and true, but that the love of Jesus would flow through us, like our own blood does. And we will know when it does, because we will love one another and not hate, respect one another and not envy, care for one another as Jesus cares for us.
The solution to the problems we find in our church, in our neighborhoods, in Baltimore, and Fergusson, and Detroit, and Washington, DC, is not another political or technological or military fix. The solution is what is in us when we are in the love of God. It is who we are and whose we are, and using that to love one another, as Jesus loves us. For there is yet power in the blood.
Thanks be to God. Amen.