Friday, May 22, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ezekiel 36:22-28)

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.” It is not for your sake that I will act, O people of God, it is not for your sake. I do not act in salvation because you are so worthy, because you are so righteous, because you are so special. There is nothing in you that makes you worth saving, that demands my action on your behalf. No, I do not act because your holiness compels me; quite the opposite. I act for the sake of my Name, I act for the sake of my promises, I act because I AM who I AM. Cast out any thoughts of entitlement, any ideas that you are worthy, any notion that I have to act because of how important you are. Those are the thoughts that doomed you to destruction in the first place, that made you unworthy, unholy, unrighteous. Do not demand salvation, but receive it as grace. My actions are not predicated on anything in you, but everything in me. I am love, I am compassion, I am mercy. It is because you are not entitled to anything that I give you everything, it is because you are unworthy that I make you worthy, it is because you are unholy and unrighteous that I act in salvation. I act for the sake of my Name, not for your sake; my holiness, my promises, will endure, and on the Last Day no one will ever doubt again that I AM who I AM, the God of salvation, that the One who created all things has now redeemed all things.

If I acted on the basis of the worthiness of human nature, I would never act, I would never save. You have forfeited any right to demand anything from me when your first parents tried to make themselves worthy on their own terms. “You shall have no other gods,” I taught Moses on Mount Sinai, and I wasn’t only referring to blocks of wood and stone. Your first idol is always yourself. “You will be like God,” the serpent said, and like your first parents, you believe him. You grasped after my throne and lost everything. My Name was upon you; you had everything, but you sullied that Name with your sin. So I cast you from the Garden into the wilderness, I placed creation itself under a curse, and death entered into the world I created to be abundantly filled with life. Cancer, heart disease, poverty, lost jobs, oppression, violence, tornadoes and floods; all of this came as a result of the sinfulness of man. And you cannot go back; Eden is barred to you.

You cannot save yourselves, though Satan would teach you otherwise. He who led you into sin in the first place now fancies himself a peddler of salvation, and you are still listening to his lying words. Great ladders are lifted up, trying to climb the walls of Eden: the ladder of morality, piling up good works to impress me, the ladder of reason, attempting to use knowledge to reach the heavens, and the ladder of mysticism, trying to reach me through an emotional connection. Each of these ladders ignores the barrier that stands between me and you: sin. Until your sin is removed, you cannot have fellowship with me; I am holy, you are not. You cannot remove that barrier, you cannot reach me on your own. You have defiled my Name through your sin, you have made my Name a sign of reproach among the nations. Your actions, tainted with sin, can do nothing; but I will act—not for your sake, but for the sake of my Name. “And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

They will all know that I AM the Lord, the only God of heaven and earth, when through you, O my people, I vindicate my name. Not because you are worthy, not because you deserve it, but because I AM who I AM will I act. For the sake of my Name, which has been profaned among the nations, which is held in disrepute by all, I will act, I will save, I will bring you out of the wilderness and back into Eden. “I will take your from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.” In the Day when I act, the nations will know that I AM the Lord, for I will act in salvation, I will deliver my people. You cannot act, so I will, according to my promise, not for your sake, but for the sake of my Name.

You cannot climb up to me, so I will come down to you; I will send my Son into the flesh to bear your sin. His coming will destroy every ladder, for by Him alone can anyone have access to me. In Him my justice is fulfilled, for I judge Him guilty for the sin of the world; He will allow Himself to be nailed to the cross in your place, bearing your sin, your defilement of my Name. He who bears my Name, who is God of God and Lord of Lords with me, will vindicate my Name, He will fulfill my justice, and through Him I will show mercy and love to the nations. Not because you are so worthy does He suffer and die, not because you are entitled to His redemption, but because you are unworthy and unrighteous does He give up His life into death for you. Not because you are clean but to make you clean does He suffer, not because your heart is healthy, but because it is hardened is He crucified. Through Jesus, my Son, all that you cannot do is done, and you are saved.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” I cleanse you through the blood of my Son, purifying you from all the filth of sin that you have covered yourself with. Your idolatry, especially the idolatry of self, is washed away in the tide flowing from His pierced side. When you were brought to the font, I washed you in the blood of Jesus, sprinkling pure water upon you, the water joined with my Holy Word. You who were unworthy are now worthy, you who were unholy are now holy, you who were unclean are now clean. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Behold, I make all things new! Your sinful nature, your corrupt flesh, cannot be tamed, it cannot be reformed, it cannot be trained. Radical surgery is needed, and at the font, I perform it. Your heart of stone, a heart that stubbornly opposed me, is removed and cast away, and a new heart is put in its place, a heart that is united with me and will be forever, a heart that delights in me. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” My Holy Spirit comes and dwells within you, and through Him you serve me by serving your neighbor. The scar tissue still remains, you will still struggle against your sinful nature, but the victory has been won, and the Holy Spirit dwells within you to daily put the old man to death through repentance and raise up the new man in faith.

