Monday, February 14, 2011

Epiphany 6 of Series A: Sanctity of Life Sunday (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Sanctity of Life Sunday comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the thirtieth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. Dear friends in Christ: in our text for today, Moses presents the people with a choice. The verses that immediately precede our text give us the sense that Moses believed this was an easy, even obvious choice: “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

What is this choice that is not far off, that is easy and even obvious? It is nothing other than the choice between life and death. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” Hmmm, what does Moses want us to choose, letter ‘a’ or letter ‘b?’ Life or death? Good or evil? This is a test with only one question, and only one right answer. If you guessed letter ‘a’ then you…are…RIGHT! “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” Choosing life is nothing else than living in obedience to God and the Law that He has set forth through this same Moses. “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” Life is given when the people of God obey and love Him.

On the other hand, death is the penalty for disobedience, for apostasy, for idolatry. “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.” If the benefits of obedience are clear, the penalties of disobedience are even clearer. To serve anyone else than the true God can have only one result: death. So the choice is clear: Serve the true God, and you will have life; serve false gods, and you will have death. What could be easier than a choice between life and death? The life of obedience is not easy, but at least the choice is: life is the right answer, indeed the only answer, because who would answer with death when given the choice between it and life?

Unfortunately, in our world today, when given the choice between life and death, many choose death. We live in a culture of death, a culture that sees death as a solution, as an instrument. It is the solution to unwanted people of any age and stage of development. Death is the solution of convenience, it is the solution of choice when another person is going to drain our finances or dramatically change our lives. Over fifty million children have been murdered in the womb in the United States since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Fifty million situations where death was the solution for whatever problems faced the parents. Fifty million occasions where death was the choice; where death was enlisted to eliminate a burden. Many of those fifty million were those with physical or mental disabilities, killed because others did not see them as fit to live. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, envisioned abortion, birth control, and sterilization as means to eliminate those who were a drain on society, creating a more pure race. Even today, it is the poor and disabled who are targeted by abortion providers. Death is seen as a solution to poverty, a solution to the challenges that raising a disabled child presents. But it is not only the infirm and poor that are killed. The vast majority of those fifty million were killed for convenience; death was the solution to protect careers or money. Children are killed in the womb each and every day because the time isn’t right, because the parents aren’t married, or because the child is quite simply unwanted. Millions are killed because parents refuse to take the responsibility that sexual activity demands.

Death is not only the solution used for those who are ‘unwanted’ in the womb, but even at the end of life death is seen as a solution. The same reasons used to defend the slaughter of fifty million children since 1973 are now being used to speak of the disabled, the infirm, the aged. There are many who wish to call on death as the solution once again, the solution for those with incurable diseases, the solution for those who are profoundly disabled, the solution for those whose usefulness to society has seemingly ended. Hitler killed all three groups in his quest for the master race; now many in our society want to follow in his footsteps. Death is the solution of convenience, the solution that saves money, the solution that removes the burdens of caring for those who cannot care for themselves from family or the government. Death is the solution sought by our society for all manner of ills.

But death cannot be tamed, it cannot be harnessed as our ally. Death is never the solution, but instead it is the problem. Death is our enemy, the first and fundamental adversary of man. God declared to Adam and Eve after they plunged humanity into sin and death: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” You will hear those same words repeated a month from now as ashes are placed upon your head. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death is not something to be embraced, but instead it is the penalty for our sin, it is our first and greatest enemy. We cannot wield our greatest enemy as a tool, we cannot think that we can control it without dire consequences. We are adrift in a sea of death, in the midst of a culture which views death as the solution for many, if not all of the problems that we face as a society. But the Scriptures declare that death is man’s greatest problem; it is never the solution.

However, there is one exception to that statement. Death is never the solution, except for the one instance where the death of one is the solution to death for all. Death is the problem, and the death of Jesus is the solution. It is His death that conquers death, it is His death that brings life. His death even brings forgiveness for those who have participated in the culture of death. He died so that a repentant mother who aborted her child will live eternally, forgiven and restored. Jesus died so that a repentant father who pressured his partner to end their child’s life will be forgiven of his sin just as Christ’s death forgives your sin and mine. The death of Christ destroyed death even for abortion doctors and nurses, even for you and me when we fail to stand up to this culture of death. The death of Christ destroyed the power of death over all of us; His death on Calvary’s cross brought life- the resurrection on the third day proved that. For those who have participated in abortion or euthanasia in any way, the message on Sanctity of Life Sunday is clear: Christ died for your sin, and He forgives you of that sin as He forgives you of all other sin, for no sin is too great for His love and mercy to forgive it.

Christ’s death brings us life, fullness of life, the kind of life that Moses held before the people in our text for today. In order to attain that life, Moses demanded obedience from the people: “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him.” But the commands of Moses couldn’t give that life; if it were up to our obedience to choose life, we would only end up with death. St. Paul writes, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” We are sinful; we cannot love the Lord to the extent that we ought. That is why Christ came and that is why He died. He died in order to give us what the command of Moses could not- life. He chose life for us, and He won it for us through His death. Now, because of His death for you, you are destined for an eternity where death, your first and greatest enemy, is trampled down and defeated. We read about this eternity of life in Isaiah chapter sixty-five: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind… I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days…”

We who have been given life, eternal life, then go out and proclaim that life to others. Death is not the solution to any problem that our society faces, but it is instead the problem, the greatest problem, our ancient enemy. And we have the privilege to declare before the world that it is a defeated enemy, that Christ has defeated death through His death and resurrection. We have the opportunity to declare Christ’s resurrection victory with St. Paul: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” We defend life from beginning to end because we have a God of life; the God who created life, the God who sustains life, the God who gives eternal life. Christ’s life is your life, His victory is your victory, His resurrection points forward to your own. In the name of the One whose death brought us life, the Lord of life, our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

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