Scripture Reading: 1 John 5:6-12
It wasn’t part of the plan… not at all… but I’m coaching basketball again this year. It happened so subtly too. I went to help with the tryouts, no problem. I told the head coach I’d be able to help out once in a while. That was the plan initially. Whatever team Anthony made, I would help out once in a while.
Well, Anthony made the AAA team for Dr. T.L. Sullivan, and the coach tells me she doesn’t like running practices, she isn’t able to put together drills and stuff. No problem, I can do practices.
Last week she says, “If you’re able to make games, I can put you down as head coach so you’ll be able to talk to the refs.”
Well… she’s a clever woman, I’m now the head coach. Thankfully she’s really good at running things behind the scenes. She talks to the principal, she talks to other coaches and the league coordinator, all I have to do is worry about the players and show up and coach, so that takes away a lot of the headaches right there.
She also knows, coaching comes after anything I need to do here, and she is happy with this arrangement.
Now after two weeks of practices, we have our first game tomorrow evening in Sydney.
The boys have been working hard, they’ve been improving already, and we are excited to go into our first game.
First games are always interesting. For one, how things work in practice doesn’t always look the same when you are under the pressure of a game. Add in another team. Add in fans. Add in referees. Add in a score clock. Things are far different than in a more relaxed practice where at best you can call it a simulation. Not only that, but we are going into the game completely blind. We know nothing about any of the other teams in the league. Are we even any good? I have no idea!
So tomorrow night, we will walk into a Sydney gym, full of nerves no doubt, lots of nervous energy, and we will do our best to do something on that floor.
At the final buzzer to end the game, we will know a whole lot more about ourselves than when the clock first starts. But to get to that point, we’ll have about 45 minutes of game time to see what we can do.
After the game, we will see what worked, what didn’t, what needs to be changed and tweaked, and we’ll get to try it all over again on Friday night in our own gym.
Hopefully by the end of February, we’ll have worked out enough of the kinks in the team to have what we will consider a good season. And I call a good season a year when the team develops skills both as players and a team, and has fun.
Personally it doesn’t matter if we win every game or lose every game, wins and losses don’t tell the whole story. What tells the story is who we are as a collection of players, working together to fulfill a purpose.
My first year as a coach was the elementary girls team, grade 5s and 6s. We lost every single game. But we had an enormous amount of fun, and the girls improved as players over the entire season. I’m happy to see some of them now playing at Memorial. To me, that was a very successful season, even when the standings didn’t show it.
You may be saying to yourself, “Nick, great story, but what in the world does any of this have to do with me?”
I’m glad you asked.
We are a team here at Carman. We have a head coach, we have people who fulfill roles, we have people who are supports, we may even have fans. We have an entire team right here.
Who am I? Am I the head coach? No I’m not. I might be the point guard, if you’re talking basketball. Or maybe quarterback, if you prefer football. I’m maybe more like a team captain. Who’s the head coach? Let me ask another question.
Who owns this church?
Is it all of you? It surely isn’t me? Is it the United Church of Canada? Who owns this church?
God owns this church! It doesn’t matter who’s name is on the deed, God owns this church. At least that’s how we need to be looking at it. God is our head coach, he’s our owner, he’s our General Manager. He is the one in complete control here. He is the one we should be listening to, he is the one who we want to be calling the shots, not us. He has the plan, and we need to listen to him to know where our roles are in the game play.
And, isn’t it great he sent us a superstar to lead us. And of course that superstar is… not me! Absolutely not me! Jesus Christ is the superstar that we rally behind and the one who leads us into the battle of the game.
So, if God is our head coach and Jesus is our star, what is our goal? How will we evolve over the course of the “season,” that is, our life? How will our life be impacted by the leadership of these two?
Let’s take a slight turn and look at our reading from this morning. It can seem a little cryptic because John has added some terms at this point in his letter that we don’t expect, nor do we know what to do with them at first.
Verse six of 1 John 5 says this,
This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.
Water and blood? Where did that come from? I know when I read those words that question came to my mind! Jesus came by water and blood. What are you saying to us John?
Have you ever walked into a room when the people were having a conversation about something you think you’d be interested in, but they are so into it you’re afraid to ask what’s going on?
It sort of feels like this in today’s reading. We’ve been hearing John talk about loving God and following Jesus for a while now, and then all of a sudden he drops these new terms, water and blood, on us when he’s getting to the end of the letter. It sounds like there’s some sort of background there we’re missing, assuming he’s using terms which have been discussed before. Which he probably is, if he’s throwing around a new description, then the readers must be familiar with it. It only makes sense.
I had to go back and re-read the entire book just to see if I had missed something. It’s not there by the way.
