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Why Blood?
January 17, 1999

JOHN 1:29-36

We have just sung a hymn about blood. Yuck, some say! Our closing hymn portrays a fountain, like the fountain in the middle of the beautiful rose garden in Applegate Park, but a fountain that spews blood. Yuck, some say! Are new Christians, unfamiliar with the Bible, offended by the idea of being plunged beneath the blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins? Sophisticated, modern Americans are offended by blood. A denomination is offended by blood, so much so that the new hymnal it has published omits most of the hymns about blood and cleans up the language in the remaining hymns.

In one of the superstores, about a half-mile between the automotive center and the peanut butter section, a little boy stopped to watch a video on deer hunting. His mother, quite upset with his fascination of the slaughter, quickly pulled him away, saying, "Come on. We don't want to watch this." They then walked briskly down the aisle into the meat department! Did the mother catch the irony? The incongruity? Doesn't she know where meat in the supermarket comes from; or does she just not want to think about it? Offended by blood! "I'll take my hamburger in a neat package, thank you very much; just don't remind me how the animal shed blood and was sacrificed for my dinner!"

Gone are the days when butchering was a common event on farms. Butchering was often the occasion of a neighborhood gathering. As a child, I recall watching my father grab a chicken, hold it over the chopping block, cut off its head, let the headless chicken flop all over the yard, and when it stopped flopping, put it in a pail of hot water to soften the feathers. Some of you are saying "Yuck". We want to protect our children and our own sensibility by covering our ears and eyes to the sacrifice of animals, even chickens.

Many vegetarians oppose the butchering of animals and the eating of meat on moral grounds. Animal rights activists are offended by and opposed to the sacrificing of animals for research by scientists seeking cures for human diseases.

On the other hand, our culture doesn't seem to be offended by violence against humans. An animal rights activist group in Great Britain advocates the murder of research scientists. They have even published a hit list! Movies and TV get bloodier. But, TV and movies are fantasy, pretend, make-believe. It's all right to fantasize, but don't remind us of the real world where animals are slaughtered and people actually die. And, don't sing about blood in our neat, sanitized, orderly worship services where nice, sophisticated people do not want to think about blood.

One of the reasons for confusion and incongruity is that sacrifice language no longer makes sense to us. Human and animal sacrifice belong to the far distant past. In ancient mythology, when gods came to the earth in human form, they lost some of their vitality, some of their energy, what they called their life-blood. Therefore, to restore life to the gods, sacrifice-- the shedding of blood-- was required, either by animals or humans. It was like a transfusion, giving blood to the gods so the gods could live. I don't think too many of us believe that anymore.

Then there was the belief that God needs to be pacified, appeased by a sacrifice. God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac; therby revealing to Abraham that human sacrifice was not to be practiced by the Hebrews. The sacrifice of birds and animals continued, however, until the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. What persisted in Jewish religion was the worship practice of the synagogue where the Bible was read, discussed, and prayers were prayed. Christian worship continued both traditions. The Roman Catholic Mass is a continuation of temple sacrifice where, in each Mass, Jesus is again sacrificed. Protestant worship is a continuation of synagogue worship, with the emphasis on preaching and praying, and Communion is a remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made by giving up his life, where his body was broken and his blood was shed.

What does sacrifice mean to us today? Sacrifice is at the very center of life. How could we live if it were not for sacrifice? Grain is sacrificed, torn from the earth, ground up and baked into bread. Fruit is sacrificed, plucked from a tree, grapes from a vine. Vegetables are pulled from the ground. Chickens, turkeys, cattle, lambs and pigs are butchered. Why? They are sacrificed so that we may live.

How many of you are where you are today because someone sacrificed for you? Now that you know my age, you realize I was born in the middle of the Great Depression. My parents borrowed money so they could buy me Cod Liver Oil! How many new dresses did your mother not buy so you would have nice clothes to wear to school, and not be ashamed? How much did your parents sacrifice so you could have an education? How many tears were shed for you? How many hopes and dreams were put off, or were sacrificed, so you could have your chance?

I am so pleased with the vote to proceed with the After School ministry (now called PATHfinders). I am proud of your willingness (shall we say, sacrifice) to let children put wear and tear on our buildings, to ride in the van and dirty the carpet. I am proud of you believing that our facilities were built to be used, not to be looked at like a museum; that the van was purchased to be used, not to be on display like a museum piece in the garage we built. By being used, the van will wear out. Our buildings will wear out, sacrificed, if you please. Of course, buildings also wear out by not being used. We call it deterioration. Which do we prefer? Sacrifice or deterioration?

It's the same with your own possessions. Are they to be used, to be sacrificed, for the glory of God in the serving of people? Or deteriorate, rust, and fade from lack of use?

What can be said today about blood? Why do we sing about blood? Sacrifice often involves blood. In fact, most accomplishments of significance involve the shedding of blood.

It took the shedding of blood to make us a free nation, independent of Great Britain.

It took the shedding of blood in a Civil War to keep our nation united.

It took the slaughter of innocent children who were in Sunday School when their church building was bombed to awaken us all to the horror and depravity of racial prejudice.

It took the shedding of Martin Luther King, Jr's blood to convince the nation of the need for civil rights.

In the aftermath of the shedding of President John F. Kennedy's blood, congress passed the Civil Rights bill.

In the face and reality of human sin, and the demonic powers which control so many institutions and traditions, it usually takes sacrifice and the shedding of blood to break through.

And, it takes the death of an innocent, wholly good Son of God-- the Lamb of God-- and the shedding of his blood to convince us of the depth of our sin, the reality of our estrangement from the God who made us, and what it takes to restore a relationship with our Creator. Who takes away the sin of the world? Jesus, the Lamb of God. What does it take to wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains."

Oh, how God loves us. Can you imagine the height and the depth of God's love? Higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, wider than the ocean, as far as the east is from the west. God so loves us, so wants to be in loving relationship with us, that God gave his Son, and the Son sacrificed his life, shed his blood. Jesus did whatever it took to bridge the gap between us and God. Jesus gave his all.

In my churches, whenever I have introduced Holy Communion by intinction, where we break off a piece of bread and dip it in the chalice of juice, the first comment of some people is a complaint about the crumbs of bread and drops of grape juice on the carpet! I explain sweetly (?), "The death of Jesus was messy, and our lives are crummy!" What it takes for us to get reconciled with God, to be forgiven of our sin, is not some neat, tidy, sterilized worship service on a clean carpet, but the messy, gory, sacrificial death of our Savior, whose body was broken, whose blood was shed.

Will you let the blood of Jesus wash away your win, wash away what separates you from God? Confess your sin, turn from your old ways, receive the gift of salvation, and promise to follow Jesus.

© 1999 Douglas I. Norris