a sermon preached on 11 November 2018 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father, but through him. Having read the Scriptures well, we may also say that not only does no one come to the Father but through Jesus Christ, but the Father comes to no one, with any gift whatsoever, but because of Jesus Christ. This means that everything we have—every breath we’ve been given, every cent currently in your bank account, every thread of clothing in our closets, every square inch of this wide earth—is here because God in Christ wills it to be so, not by our wills, not by our own devising and work ethic, but because our Father in Heaven created and now sustains a story and a stage into which he has breathed life, into which he has placed himself, into which he has created you and me, so that we would not waste this life, so that we would not waste all that is in this life.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 1 John 5:6-15. I would like to read again for us today’s passage.
Today begins a lot of things. Today begins the life of this church. Today begins my work as an ordained priest. Today begins our life together as a local body of Christians. Perhaps today may begin, for some of you, a greater investigation into the claims of Christ, that you would turn from your own ways and turn towards to Him. But today also begins what will be a three-part sermon series before we enter the season of Advent. Each sermon in this series will be centered around the series’ theme: life together. And there are three questions we will answer throughout this sermon series, one question for each sermon.
In this first sermon I want to answer the question, “How can we have life?” In the second sermon next week, I want to look at our church’s motto more closely “Christ in All. All in Christ.” So in the second sermon I want us to answer the question “How is all of life in Christ?” And in the third sermon, we will answer the question “How is Christ in all of life?” As God’s sovereign grace would have it, the final sermon in this series will be on what is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday before Advent begins, and this provides a hint to how we will answer that question on that day: “How is Christ in all of life?”. But let’s begin with our first question of the series: “How can we have life?”
This is a fitting question on this day, because this day is, as I’ve said, the birth of many things, and if our cuture prizes anything, life is said to be near the top of what our culture deems important for each of us. Our own constitution states, “We hold these truths, to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our culture prizes a happy life, a healthy life, a life which is free to make its own choices, a rich life, a comfortable life, and even a life which does most anything to evade death. But before all this, before we add any kind of adjective to what life may be, we must have life, and so the question is begged: how can we have life? There are five important ways ow Scripture answers this question:
1) First, God is life. From the opening chapters of Scripture, and affirmed throughout, we see that in God alone does life reside. God is the only one who can sustain life. He is the only one who can promise life. God is the both the wellspring of life, the sustainer of life, and the end to which all life goes. I’d like to read off about a dozen verses to help frame our imaginations on this point:
Gen_2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Deu_30:20 That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
Psa_16:11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
Psa_30:5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Psa_36:9 For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.
Mat_16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Joh_3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Joh_5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
Joh_8:12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
Joh_11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
Act_17:25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
Col_3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
1Jn_5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
Rev_21:6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
Do you have life? Then you ought to begin by thanking God.
2) Second, to have life, we must have the testimony of the blood. God is indeed life, but our lives are a gift from God. Our lives, natural and spiritual, are a gift from God. This is why we see in these verses that there are three that testify in heaven and there are three that testify on earth. You and I are on earth; our lives are together here on earth, and so these three give the earthly testimony we need, that our lives together may indeed be full of life, the heavenly life which both transcends and condescends to us, a life which ought to be on earth as it is in heaven. It is helpful to read a passage like Leviticus 17:11-14 in light of this idea (read it).
Lev 17:10-14 "If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. "Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.
This indeed sounds so strange to modern ears, but that’s because we do not understand symbols. In the Old Testament, blood was the life of the flesh. When blood was spilt on the ground, it was the life. Blood in the Old Testament was also to be the sign of atonement, it was to be sacrificed and not consumed. The blood on the altar. The blood on the horns. The blood into which Joseph's coat was dipped. The blood on the Passover doorpost. The blood of grapes (Gen. 49:11). The Old Testament sacrificial law was indeed bloody work, because it was a sacrifice of life, a sacrifice which defined all of life. The New Testament sacrifice, that sacrifice once for all, was indeed bloody work, because it was a sacrifice of life, a sacrifice which defines all of life. Therefore, the testimony of blood is a testimony of life.
