Easter 5 B

Oh, John. Always trying to get us to recognize the presence of God in the world. And Melanchthon doesn't help.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
-- 1 John 4:11

Verse 11 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 4: Good Works (SD 4.14) as an example of obligatory language in regards to good works. God wants us to love one another. When we do, we are living into God's will. When we don't...

We love because he first loved us.
-- 1 John 4:19

Verse 19 is quoted by Melanchthon in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.141) to show that faith comes before love. The gift of faith that hears God's declaration of forgiveness leads us to love God and others because of that forgiveness.

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said,] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower."
-- John 15:1

Chapter 15 is cited in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 10: Holy Supper (AP 10.3) as Melanchthon presents support for the real presence of Jesus in communion by citing Cyril's reflection on this chapter in his work On the Gospel according to John.

In this same section of the Apology, the editor calls out verse 1 (AP 10.3, n. 270) as the particular part of Cyril's writing being quoted.

[Jesus said,] "You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me."
-- John 15:3-4

Verses 3 and 4 are called out in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.12) among a list of verses which "inspire godliness," which is one of the reasons God gave us scripture.

Verse 3 is footnotes three other places. First in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 13: The Number and Use of the Sacraments (AP 13.5, n. 381) as Melanchthon quotes Augustine's Tractates on John who calls the sacrament "a 'visible word,' because the rite is received by the eyes and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word." The second footnote of this verse is near the end of the same article (AP 13.23, n. 387) and is again a quote from the same work of Augustine to enforce the Reformers' point that faith justifies, not the sacrament. The sacrament is an enacting of faith, but without faith, the sacrament is useless. The third footnote is Luther quoting the same work of Augustine in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 5: Concerning Baptism (SA 3.5.1, n. 131) to emphasize that what makes the water of baptism into a sacrament is the Word. Without the Word, the water is just water.

[Jesus said,] "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."
-- John 15:5

The Lutheran Reformers really leaned into the last phrase of verse 5. Of the following six citations, five of them are, "Apart from me you can do nothing." The first such quote is in The Augsburg Confession, Article 20: Faith and Good Works (AC 20.39), which makes it clear than any kind of good work is only possible because of Christ's presence and help.

Melanchthon drives home this point in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.254ish) reminding everyone that anytime people bring up the topic of good works, we must be quick to remind them that without faith in Jesus good works are not possible and the law cannot be kept.

A little later in Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.85), Melanchthon quotes both the first sentence and the last phrase of verse 5 as he challenges the idea that "the forgiveness of sins... must be merited by our love and works." This verse is a reminder that the only way sin is forgive is through faith in Jesus, who nourishes us so that we can repent.

The last three citations of verse 5 are all from Formula of Concord. In Epitome, Article 2: Free Will, Affirmative Thesis 3 (Ep 2.6), verse 5 is a reminder from scripture that while the Holy Spirit works through means (that would be us) to reach people with the gospel, the only reason such evangelism is effective is because of Jesus and has nothing at all to do with our free will. This point is extrapolated in Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Well (SD 2.14, 26) when verse 5 is used to point out that on our own we would never come to repent. Conversion to faith given by the Holy Spirit is only possible because of Jesus.


Where do you see God in the world?

John and the Lutheran Reformers would have us look for God wherever love moves someone to enter into the experience of others for the sake of those others. Wherever a good work is done for someone in need, the Spirit of Jesus is present there.

Yes, you might be more open to the presence of God in nature, but the love God shows us in Jesus move us into relationships with our neighbors in need for their sake. God's love is relationship and action. The nourishment we receive from being grafted on the vine of Jesus is relationship and action.

We know God is present and active in the world when we see people living in love like the love of Jesus--a love that leads to a cross for the benefit of others.