And on the Last Day, even the scar tissue will be removed, as the radical surgery of your baptism is fulfilled in the resurrection of all flesh. On that Day I will fully vindicate my Name; on that Day “the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” The world despises my Name as my saints lay in the grave, defeated by death, as the world despised my Name when my Son rested in the tomb. But on that Day I will be vindicated, my Name will be exalted before all the peoples. For as my Son was raised up in victory, to the glory of my Name, so on that day the bodies of my saints will be raised up from the exile of death to live with me forever. “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people and I will be your God.” You were barred from Eden by your sin, but cleansed and restored to me, the new Eden will be yours for eternity, and there I will be your loving God, and you will be my beloved people.

It is not for your sake that I act; cling to these words of Gospel, O my people! If I waited until you were worthy to act, my Son wouldn’t have taken flesh, suffered, died, and rose again for you. But I act for the sake of my Name, for the sake of my promises. I promised salvation to your first parents, and I keep my promises, all of them; they are all ‘yes’ in Jesus, my Son. All of those promises became yours at the font, and I will fulfill them, I will bring you out of this wilderness of sin to the Promised Land of the new heavens and the new earth. You will be my people, and I will be your God, bearing my name in holiness, in worthiness, in righteousness, forever. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” 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 morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: It was only a month ago when another video came out. Fifteen men, dressed in orange jumpsuits, standing on a beach in eastern Libya. Fifteen more men, similarly dressed, gathered in the desert of southern Libya. All died, as the gruesome video clearly demonstrated, all died, and the internet allowed ISIS to show it to the world. Martyrdoms are always public; that’s the point, to terrify us so that we do anything to avoid finding ourselves in an orange jumpsuit on a distant beach. 

And admit it, you are at least a little bit terrified. That may be half a world away, but these thirty men were executed for confessing the same faith that you confess, the same faith that you were baptized into. They are horrifically put to death because they are Christians just like you. And you know that these terrorists won’t stop with killing in Libya, for they are motivated by much more than politics. “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

The year was 1523. Two years earlier, Martin Luther had famously refused to recant his teachings before church and state at the Diet of Worms. That assembly declared Luther an outlaw, but he had powerful protectors, and he would eventually die in bed. Many of his followers were not so fortunate. In the Netherlands, Augustinian monks preached the Gospel Luther had recently brought to light. The authorities condemned them to death if they did not renounce what they had so recently confessed. All but three turned away from execution; one of the remainder was imprisoned, and the other two, Heinrich Voss and Johann Esch, were hauled before the authorities to be examined and put to death. When told that they had been led astray by Luther, Heinrich Voss boldly replied: “Yes, we were led astray by him, as were the Apostles led astray by Christ.” Both then died, burned at the stake in a crowded public square, the first to die as a result of Luther’s teaching. Martyrdoms are always public; that’s the point, to terrify us so that we do anything to avoid finding ourselves tied to a post with kindling under our feet.

And admit it, you are at least a little bit terrified. This may be almost five hundred years ago, but these two men were put to death for the same faith that you confess, the same faith that you were baptized into. We are certainly persecuted by atheists and by secular states, but the most violent hatred against Christians will come from ‘people of faith.’ “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” They will hate you, they will persecute you, they will even put you to death because they condemn your confession.