Water and blood. What does this even mean? Could it mean the sacraments: baptism and communion? No I don’t think so. It says Jesus came by water and blood. And given how John was an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, I don’t think he would have used it this way. He wouldn’t see Jesus as coming when they baptize or have communion. It doesn’t seem to quite fit in my opinion.
How else could Jesus come by water and blood?
Looking at his life, when did his ministry begin? At his own baptism. This is the water. It’s not about how we administer baptism, it’s about the actual baptism of Jesus. He began his ministry at that point when he came up out of the water.
What about the blood? We then look at his death. Jesus was beaten, he was bloodied, he had a spear thrust in his side, he shed his blood in his death. This is the blood John is referring to. But this blood is not the end of his ministry, in fact it is somewhat of another beginning. In his death, Jesus overcame sin, but he also overcame death through his resurrection. This leads to Jesus returning to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the Father, and to offer us the example and the hope that we too will someday be there with them.
Jesus came in the water of his baptism and blood of his death.
I checked with a book I have on the letters of John by John R.W. Stott, and thankfully he agrees with me.
Everything that happens in between the water and the blood is the message Jesus has for us from God himself: We love God, we love one another, and we serve as Jesus would have us serve. No one should be left out of the opportunity to know God’s love for themselves.
Everything that happens after the death of Jesus shows us what happens when we follow him. We receive a gift, the Holy Spirit, another companion who leads us into Godly living.
John says these three all testify together for a common message, the water, blood and Holy Spirit are all saying the same thing. And we need to hear and receive this testimony because it is from God. These things all testify to Jesus Christ as God’s Son.
And John tells us if we receive this testimony in our hearts and believe in Jesus as the Son of God, it is greater than all other testimony human minds can imagine. If we receive this testimony, then we too belong to God.
Conversely, if we receive this testimony and don’t believe it, then we have made God out to be a liar. We are saying God’s wrong because we believe in things we think are greater than him. We are rejecting him and have no place for him in our lives, because our actions and our words say we don’t believe it. He must be lying.
The message of the testimony is simple: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
John says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12)
If we believe in God, if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we have eternal life. The hard part is what about those who believe differently? Especially if that person is close to us: our friends, our family, out spouse! What if we long to spend all eternity in their company and in the company of our Lord, what happens when they don’t believe?
Scripture is clear, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for those who follow him. What about the rest? Well, there’s plenty of clarity there too. But simply, Jesus tells us there’s a different destination outside of God’s eternal kingdom for those who don’t believe or reject him.
Which brings me back to the concept of the church being a team. What is our goal? How do we win? What defines our “success?”
Well, that depends on what the “coach” wants us to do?
The first place to look for his plan, his goals is to look to the Bible. What are the final instructions Jesus gives us?
Well, since we’re reading John’s letter to the church, let’s return to the Gospel of John and see what those final instructions are:
Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep…” After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17, 21)
Jesus, our superstar on the team, tells us we need to feed his sheep, that is we need to love people and take care of them. To do this we need to be able to reach into their lives and make a difference. And we do this by following him.
By following him, we learn to love and accept people for who they are and to help them move beyond their struggles and their sin. And as Jesus has instructed us to follow him, we too offer the invitation for others to follow him as well.
At a pastors’ breakfast Friday morning we got into the discussion about how we as churches aren’t too bad at serving people. We support food banks, we give money to other charities, we might even volunteer at these centres ourselves. These are important things to do and support… but the question was also asked, “How are we changing lives?”
Giving money to the food bank is good, by doing so we are helping a family eat. But does that change lives? For a moment it might, putting food on a table certainly takes some of the stress away and frees up some much needed money. But does it change their lives?
I’m going to suggest it doesn’t. And as pastors, we agreed on this Friday morning. Ultimately it doesn’t change lives. Are we showing love, you bet we are! But we aren’t changing lives, for the long term.
If we believe Jesus wants us to love and serve, then yes we will continue to serve in food banks and whatever else, but we also need to do the second part. We need to offer people the invitation to follow him as the one who ultimately changes lives. We need people to see the life giving power of our Saviour Jesus Christ and let him do his work of bringing healing into people’s lives.
This is the goal of our coach and our team. To serve, yes, but to change lives.
I encourage you this week to pray about our team and the work we do. Are we changing lives? Do our own lives need to be changed?
Whatever we do, we have God in our corner, we have a superstar leader in Jesus Christ, and we are on the right team.
In his water and in his blood we have victory on our side.
Let us pray,
We thank you for the power and life we find in the great testimony of water, blood and Spirit. We thank you for bringing us together in the team and we look to you for guidance and strength to fight for the victory you have put before us in the cross.
May your Holy Spirit be at our side as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our lead and our inspiration, we ask in his most holy name.
Amen and amen.