3) Third, to have life, we must have the testimony of the water. And this means life together, life held together in our baptism, held together even by the water which came from Jesus’ side; by this we have fellowship with the Father and with one another. In our baptism, we, like the Son, are confirmed by the Father. Consider for a moment the many ways people may be held together in agreement or their labors or their allegiances: economic status, race, gender, sports teams, life stage, family tree, musical preference, political party, educational philosophy, and the list goes on. Humans must find agreement with one another to have life, but what is the greatest bond one man can have with another? A marriage may be held by many things. We indeed try to hold marriages together by many things, but nothing will hold a marriage together but virtuous friendship, and the foundation for all virtue is indeed Christ-like love, divine sacrifice. It is a bond that cannot be broken, a bond which is not held together by taste or preference or anything on this earth. It is indeed a bond which is eternal, which cannot whither, which cannot die, which cannot go out of fashion, which cannot even be torn apart by the two who are bound together. This bond is that which holds together the Trinity. It is the bond of divine love; not our love for God or even our love for one another, but God’s love for us, poured out at our Baptisms, renewed here at this Table, and everlasting because he is everlasting.
4) Fourth, to have life, we must have the testimony of the Spirit. It is one thing for Jesus to come by water, to come by blood, and thus fulfill the Old Testament law in perfect obedience to the Father. Along with this we see that the Spirit testifies. Life together for Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, and indeed for all Christians, is not just that we have been baptized into the people of God and that we profess the full work the blood of Christ has done. That is to say, life together is not just to gather together to practice the sacraments; life together is to practice them under the authority and in submission to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, binding us, knitting together our imaginations, calling us to repentance, and making effectual those acts we do in obedience. It is the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ, and it is the Holy Spirit who brings to life dead men, who implants in their heart and soul and mind and strength his fruitfulness; it is the Holy Spirit who is the life-giver.
5) Fifth, and finally, we must know that while God has put forth the way to life, we can have a life which is indeed wasted. Pastor and preacher John Piper said in his home, his father hung above their kitchen sink the phrase, “One life to live will soon be passed, only what’s done for Christ will last.” We can waste our lives. In Book 4 of his great work Confessions, St. Augustine is considering how we might define the happy life. What is it that makes a many happy? What is it we pursue in order to be happy? He comes the conclusion that a man can’t have the happy life if indeed he doesn’t even have life. He is how we says it, “Seek for what you seek, but it is not where you are looking for it. You seek the happy life in the region of death; it is not there. How can there be a happy life where there is not even life?” (Confessions, 4.12.18) Without the blood, without the water, without the Spirit, without our lives being pointed and directed to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we indeed waste our lives. This is not only true individually. It is true of this church, this young and hopeful church. It will be true of me as a priest, a father, a scholar, a husband, a son, a man. Only time will tell what this Church will become, but there is one thing we can all say with great certainty today, the day of its birth: if this church does not abide in Christ, it will wither and die, it will be wasted, it will cease to have life, even if it becomes the largest Anglican church in the world. Take Christ from the center of our thoughts, take Christ from the scaffolding of our imaginations, take Christ from the apex of our desires, take Christ from the lyrics and melodies of our songs, and death will tightly seal our ecclesial eyelids. Let us fashion idols for ourselves and we will, in that work, fashion our own demise. So as to not waste our lives, not waste this church, let us then look to Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, the author, indeed the author, and perfector of this church.
And so we are gathered here, as Christians, doing together the most important thing we can do: hearing and obeying Scripture, by the unity of our baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and because of the incarnation, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus Christ to the life-giving right hand of the Father. And we are brought to this table, the table of life, a table overflowing with life, which indeed is the most important table in our lives. Around this table is every metaphor for what life together means. Life together, like this meal, is given to us from God, and is indeed an overflow of God’s love to us. Life together, like this meal, is opened to us because of our baptism, our being signed and sealed as God’s own. Life together, like this meal, is made effectual by God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit on his people. Life together, like this meal, can be wasted, if we do not approach it in faith, in gratitude, in submission, sacrifice, and with an eye to loving God and loving our neighbor more, with each crumb of bread, with each drop of wine. At this table are testimony of the blood, the testimony of the water, and the testimony of the Spirit. At this table are planted all the joys of fellowship and life together. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual creatures. The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother…if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!...Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” (Life Together, 20)
Now hear and contemplate a poem by George Herbert.
“Life” by George Herbert
I made a posy, while the day ran by:
“Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
My life within this band.”
But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away,
And withered in my hand.
My hand was next to them, and then my heart;
I took, without more thinking, in good part
Time’s gentle admonition;
Who did so sweetly death’s sad taste convey,
Making my mind to smell my fatal day,
Yet, sug’ring the suspicion.
Farewell dear flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,
Fit, while ye lived, for smell or ornament,
And after death for cures.
I follow straight without complaints or grief,
Since, if my scent be good, I care not if
It be as short as yours.