Don’t think for a moment that theology doesn’t matter; it certainly matters to the Muslim terrorist, as it mattered to those who tied two monks to stakes. Your confession will bring you suffering and persecution; ISIS kills some solely for political reasons, but it kills many more for theological reasons. Don’t be shocked, dear Christian friends, when the enemies of Christ take your confession seriously. We may think that we are safe here in America, but we forget that the most determined opponents of Christianity are those who think they are serving God with every Christian they put to death. “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” 

This is the faith that we baptize our children into; the same faith that led two monks to be tied to stakes, the same faith that led thirty men to orange jumpsuits and internet videos. When I pour water over a child’s head in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that child has become an enemy of ISIS and every other terrorist, an enemy of this world and Satan its lord. What we confess here in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, what we teach in the Small Catechism, has consequences. It could mean your death, and it has meant the death of so many others throughout history. What we do and say in this place is deadly serious. We are confessing in the face of a hostile world, and the world may demand everything, even our lives, from us as a consequence. Jesus wants no one to be taken by surprise, to be shocked when persecution comes. “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” Jesus doesn’t want His Christians to idolize life at the cost of their faith; there are far worse things than death, as all the martyrs throughout history clearly understood.

The year was 155. The worship of the Roman emperor, already hinted at in the book of Revelation, was at its height, and all were forced to participate. In the city of Smyrna in modern Turkey the Romans arrested one who didn’t, a bishop named Polycarp. Before his rulers he refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord or offer incense to the emperor. In the stadium, he was commanded to curse other condemned Christians, but he would not. Finally, his executors called on the old man to simply renounce Christ and be spared death. If he only said the words, he could save his own life. He replied: “Eighty-six years I have served Him and He has done to me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” He stood firm, and was put to death by fire and knife in the crowded stadium. Martyrdoms are always public; that’s the point, to terrify us so that we do anything to avoid finding ourselves facing the wild beasts, the fire, and the sword of the arena.

And admit it, you are at least a little bit terrified. This may be the earliest days of the Church, but Polycarp was executed for the same faith that you confess, the same faith that you were baptized into. Had he renounced Christ, he could’ve died peacefully in bed. The world certainly has its own comforts to offer, and it gives those comforts to those who renounce Jesus, while putting to death those who confess His Name. “They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” They think they are serving God, but their lord is not the true God, instead he is the lord of this world, the devil. A Christian does not idolize life; there are fates worse than death, for the comfort this world promises is fleeting, it will quickly fade away.

The comfort Christ gives, on the other hand, is eternal. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” The Christian does not idolize life, because the Christian knows that worse than death is death without Christ. It was this conviction that led thirty men to steadfastly face death in the sands of Libya, that led Heinrich Voss and Johann Esch to refuse to renounce the Gospel, that led Polycarp to turn down numerous opportunities to escape martyrdom by denying Jesus. They had been given a comfort, a Comforter that bore witness about Christ to them in the midst of their persecutions, as they faced death itself by the hand of persecutors. The Holy Spirit comes for this very purpose: to point you to Christ as you face a world that seeks your life. Jesus sends Him to you from the Father to bear witness to Himself, and that, dear friends in Christ, is the true comfort you need in a world that hates you.

The world’s comfort is that suffering can be avoided by renouncing Christ; the Holy Spirit’s comfort is that any suffering this world brings is only temporary, not worth comparing to the eternity of joy that awaits the believer through Christ. The Holy Spirit’s comfort is that the Jesus you are baptized into, the Jesus you have baptized your children into, the Jesus you confess each and every Sunday, this Jesus overcomes the world. The Holy Spirit’s comfort is that those who persecute you while claiming to serve God are only serving Satan; their comfort is temporary, while His is eternal. The Holy Spirit’s comfort, in short, is Christ. The Spirit of truth witnesses to Christ, He points to Christ, He speaks only of Christ, because only Christ has triumphed over this world, once and for all.

