5th Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021, Acts 8:26-40, 1st John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8
The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas
The movement that Jesus started was, at first, seen as a sect of Judaism. And after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, along with the demise of the Sadducees, this movement, known as The Way, was one several Jewish groups, including the Essenes and Pharisees, competing for the souls of Judaism. Now, there were prominent members of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, including Peter who, at first, felt that the message of Christ should be for Jews alone, or those willing to convert to Judaism. However, what Paul soon discovered was that God’s spirit showed no partiality.
The message of Jesus was a radical departure from the norm that refused to delay doing good works for ritual observances of the Sabbath, and that refused to cater to the excesses of the affluent at the expense of the poor. The message of Christ was one of extravagant welcome and hospitality without preference to race or gender or ethnicity or nationality. And despite the effort among some of Jesus’ followers to erect barricades, there walls quickly came tumbling down at the onslaught of Romans and Samaritans, and Canaanites and Ethiopians who craved the spiritual food that Jesus offered.
A proverb dating back to medieval times says that “Blood is thicker than water.” This saying made its way into the American lexicon in 1859 when Commodore Josiah Tattnall came to the aid of British vessels under attack by Chinese forces, violating America’s policy of neutrality in the region. When explaining his disobedience, Tattnall, who would later command Confederate naval forces during the Civil War, said that “Blood is thicker than water.”
Despite the age-old tendency of those like some of the disciples and Commodore Tattnall to tie their spiritual values and virtues to bonds of blood and race, there remains a stronger prevailing bond of the spirit that supersedes all other ties. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” said Jesus. “Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
My family has been exploring its genealogical ancestry. And individuals who had long been lost to my historical reference and sense of identity because of slavery our now coming to light with names, locations, occupations and, yes, even voices that speak from different phases and hardships of the past with a spiritual determination that spat in the face of daily oppression, embodied and emboldened by the conviction that they too were children of God.
Still, while it is nice to know these biological bonds, more crucial than the bonds of biology and blood are the bonds of the spirit that tie us to an ancestral vine rooted in the love of God.
People of God, what goes around comes around in the grandest and most grotesque ways. Even amid present-day attempts to construct barricades of voter oppression and gerrymander districts to favor one political party or race over another, these walls will inevitably come tumbling down by the onslaught of those who know they deserve better.
Once you have tasted the compassion and justice of God’s love, you will develop an incessant craving for it, and that craving will feed your conviction and courage.
“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear” (1st John 4:18) Perfect love tears down barricades and walls, finally enabling us to comprehend the full landscape of God’s intent that those who love God must love all of God’s children as well.
“No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.” (1st John 4:12) In other words, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” said Jesus. “Those who abide in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit.” Amen.