Monday, January 21, 2013

Sanctity of Life Sunday (Exodus 2:15-22)

“But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” 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 on this fortieth anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the book of Exodus. Dear friends in Christ, our God is a God of life. He loves life; He created it. We read in Genesis that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” With love, with intimacy, with care, God literally stoops into the dirt to form man; He leans over to breathe into our nostrils the breath of life. And He has created with the same love and care ever since. The Psalmist declares, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” He loves life, every life, for he has created life, every life. He created and loves the life of the smallest embryo at the moment of conception, to the life of the one a breath away from death. He loves us despite the effects of sin in our lives; He loves the sick, the infirm, the aged; He loves the mentally and physically disabled. He loves us all; each and every human being, no matter the stage of development, no matter the age, no matter the disability, can confess with David: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
It is this love for life, all life, that human beings, the crown of God’s creation, are to have in their own lives. Even before the Lord declared on Mount Sinai, “You shall not murder,” it was clear that God wanted people to respect the lives of their neighbors. The second sin recorded in the Bible is murder, and when Noah leaves the ark, the Lord reminds him, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.” This law was written on man’s heart, every person knew that innocent human life is sacred, it is to be respected and protected at all costs. It is this ingrained knowledge, this fundamental law, that Pharaoh violated. “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’” Out of fear, out of jealousy for Israel’s rapidly growing population, Pharaoh violated God’s ancient and firm command. And even worse, he didn’t target those who could fight back, but instead condemned the littlest, the most vulnerable, and condemned them to death.

The government declared that killing children was allowed; in fact, Pharaoh himself commanded it. The king had created a culture of death, where an entire classification of human beings was killed out of fear. But some rebelled; Shiphrah and Puah, those appointed to bring forth life, refused to be agents of death. They boldly stood for life in a culture of death. “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” The most powerful man in Egypt, the one who held all Israel in the iron grasp of bondage, was defied by these two women. They feared God more than they feared Pharaoh. They held to His command over the words of mere men. They put their lives on the line to protect life; in fact, far from killing the male children, the Hebrew text indicates that they redoubled their efforts to help them survive the rigors of birth. The government called on them to explain their beliefs, to discard their stand for life, but they refused. “So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and let the male children live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” They were called before kings for God’s sake, and they obeyed God rather than men, they refused to submit, and through them, many children were saved.

Infanticide was Egypt’s national sin, and their violation of God’s command would result in devastation by God’s mighty outstretched hand. America is little better; in fact, America is far worse. The children of Israel died because of the fear of one man. The children of America die because of the fear of their own mothers and fathers, encouraged by a whole host of medical personnel, politicians, and nearly half of the population, the citizens of our culture of death. Fifty-four million. That is the death toll after forty years of legalized abortion on demand. Fifty-four million. It is hard for us to get a handle on those kinds of numbers. Imagine Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota, all uninhabited. Every day, abortion kills as many unborn children as Al-Qaeda killed on 9/11.

Abraham Lincoln considered slavery to be America’s national sin, and he saw the Civil War as the deadly and destructive consequence of that sin. Abortion is our current national sin, and we are already seeing the consequences. A nation that has legalized the destruction of one class of human beings will have little trouble eliminating another class, and so the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled are all threatened. We are already seeing this in Europe, and the push for eliminating undesirables, those no longer deserving of life and precious resources, has begun to extend to our shores. Who knows what other consequences may follow? I am not saying that God will send judgment against America; I have no Word of God to say something so bold. I am simply saying that following God’s laws brings benefits in this world, and transgressing them carries grave consequences. America paid the price for treating a class of humans as sub-human before, as did ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany, and we may do so again.

Shiphrah and Puah are the patron saints of life; their bold stand for life in a culture of death is to be our pattern. They refused to give in, they feared God rather than men, and they acted in accord with their convictions. Their reverence for life came from their reverence for God, the One who gives life. They stood boldly for life, even before Pharaoh himself, regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, we do not have the same boldness; forty years of legalized abortion on demand has lulled us to sleep. Abortion is our national sin, and we are all guilty, even if we never committed or encouraged an abortion. It has been our silence that has allowed this culture of death to reach epidemic proportions. We have been silent as television and movies separate sex from marriage; we have even been silent when sex outside of marriage enters our own families. We have been silent as politicians have opposed life or simply given it lip service; we have failed to hold them accountable and have let other issues take priority. We have been silent as women around us have entered crisis pregnancies, failing to give them the support they need; where we have been silent, the world has spoken, offering death as the solution. Our excuse cannot be that we didn’t know; abortion may occur behind closed doors, but the debate is right out in the open. We are called to boldly enter that debate, to take a stand for life with Shiphrah and Puah, regardless of the consequences; we are called upon to fear God rather than men. The time for fear is over, the time for action has come.

But even if we do follow the heroic example of Shiphrah and Puah, even if we boldly stand for life in a culture of death, we have no guarantee of success. Pharaoh, when confronted with the defiance of the Hebrew midwives, simply changed tactics. “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.’” Their heroic stand didn’t end the slaughter, and neither may ours. But we are not discouraged. With them we stand for life and entrust the results to God; if our text teaches us anything, it teaches us that God remains in control, despite the sin and death that surrounds us.

For our God is a God of life. In Exodus chapter two we learn that God spared a child from Pharaoh’s murderous designs, a child named Moses, who would deliver his people from such tyranny. In our Gospel lesson, we learn of another child spared from death, a child named Jesus, who would deliver all people from the tyranny of death. Our culture of death is doomed to defeat, for our God is a God of life, and He spared Jesus so that He would go forth and win life for all. Herod and Pharaoh thought that they were in control, but they weren’t. God is in control, and He is truly a God of life. Life will triumph over death, for Jesus Himself triumphed over death. He walked the way of the cross, standing for life even to the point of death, and then rose victorious over death itself, robbing it of its power, winning forgiveness and eternal life for all.

It is this forgiveness and life won by Christ that is brought to a guilty people; grace everlasting, given freely to those corrupted by sin. And it is this forgiveness, this grace, this life that alone is the solution to our culture of death. Only forgiveness can heal hearts broken by abortion, only forgiveness can send forth Christians to proclaim life in their world. If you have committed or encouraged an abortion, hear today the only message that can bring healing, the only message that can comfort: I, as a called an ordained servant of the Word, forgive you of that sin and all others, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Christ has died even for that sin, He has died for you. You are His forgiven child. And for the rest of us, you and me who have the stain of our national sin upon us by our silence, Christ has forgiven that sin as well as all others. You are forgiven! The God of life sent His Son to die for all your sins. Life has the victory, even in the midst of death, even if abortion is never eliminated; life has the victory, God created it, and He redeemed it, with the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. In the Name of that Son, who won life, everlasting life, for you, for me, for all people, Amen.

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