The year was 33. The religious leaders of the Jews, having sparred with this Jesus for three long years, have finally cornered Him, they have Him right where they want Him. In the darkness of night, He is condemned of blasphemy, and in the early morning hours, before a hostile crowd, He is sent to bear the cross. “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” He is cast out from His people, those to whom He was sent, and they put Him to death as a service to God. He is mocked, called upon to come down from the tree, but instead, He gives up His life willingly into death: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And there, on a hill called Golgotha, surrounded by His enemies, the Son of God breathed His last. Martyrdoms are always public; that’s the point, to terrify us so that we do anything to avoid finding ourselves hanging upon a cross.

But you are not terrified by the cross, for it is here that the Holy Spirit points you in the midst of affliction and persecution; it is this cross alone that gives you comfort. For upon that cross Jesus is overcoming the world, upon that cross Jesus is winning the victory, upon that cross Jesus is bringing to you a comfort that endures no matter what this world does to you. How do you know? The Holy Spirit witnesses, He testifies to you through the apostles that Christ is risen, that He has overcome death and the grave in your place, that He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of power. “I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” The Holy Spirit comes to bring us Jesus, so that we remember His Words, so that we remember His cross and empty tomb. This is the victory cry that overcomes the world, this is the victory cry that brings us true comfort as we wait, as we face the same hostile world our ancestors in the faith did: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Amen.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Tyranny of Adults

This paper was delivered at the third annual conference of Crawford County Right to Life in Denison, Iowa, on April 25th, 2015.

It is common in the pro-life movement today to speak of our ‘culture of death.’ This terminology seems appropriate, as we deal with the destruction of human life by abortion, the creation of embryos simply to be dissected in research, and the increasing calls for the infirm and elderly’s ‘right to die’ (which eventually will become the ‘duty to die’). It is apparent that our culture wants to wield death as a tool, employing man’s greatest (and still unconquered) enemy in order to solve societal problems. But, does the label ‘culture of death’ fully describe the problem we face today? Is the problem a culture of death when children are created through the technologies of in-vitro fertilization, genetic manipulation, and cloning? Is a ‘designer baby’ necessarily a product of a culture of death? One could perhaps make the argument that the use of such technologies is ‘pro-life.’ When you examine their motives, it is clear that the individuals who pursue such methods are not seeking death, but life. Is either the breakdown of the family or the complete destruction of marriage a product of a culture of death? Partially, but there is much more going on than a desire to wield death as a tool. Speaking of a ‘culture of death’ does little to address the problems of divorce, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and so-called ‘gay marriage.’ Our culture is to a great extent focused on death; but we have a problem that runs much deeper. Many people are seeking death for their children and the elderly, but many more are feeding into the ‘culture of death’ through behaviors that have little to do with death. Until we as a pro-life community deal with the deeper issue, we will find our efforts to combat the ‘culture of death’ hampered. What is this deeper issue? We are dealing not with a ‘culture of death’ but a ‘culture of adults,’ a culture that has enshrined the tyranny of adults, the dictatorship of the current generation against the next.

Understanding the tyranny of adults as the primary problem in our society links together abortion, IVF, genetic manipulation, and euthanasia. It even links together the two great social issues of our day: the breakdown of marriage and abortion. In each case, the interests of adults trump the interests of children. Instead of being received as a gift through the coming together of husband and wife, children are made into commodities, products that adults have a right to when and in the way that they want. And, like all commodities, the consumer has the right to dispose of them at any time simply according to their choice. Thus, the tyranny of adults feeds into the abortion culture and make abortion not only possible, but necessary. Only if the pro-life movement can center our culture once again on the value and interests of children will we destroy this ‘culture of death’ and the scourge of abortion that is its hallmark.

Human society, for centuries, reflected basic human biology to protect and provide for the next generation, to encourage the procreation and care of children. Evolutionists may can it a ‘survival instinct,’ religious people call it God’s design and command, but either way, the ordering of human society was toward the rearing of the next generation. The basic building block was the family, the partnership (legally and socially established) between male and female that produced offspring. Marriage customs and laws attempted to ensure responsible sexuality because the sexual act led to children, and society had an interest in the rearing of the next generation and in ensuring a stable environment for children. Marriage was intended to protect the ‘least of these’ from exploitation and abuse. In addition, marriage protected women from being taken advantage of by men. If a man wanted a sexual relationship, he was required by society, even by the law, to marry the woman, to commit himself to her and her alone, and the children that came from such a union were to be provided for. Now, obviously, this system wasn’t perfect, and adultery, with out-of-wedlock birth, has been a problem throughout history, but the very structure of society itself was designed to discourage this, protecting both women and their children.

