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Sermon - 5/6/18
2018.05.10 22:54:27

EASTER 6/B (2018): Acts 10:34-48; 1 Jn. 5:1-8; Jn. 15:9-17  

 

Testify,        And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree (vv. 6b-8).  

 

The Spirit, the water, and the blood are three witnesses who testify to Christ crucified being Son of God and Son of Man, Savior and Judge of the world. We know of the Spirit from ancient times, one person of the Holy Trinity.  But who are the two other witnesses who agree, “the water” and “the blood”? 

 

Jesus is the “Truth” (Jn. 14:6) and now John also designates the HS, the “Truth”.  St. John personifies Jesus’ work on the cross; handing over to the church not only his Spirit (19:30), but also “the water” and “the blood” from his riven side (19:34).  Thus in this giving the Spirit, the personified water and blood testify before God and man, of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin in our place (Deut. 19:15).  This testimony is Baptism’s truth, that by means and way of Baptism we are united into Jesus’ death and his rising to God. 

 

This is the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood revealed in the Resurrection that we might comprehend today’s Gospel. By the metaphor of Jesus as Vine, God is the planting farmer of Jesus into the earth, a second Adam, to come out to be Tree of Life in the garden that is the NT church. 

 

In Eden’s garden Adam was instructed by God to eat of any tree, except the one forbidden fruit. Against the forbidden fruit that would wreak havoc and death, stood the Tree of Life. 

 

And again, as Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, a new garden, God instructed, as to Adam, “See, I have set before you… life and good, death and evil. If you obey [my] instructions… by loving [your God], by walking in his ways, and by keeping his instructions… then you shall live and multiply…  I call heaven and earth to witness… that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life…” (Deut. 30:15, 16, 19). 

 

Last Sunday Jesus identified himself as sustaining “tree” (or “vine”) whose fruit is love and Life source in God’s garden, the church. Immediately following his Supper, Jesus explains to the Apostles in what they had just participated, saying, “I Am the true vine” (Jn. 15:1).  Today he invites us to partake of the same fruit, “Abide in my love. If you keep my instructions, you will abide in my love” (9b, 10a), not the least instruction is that we eat his flesh and drink the cup of his blood for the life of the world. 

 

St. John emphasizes that the instructions are not burdensome, for the substance of the gospel is that Jesus bore all our burdens on the cross. As we remain, “yoked” with him (Mt. 11:18-30) in word and sacrament, he continues to bear our sins, cleanse and sustain us to faith in love, by “the water” and “the blood”.  This is the witness from the HS in Baptism with “the [living] water” and “the blood” of bleeding Jesus. 

 

Our understanding of the church’s Baptism is paramount in the season of the Resurrection. No doubt Jesus’ teaching was, at the time, incomprehensible to the Apostles. 

 

Apostolic understanding would have to await Jesus giving his life on the cross as a ransom for those who would be “friends” and “children of God”; and only in the Resurrection, when Jesus would again partake of the “fruit of the vine” (Luke 22:18) with his disciples, would “the water” and “the blood” of our Baptism make sense as testimony to our Life in Christ. 

 

The church’s Baptism is a stumbling block. St. John oversaw congregations suffering member loss precisely over his teaching of Baptism and its “witness” from the Spirit, “the water” and “the blood”.  

 

Baptism is no mere spiritualizing or symbolism; rather it is a palpably physical event into the flesh of Christ to receive the gift of the Spirit. Some pastors and congregations obsess about membership numbers.  But lack of congregation numbers is not tragedy.  The congregations that John oversaw suffered departure of many members who rejected Baptism’s threefold witness.  Those leaving were “secessionists” absenting themselves for heretical associations from those who remained in faith and love of brother and sister. 

 

For St. John the horror was not loss of numbers; rather those baptized into the family of God should so easily abandon fellowship with brothers and sisters they previously professed to love. Again Jesus exhorts his Apostles and us, “Abide in my love. If you keep my instructions, you will abide in my love.” 

 

There is not one of us who has not experienced the pain of family loss, whether of our physical nuclear families, or more importantly those who withdrew from the congregation’s communion.

 

Consider the glue of Holy Baptism to which the “three” give witness of its cost. Last Sunday our First Reading from Acts was the conversion and baptism of a Gentile eunuch by Philip’s preaching.  Scripture’s very next account is the conversion and baptism of St. Paul by the preaching of Ananias.  Both Baptisms exemplify the ordinary response to gospel word for receipt of the Spirit with Baptism’s water and blood. 

 

Today however we have the conversion of Cornelius’ family, known as “Gentile Pentecost”, a baptism by God’s pouring out the HS manifested in “tongues” as witness to God’s activity in their midst. This was the same “baptism or outpouring of the HS devolved on the Jews on Pentecost Day, both responding by speaking in tongues.  What did Peter instruct the Pentecost Jews; “Repent and be baptized… for receipt of the HS” (Acts 2:38). 

 

When it came to the Gentile household of Cornelius, Peter hesitated to baptize uncircumcised Gentiles. To baptize Gentiles connoted acceptance of full fellowship with Jewish circumcised believers.  In witness to his will, God granted Gentiles the same “poured-out baptism of the HS” evidenced by tongue-speak as devolved on the Pentecost Jews.

 

In the light of “Gentile Pentecost” Peter could now comprehended the meaning of his dream that no food was common or unclean according to Jewish dietary regulations. Gentiles were baptized in the same baptism as Jews; and Peter was to eat and associate with Gentiles without discrimination on account of our flesh; rather on account of the flesh of Christ. 

 

More importantly by the pouring out of the HS on Gentiles Peter became convinced that they too should partake of the church’s baptismal initiation and welcoming them into the community of God defined by the Lord’s Supper (10:47, 48).

 

Today there are religious bodies that have seceded from the church’s baptismal fellowship explained by in Luther, “Baptism is not simple water.” If Baptism were mere symbolic water of cleansing and/or drowning to sin, then many would not have left us. 

 

Rather “Baptism…is the water included in God’s command [instruction] and connected with God’s Word” (SC art. IV).  What is that Word; but the making of disciples by preaching of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin and unbelief.  Here then are the three witness to Holy Baptism; by the preached word of “the blood” with “the water” from Christ crucified, the gospel is proclaimed. 

 

With the Spirit given over to the church from the cross, these make “three”, each testifying to the person of Jesus and the essence of what he accomplished for us.  Each witness is associated with the others; but neither does each adequately witness apart from the others.  Luther observed, “Christ does not come through water alone; He comes through water joined with the blood, that is through Baptism… it is water stained with [Christ’s] blood given to us through the Word.”

 

In Baptism we receive testimony that Christ by his word is conveyed in “the water” and “the blood” from his crucified flesh. This truth puts the lie to those who corrupt Jesus’ testimony concerning his flesh.  While “the flesh [of this world] profits nothing” (Jn. 6:63b); in truth it is the flesh of Christ that is everything, and all in all in the Spirit who gives life (v. 63a). 

 

By Baptism we hear and in faith abide in God’s instruction, thus discerning his love we love God’s children. This is the love of God; that we live for the sake of his instruction (1 Jn. 5:2, 3).  Amen. 

 

pem.




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