Monday, January 30, 2012

Sanctity of Life Sunday (Luke 1:39-45)

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Sanctity of Life Sunday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, there once was a pregnant teenager. Only fifteen years old, without a job, without money, without much hope. She is scorned by the world around her, looked down upon by her friends and neighbors. Her parents are furious, upset that their daughter has brought shame on the entire family. Her fiancé should be angry, but he is more sad than anything else. He had worked so hard to remain pure, to do things in this relationship the way that God wanted, and he thought that she was the same. But not only had she apparently cheated on him, now she was pregnant. He clearly can’t stay with her; he must go his own way. With one announcement, one moment, everything has fallen apart for this young girl. She feels completely alone.

There are plenty of voices in this world that would be glad to help her in her difficult situation. The advice comes from doctors, from the media, from intellectuals, from the family planning clinics we find throughout our country. The first statement is the most basic: “that isn’t a real person in your womb.” It’s a potential person, sure, if it ever sees the light of day, but now it’s just a glob of tissue. Some of the more extreme feminists will even call it a parasite, something growing within her that simply takes nutrients away and contributes nothing to her health. They use sterile terms like ‘zygote,’ ‘embryo,’ or ‘fetus’- anything but ‘person’ or ‘baby.’ If it isn’t a person, then it isn’t murder, it’s just a medical procedure, like removing a tumor. It’s your body, to do with what you want; no one should be able to tell you what to do with what is your own. 

The world says the same thing to the medical researcher about to destroy a human embryo: “That isn’t a real person in the petri dish.” That embryo is just genetic material, ripe to be harvested for the good of others, to cure diseases; who could argue with that? A family gathered around a hospital or nursing home bed hears the same message: “That isn’t a real person laying there.” The person you knew is long gone; now they are simply a drain on resources, a burden on you. People are protected, but a fetus, an embryo, the elderly or infirm? They exist only as long as they are useful to us.

These voices want her to be selfish, to look out for her own needs. They want her to give into her fears and take the steps necessary to eliminate the source of that fear. They don’t want her to place her trust in anyone else, certainly not God. Abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell treatments are all done out of fear and a lack of trust in God. People are afraid of the burden of life, the burden of an unwanted child or the burden of an elderly or infirm relative. Their trust isn’t in the God who provides, the God who has promised to take care of His people, but instead their only trust is in themselves. They will do what’s good for them, seeking their own needs first, not the good of what dwells in the womb, in the researcher’s lab, or on the hospital bed. They want control, they want to be in charge. They want to be God. Satan’s temptation is heard in abortion clinics, labs, and hospitals throughout the world: “You will be like God.” 

We have wanted control from the very beginning, and in a world of abortion on demand, we have it in a crucial area of our lives. God no longer gives children where and when He pleases; we have become gods, we control over when and whether we give birth. Sex doesn’t need to have any connection with children anymore through birth control and abortion. Through those twin tools, we have become gods, we have conquered nature and its Creator. And we extend that control to the end of life. We can control when someone dies, when their time has come and they are no longer useful to us or deserving of life. The beginning of life and the end of life is in our hands; we don’t have to trust anyone but ourselves, because we are in the driver’s seat, we have become gods.

As this world tells that pregnant teenager to take her rightful place as a god, it tells her friends, her family, her fellow citizens, you and me, not to interfere. In many and various ways, our world tells us, “There’s other issues more important than life.” Surely the economy is more important right now than abortion or euthanasia, surely the threat of terrorism is more immediate, right? For forty years we have lived under the horror of Roe vs. Wade. Many of us here have never lived in a time when the womb was a place of safety. The death toll in our country alone is over fifty million. We live in a nation where the most vulnerable are killed for convenience, for a variety of reasons or for no reason at all. And we as Christians have failed to hold our leaders fully accountable for the slaughter. We have failed to realize that while life isn’t the only issue, it is the fundamental issue. A society cannot adequately protect any other right unless it protects life; a country has no right to condemn any other act of violence while it slaughters its children. This entire nation has blood on its hands, you, me, and all of our fellow citizens.

