Rev. George Miller
May 10, 2015
1 John 5:1-7
Two weeks ago my sister gave birth to her fourth child, a baby boy named James. Since then she’s been posting photos of him nearly every day.
There he is: asleep; there he is: being held by his big brother; there he is: as cute as can be in his blankie and baby cap.
So clean, so calm, so quiet.
Not a poopy diaper in view. No crying for hours on end. No mess during feeding.
Facebook has allowed us to create a reality we wish to present or to have. It’s as if having a newborn baby is not messy or difficult at all. But of course, it is.
Think of how childbirth has been presented on TV throughout the decades. Perhaps the most famous childbirth is that of Little Ricky in I Love Lucy.
That took place in 1953 and back then they couldn’t use the word “pregnant” and his birth took place off camera. Once done, Lucy looked put-together, with hair and make-up in place as if giving birth was the easiest, less messy thing in the world to do.
In 1975 All in the Family made sitcom history when Gloria had her baby. It was the first to show an on-camera birth, complete with real-time breathing and pushing.
From there sitcoms evolved into screaming births in which, for comic effect, the women heavily panted, developed super human strength, and cursed out their husbands.
By 2002 Sex and the City had a very messy scene in which Miranda’s water breaks onto Carrie’s designer shoes and Miranda’s shown with no make-up and realistically flushed cheeks.
The portrayal of childhood has also changed on TV, from simple to messy. Little Ricky wore perfectly ironed clothes with perfectly parted hair. In the 70’s the worst thing the Brady Bunch did was play ball in the house.
But on Modern Family we see Lily smart-mouthing her parents, Luke and Manny drinking out of a vodka bottle and Little Joe drawing on the curtains and breaking everything in sight.
Childbirth and childhood are not simple and clean; they can often be hard and messy.
The same can be said about Christianity. On the outside, our faith may appear to be polite worship, with scripture read, a 15 minute message, and a time for cookies and coffee, but in truth our faith also involves a real element of blood, sweat and tears.
Take a look at today’s reading. 1 John is written in response to a debate this particular group of believers are having in regards to the true nature of Jesus.
Some think that Jesus was a living, breathing man who was also divine. They believe that Jesus experienced the same things we do: birth, joy, pain.
Others believed Jesus was not human at all. He was purely a supernatural being who gave the illusion that he was human. That when he was on the cross, he felt no pain, he did not truly suffer.
For the first group, Jesus entered the world just as we did, with the water and blood that accompanies any human’s birth.
They saw Jesus as the Messiah who began his ministry with the water of his baptism, but who fulfilled his ministry with the spilling of his blood on the cross.
The second group found the notion of Jesus being human as offensive. They clung to a spiritual view that Jesus was completely beyond humanity; for them it was the baptism of Jesus that made him who he was.
Because crucifixion represented shame and defeat, they could not embrace the death of Jesus as a moment of divine revelation.
In other words, for this group of people, the cross was too messy. The idea of Jesus being human was too messy for them. The idea that the Messiah could truly suffer and bleed red, red blood was just too messy for them.
So instead they chose to see the water of baptism as the true moment of divine revelation.
But the writer of today’s letter does not agree with the second group; he does not buy into their theology.
If we take away the blood, if we take away the fact that Jesus could suffer and bleed, we end up with a god who cannot relate to us. We have a god who is forever distant and unable to identify with our existence.
The people who only see Jesus as being known by the water want an I Love Lucy world in which messy, painful things happen off camera and everyone looks beautiful.
But the author of 1 John says the world is more like All in the Family and Sex in the City in which water breaks, women pant and not everyone wears make-up.
For today’s writer, Jesus Christ is not just experienced in the water of the baptismal font, but also in the Communion cup.
Jesus Christ is not just experienced in the water of baptism, but also in the blood that’s spilt upon the cross.
Jesus Christ is not just experienced where there is nice and easy, but where there is also the rough and messy.
As much as we may picture Jesus wearing clean robes with perfectly quaffed hair, welcoming the little children, there’s the fact that much of Jesus’ ministry was very, very messy.
When he interacted with lepers who had skin lesions and open sores. When he healed the blind man by spitting in the mud and pressing his hand upon his eyes. When the bleeding woman touched the ends of his coat.
All messy, messy, messy.
When Lazarus rose from the tomb smelling of death and decay. When Jesus spent days on the boat with fishermen, smelling like the sea. When unclean spirits and demons were cast out.
All messy, messy, messy.
Just like birth. Just like parenting. Just like childhood. Just like puberty. Just like death.
It would be great if all those things only featured cool, refreshing water; but we know they all also involve blood, sweat and tears.
As does being a Christian, as does following Christ, as does being the church.
We may wish things were easy. We may want things to be neat and clean. We may only seek a short sermon, polite worship, and tasty cookies, but that’s not all there is to being church.
Real church is messy.
I recall one congregation with pastel carpet in their fellowship hall. They had a very clear rule- no red drinks allowed.
They were so afraid of something spilling on the carpet. They were so afraid of making a mess.
They closed their doors after 85 years…at least the carpet was stain free.
Real church is messy. And real Christians should not be so afraid of getting messy.
It’s not all just meditating and reading scripture, it’s not just prayers and bible study.
I think of those at Emmanuel who aren’t afraid to get messy. Our Willing Workers who come here every Wednesday and work up a sweat.
Sam and Dean in the tool-shed getting grease paint on them. Hardric covered from head to toe with grass. Maydean, outside getting tanner by the moment. Nancy in the garden, digging in the dirt and pulling up weeds.
That’s all a form of ministry.
I think of the Caring Committee members who go into the hospitals and hospices, nursing homes and peoples’ houses.
In those situations they’re dealing with water, blood, germs, tears, broken bodies, broken hearts, and broken spirits.
Go to Sunny Hills and when a resident stops you to say hello and shakes your hand, you have no guarantee of where that hand has been or the last time it was cleaned, but you shake anyway, because to not acknowledge them would be un-Christian.
The members of the Service Committee can tell you how messy their ministry is. The work it takes to shop for and stock the shelves, the time spent in inventory, the guests who come in from all walks of life.
When we go to Back Bay Mission in September it won’t be so we can spend our days playing in the Gulf of Mexico.
It will involve swinging hammers, working in the soup kitchen, renovating homes, and have meaningful encounters with the homeless.
Because we are Christians. We are children of God, siblings in Christ.
Therefore, we should not be afraid to get messy, we should not be afraid to do both the spiritual and physical work.
Jesus Christ didn’t come here as a specter or as a supernatural hologram. He came to us in both water and blood, flesh and breathe.
He did not have perfectly clean robes with perfectly quaffed hair; in fact Jesus probably had some of the dirtiest clothes imaginable with hands full of all types of germs.
And we can best believe that Jesus experienced all the things we experience: the joy and the pain, the loneliness and the shame that can accompany life.
Because of that we know we have a Savior we can relate to, we know we have a Savior who is real.
Because of this, it is not just the Spirit we testify to; it’s not just the cleanliness of the water we ascribe.
But it is also the blood.
Life giving, life affirming, and messy, messy, messy.
Amen and amen.