In our age, these protections have been swept away. There are two great divorces in our society today, divorces that exalt adult interests and diminish the interests of children. These two divorces are at the heart of our adult-centered culture, and it is on them that the tyranny of adults is founded. First, we have divorced marriage from sexuality, and second, we have divorced sexuality from children. One divorce cannot exist without the other. If a person wants sex without marriage, they must also have sex without babies. The commitment that sexuality requires because of its biological connection to children has to be abolished; a hook-up is decidedly less practical if a baby is often the result, with all of its attendant commitments for father and mother. So we must prevent conception in any way possible; not by refraining from sex until one is married, but by divorcing the sexual act from its biological purpose. Only then can we have the sexual experiences we want without the danger of commitment. Only then can we fulfill our adult desires without having to worry about children. We have now enshrined adultery in our culture, we have normalized it, and the popular media encourages it. It all seems so easy; with the technology of birth control, people can have all the sex they want with none of the consequences.

But there are consequences. Certainly there are consequences for the adults, such as the danger of disease and emotional distress. Anyone who pretends that these two divorces have not harmed women needs to visit rural areas or poor, inner-city neighborhoods, where fathers are largely non-existent, and it is the women who are left to pick up the pieces and live out the lies of the sexual revolution by themselves. But while adults, and especially women, certainly suffer because of these two great divorces, it is the children who pay the ultimate price. Our biology is not so easily fooled. Divorcing marriage from sex and sex from babies has simply, and tragically, resulted in more unwanted children. Birth control only works as a tool to separate sex from babies if we have a back-up plan, and if one fails to prevent the pregnancy, then must be able to prevent the birth. Abortion is simply the highest form of birth control; we in the pro-life movement need to understand the connection between the two: you cannot have one without the other. There is a moral difference between preventing a pregnancy and ending one, and there are some limited situations where a married couple can ethically use some method of birth control, but the pro-life movement can no longer ignore the connection between birth control and abortion in the ills that afflict our society. Notice that we call it ‘birth control,’ not ‘pregnancy control’ of ‘conception control.’ The point is to prevent a birth, by any means necessary.

Why do men and women choose abortion? Most often, death is their tool of choice because they have conceived a child they didn’t intend to conceive, they do not consider themselves prepared and ‘ready’ for a child. They have divorced sex from marriage, and they intended to divorce sex from a baby, but something went wrong, and now there is a baby in the womb. The child is unwanted, and so it must be destroyed. A child conceived within marriage, even if it is ‘unplanned,’ is conceived within a structure where it can be provided for and protected. Even the structure of marriage does not save every life, but a child conceived outside of marriage has no societal protection at all. Even if it is born, the child is very often disconnected from one or both parents and is raised in a home characterized by instability. But these children are much more fortunate than those who are killed in the womb; they have survived, even if they still will suffer the consequences of the two great divorces. Their peers, on the other hand, have paid the ultimate price on the altar of adult desires. A society founded on the tyranny of adults can only come to one conclusion: if life cannot be prevented, then it must be destroyed.

But there is a more subtle side to the equation, and for this reason, it is much more sinister. We have divorced marriage from sex and sex from babies, but this does not only result in the prevention and destruction of life. These two divorces also result in the creation of life simply to fulfill the desires and serve the interests of adults. We are placing the next generation under our tyranny, creating them according to our whims, producing them when we want them and how we want them. We think that we have achieved sex without babies through birth control and abortion; that task is largely complete. The next great project is babies without sex. If in abortion, adults wield death against the next generation, with the march of genetic technology, it is the manipulation of life to produce the next generation according to our whims.