If that pregnant teenager had lived today, she would’ve heard each of those voices, and perhaps she would’ve given in, perhaps her child would’ve been killed. This girl’s name was Mary, and her child? Jesus. Think about it: if Jesus had been conceived today, He may have been aborted. But while Mary was afraid, but she didn’t put her trust in herself, she didn’t seek control, instead she placed herself into the hands of the Lord. Elizabeth said of her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Our God spent nine months in the womb of Mary, sanctifying the womb and every stage of life by passing through it just like you and me. Christ’s work of salvation didn’t begin on Christmas Eve, but instead it began at the moment of His conception. Our text clearly teaches that every child in the womb is a person, because in the womb of Elizabeth, that glob of tissue, that parasite, that ‘fetus’ leaped for joy when he heard the voice of Mary. Even in the womb, John pointed to Jesus, who even in Mary’s womb is our Lord and Savior, the Son of God. In God’s eyes, we are persons, members of the human family, and His precious creation from the moment of conception, and He proved it with His own journey from zygote to Bethlehem.

Life was Christ’s most important issue; that is the reason why He came. He came to bring life, because death reigned since Adam and Eve followed Satan’s advice and tried to become like God. It is a scourge on our planet, our greatest enemy, for which we have no solution. Abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research are tragic attempts to wield our greatest enemy as a tool, an instrument to solve our problems. These attempts are doomed to failure; there is only one who could use death as a tool, and that was Jesus Christ. He used death against itself; when death thought that it had claimed God’s Son, Jesus burst forth from the tomb, victorious over it. In the moment of His death, Jesus broke the bonds of death, for His death satisfied God’s wrath, His death paid the price for the sin of the world. He gave Himself up willingly to death in your place, in my place, in the place of all. Without sin, death is powerless, an empty shell; His resurrection proves it. Now death is His tool, His instrument to bring His children to Himself. [He did this earlier this morning, as He drowned the old Adam in Tyler, forgiving his sin, destroying the power of death over him, and claiming Tyler as His own.] When a Christian dies, they don’t endure eternal death, but they have passed from death to life. Jesus uses death as the doorway to eternal life, the path which brings His beloved children, you and me, to the glories of heaven. His gift is life, life which conquers and destroys death.

He can only give life because He gives forgiveness. That is what pours into our hearts through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper; forgiveness of all of our sins, the forgiveness that reconciles us with our God, the forgiveness which opens heaven to us. And the good news this Life Sunday is that this forgiveness is for all sinners, even those who have acted to destroy life. If you are filled with the guilt of a past abortion, these words are for you: you are forgiven! Christ died for you, He shed His blood for you, He has taken your guilt upon Himself, He has washed away your sin. If you have pressured someone to have an abortion, as a boyfriend, fiancé, or husband, or as a father or mother, you are forgiven! If you have participated in ending the life of the elderly or infirm, then you too have forgiveness of your guilt. Christ bore those sins to the cross with all the rest! Even doctors and nurses who have participated in abortion or euthanasia are forgiven by the shed blood of Christ, the same forgiveness that you and I have! And if you have failed to stand up for life in our country, holding your leaders accountable, then, dear friends in Christ, I have good news for you: you are forgiven!

It is the message of forgiveness, of love, of grace, that we bring to those who face the challenges and burdens of an unexpected pregnancy or an infirm relative. We proclaim to them a God who they can trust to provide, who gives great gifts to His people. We speak the word of Law that must be spoken, but then we proclaim the love of a God who bore all of their sins to the cross and paid for them there. Our God is a God of life, life for the unborn child and eternal life for the repentant sinner, for the woman who has committed an abortion, for you, for me, for all people. In the Name of the One who sanctified all life by dwelling in Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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