The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s009g09 Christmass 2 4/1/2009
'children of God .. born, not of blood' John 1.13
The prologue of John is his summary of all that is described in the rest of the gospel it is a shorthand way of telling us what the rest is all about. So it is a particularly important passage. Since it is a summary - necessarily it uses an economy of words. Nothing superfluous is there. There is no unnecessary repetition.
Yet there is considerable repetition - the prologue of John's gospel puts the redemption of the world in a global perspective. 'In the beginning was the word .. without him not one thing came into being .. in him was life .. the light of all people .. the true light that enlightens everyone .. from his fullness we have all received'. Right at the beginning of the gospel the presence of God in all people is restated again and again. Jesus coming is a gift yet his coming doesn't add to the fact of the presence of God in all people. It seems the incarnation is unnecessary if we are already God's children.
Yet there is even more repetition: we are told that we are made 'children of God' 'not of blood' or of the 'will of the flesh or of the will of man'.
We must be clear here that John is not talking about Jesus, and a virginal conception he is talking about us you and I. We are children of God - 'not of blood' or of the 'will of the flesh or of the will of man'. We are made children of God by God's edict.
But the problem is that we have already been told and retold that 'without him not one thing came into being .. in him was life .. the light of all people .. the true light that enlightens everyone .. from his fullness we have all received'. God's edict is that all who have been created are children of the almighty. We are no different from anyone else!
Then we come to these three ways we didn't become children of God. We didn't become children of God 'of blood' and this perhaps means that no amount of animal or human sacrifices have made us God's children. The sacrifices of the old covenant have been superseded. That's pretty obvious and orthodox. Next we didn't become children of God through the will of the flesh, and no doubt John would agree that we haven't become children of God through anything we have done. No amount of personal exertion has made us God's children. Again this is pretty obvious and orthodox. So perhaps the third of the trilogy is a reference to the fact that we haven't become children of God through the particular race into which we have been born and again this once stated - is fairly obvious and orthodox. We are not God's children because we are white Anglo-Saxon protestants something that our patrimony has decreed.
And I thought how neat this is!
However I turned to my commentary on St John by C K Barrett - to see what he said, but was disappointed to find that his interpretation is that it is a triple statement emphasising that we are born of God.
However it was not a wasted exercise for Barrett points out that while our text says 'not of blood', the word for 'blood' is not singular but plural 'bloods'. Barrett then notes that 'Hoskyns .. suggests that it would have been impossible for John to write (blood) (singular) because Christians are begotten of God through the blood of Christ.' (p137) One could wryly assume that Hoskyns theology determined what John would write!
Of all the New Testament writers it is John who focuses most clearly on the sacrificial effects of Jesus' death on the cross. It is at his pen that the title 'Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' comes to us. And again, 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you'. When John uses the word 'blood' it is far more likely he is talking about the blood of the Saviour than about the blood of the sacrifices of the old covenant (a theme more associated with the writer of the letter to the Hebrews).
So I began to wonder if the 'bloods' John are talking about is both the blood of the sacrificial offering of the old covenant as well as the blood of Jesus on the cross.
I return to my statement that this is all about what happens in the rest of the gospel. So here John makes it quite clear that 'his own people did not accept him' - a clear reference to the fact that he was killed. The cross is central, yet it did not bring it about our acceptance as God's children.
For the death of Jesus was essentially an act of humanity. Of course it was an act of the religious hierarchy of Jesus' day. The redemption of the world did not come about as a reward for the religious' inhumanity to someone who was different. So we as the church cannot continue to treat others ill with impunity in the name of God or whatever and think that God will bring a greater good from our actions.
We must hear the words of condemnation directed towards those who had him killed in the words 'his own did not accept him' as well as in Matthew 23. We should not think that Jesus' words of forgiveness to the unfortunate roman soldiers who had to do the deed are our excuse and an invitation to carry on marginalizing and alienating others.
The cross therefore is the attempted repudiation of this truth of the presence of God in all people by those who would deny it.
Associated with the cross and resurrection are the great sacraments of baptism and holy communion we are baptised into his death unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man but again these do not make us children of God. We are children of God along with everyone else, and our baptism and holy communion serve to unite us to others not to God.
It unites us with others in a religious sense it states that it is God's will that we are united with all. It is not a nice humanitarian perception. Division never was, never is and never will be God's will.
It is a reaffirmation of God's presence in all people, and our baptism and communion are sacraments to make this real in the world.
Recently I was reading a summary of the gospel which went: God loves you, We have all sinned, Jesus died for your sins, He rose to life again, He promises us eternal life if we choose to walk in his way. I note that four out of these five propositions are personal. I began my sermon with the comment that John's summary of the gospel is global. It is not something about **me** - it is all about **we**.
The prologue of the gospel of John is rightly regarded as a particularly significant passage for the Church. In high Church Anglican circles it was recited at the conclusion of the mass prior to the sanctuary party leaving.
One of my weekly reads is the front article on Anglicans Online you might say I read it religiously :-)! There is much good wisdom to be found here. Recently there was a comment on the practice of using christian names at the administration of the sacrament: 'We have it on good authority that there's special providence even in the fall of a sparrow and that the very hairs of our head are numbered in heaven. This makes us content indeed to have personal but not personalized administration and reception of the Blessed Sacrament.' My comment would be similar it betrays a striving to make things personal whereas John strives to lift our perceptions to see all people within the kingdom of God already.
And it occurs to me that while we remain fixed on a gospel that is essentially personal inevitably we will look with critical eyes towards others and the logical conclusion when surprise, surprise others do not share our perceptions will be frustration, disappointment, blame and threats. When we look at the gospel as essentially global we might indeed be saved from such a negative outlook.
The gospel is not how we can become children of God - it is how we can communicate to others that all are God's children. It is not sufficient to do this just intellectually it must be done sacramentally through baptism and communion or would be if we actually realized their true importance. Until we be baptised into the real world amongst whom Jesus associated, and until we sit down and eat with others, we maintain our distinctiveness and the gospel and the kingdom is retarded. When we do this what blessings might flow!
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