Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 31:30 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You’ve probably heard the saying “blood is thicker than water.” The way we normally use it, we mean that the bonds of blood—the bonds of family—are stronger than other bonds. Our family relationships are more significant than other relationships. And for the most part, it holds true. Even people who are adopted as infants, who have never known their biological parents, often want to seek them out, try to understand them, etc. Not always, but many times, they feel a pull toward people to whom they’re related by blood. There’s something intangible about those relationships.
Of course, we know that the truth is not as straightforward as the saying makes it seem. We know that blood relationships are often messy and complicated. Today is a great example. We often focus on the positive, on the good and happy things about mothers. We celebrate mothers and give thanks for them to God, and we should. But what about those who have hard relationships with their mothers? What happens when those relationships bring pain and grief and suffering, rather than happiness? Or what about those who long to be mothers, and aren’t able to have that biological relationship? “Blood is thicker than water” and what it implies is not as simple as it seems.
St. John gives us a water and a blood that are a far stronger bond than any human relationship, any bond, whether of blood or something else. The water and the blood and the Spirit, which testify together, as one, to the One who comes by water and the blood—not water only, but the water and the blood. They testify to Jesus Christ, who comes as the unique Son of God, to make more children of God. These children are not born in the normal way, not according to begetting and bearing and being born of blood or flesh or will, but born from above, of God. And you are born again from above by water and the Spirit.
And that water and Spirit are connected inseparably from the blood of the Word made flesh. He was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to Himself, lifted up and glorified, to reign as King. And when He had finished His work, He breathed His last, and He handed over the Spirit. He delivered the Spirit to those who would look on Him and be healed and saved. And when He had done that, a soldier pierced His side and blood and water flowed from Him. And John says that he saw it, and bears witness to it—testifies to it—and he knows that he is telling the truth about it.
Telling the truth about what? Not the mere facts of spear and side and death, but of the Spirit and the water and the blood. And he tells the truth about this so that you will believe. And so that you who believe in Him, who was lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, will come to Him thirsty, and drink. Because He is the one of whom the Scriptures speak: from His heart flows living water. The water and the blood and the Spirit bear witness that this crucified one is the one who has the water of eternal life, and that He gives it to you from the cross. The Spirit testifies with the water and the blood of everything this Jesus says, and everything He says He received from the Father. So the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit appear with the water, and imprint the Name of God on you, testifying that you are a child of God. Beloved, you are God’s children now!
There, where the water and the Spirit are is the blood of Jesus, that cleanses us from all sin. And God seals it with His own Name, so there is no doubt. Here is the Jesus in whom we believe, and in that faith is the victory over the world. It is not just faith-in-general, as if we could just believe that everything will turn out okay, and it will. It is not faith in faith. The faith that overcomes the world is the faith that is tied to Jesus. Here is the bond that cannot be broken, and because of that, it is victory over the world.
Jakob Grimm, of the Grimm Brothers, in his edition of the poem Reinhard Fuchs (“Reynard the Fox”), commented on the poem that one of the characters says that the bonds of blood cannot be broken by baptism, meaning that even if someone belonged to the church, the family bond was more important. We often act that way, putting our families before Christ, to whom we are joined in baptism, but the poem is wrong. In fact, Jesus has it exactly the opposite: anyone who loves father or mother or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And why? Certainly so that we do not make our families into idols, to whom we give preference over Jesus. But the question is this: which bond—which relationship—is able to withstand death? Will our family relationships withstand death? No, we know that death is the great separator, breaking and tearing apart our bonds with mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and husband or wife. Death tears us from them and separates us.
But the bond of water, blood, and the Spirit, by which Jesus binds us to Himself, this bond is stronger even than death. This bond is greater than bonds of blood and water. You have been bound to the one who not only died, but who has risen from the dead. Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! You will have trouble in the world, affliction and sin and death and suffering, but take heart, I have overcome the world; I am victorious over the world! This is the victory by which we are victorious, by which we overcome the world: our faith that binds us to this Man who is God. Now nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
And now this bond restores those other bonds as well. Because if we are joined to Jesus by this great love, that He lays down His life for us so that we know what love is—if we are joined to Him by a bond that nothing can tear apart, not even death—then our bonds to each other are also restored. We love God because we love the Son, in whom His love is in flesh. And we then love one another. Faith in God and love for one another. We are joined to the Son, so we are also joined to all the children of God. We are bound to Jesus, so we are bound to all those who are in Jesus. And that means that the bonds we have with one another are not broken by death, either. Because we’re joined to Jesus, and those who have died in the faith are joined to Jesus, we’re joined to them. We’re also joined to one another, here and now, by the unbreakable communion of Jesus. We are bound to one another, to love one another, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens. There is no choice in the matter. We love God because He first loved us, and so we love one another. Water and blood and the Spirit, binding us to Jesus and to the Father, as well as to one another, all the way into the resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/7/21