The danger is very subtle, and how we think and talk about children and such things as adoption are illuminating. Certainly, every parent wants a child ‘of their own.’ But speaking of children as ‘our own’ is dangerous; our children our not our possessions, they are a gift to us. Parenthood doesn’t give us a product to be used for the fulfillment of our own needs; it confers a task to serve the next generation. This is the danger inherent in the great good of adoption; adoption is not for the parents! Adoption is to provide for a child a loving home. The transformation of adoption from a child-centered institution providing for children into an adult-centered system getting grown-ups the child they always wanted is a terrible tragedy. If adoption is child-centered, then the intent is to match up a needy child with a stable, loving home where it can be cared for and reared. Two-parent, married households are then a must; if the child is severed from its birth parents, it should then be given the protection that marriage is designed to provide. But if adoption is adult-centered, then the intent is to give an adult, any adult, the child that they want, regardless of whether or not the child will be given a mother and a father who are actually married. The goal of adoption should be the good of the child, to serve and provide for the least of these in mercy, not to satisfy the desires of adults, as noble as those desires may be.

Through the march of technology, we have provided alternatives to adoption, which actually make the situation far worse. Those who cannot conceive on their own can now be assisted through various artificial means, and the technology is progressing with incredible rapidity. Each of these means proceeds on the same assumption that is spoken and unspoken in our society today: adults have a right to children, however this can be achieved. Once we establish our right to have a child, it is but a short move to speak of our right to have the kind of child we want. Here the slope becomes very slippery. Children are turned into a product, a commodity to be designed and produced for the good of adults. A multitude of embryos are created; the weak or ‘defective’ are destroyed, the unused are frozen. We praise those involved in ‘snowflake adoption,’ and we should, but we must realize that in mercy we are trying to solve a problem that we as a society have created. Even if they are not frozen, a typical attempt at IVF implants a large number of embryos—living human beings!—into the womb, with the expectation that some will either die or can be aborted, once again culling out the weak. We are creating children, more children than a woman can carry, most of whom will die, all so that a father and mother can have a child ‘of our own.’

Technology continues to advance, seemingly faster than ethical restraints; these embryos can be manipulated or sorted to produce a child that fits the characteristics the parents want. Children can be produced in order to be blood or organ donors, they can be produced simply because mom wants a red-head, or a boy with blue eyes. The technology of reproduction is giving to adults the tools to be the creators of the next generation, to exercise a state of tyranny and control over our progeny hardly imagined by any who came before us. It is a great good to desire a child; but not at any cost, and not as our project rather than as a gift. We can praise that desire while also cautioning against the abuses, while educating the parents and in love showing them that a child is a gift, not a right to be demanded or a product to be assembled. There are more ethical means of artificial reproduction; certainly we should point people to them, but even there we should be careful of contributing to the mindset of an adult-centered world. To praise the gift of children, to be truly pro-life, is to demand that all children, those who exist in the petri dish, those who exist in the womb, those who are waiting for adoption, be preserved from the tyranny of adults.

This is an uphill battle, for our culture has a deep-seated bigotry toward the next generation. I do not use this word lightly; the term ‘bigotry’ is thrown around so much today that it means everything and nothing: for the purposes of this presentation, I will define ‘bigotry’ as the arbitrary denial of the liberties given to every other member of the human family to a certain group of humans. We the people of United States of America certainly have a history with this concept. The Declaration of Independence declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But for the first century of our existence of a supposedly ‘free’ nation, founded on those principles, we refused the unalienable rights given to all others to a certain group of human beings. All African-Americans were denied certain rights, as were members of other racial groups; but those born into the tyranny of slavery were denied the liberty given to every other human being within our borders. This bigotry was arbitrary to the extreme, as it turned on characteristics that have nothing to do with whether one is human being or not: race and skin color. No white man or woman, born or unborn, would be a slave. And with that philosophical foundation of bigotry, the people of one race exercised tyranny over the people of another, treating them as livestock, as goods to be bought and sold.

Today it is far worse. Although we claim to be a ‘free nation,’ we refuse the unalienable rights given to all others to a certain group of human beings: the unborn. This bigotry is completely and totally arbitrary, turning on such factors as size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. Pro-life apologists have decisively demonstrated that these arbitrary factors can be used to deny the unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence to any of us at any time. As technology has progressed, it has become harder and harder to deny the biological reality that the child in the womb is a human being, genetically like every other human being. Much less than skin color and race, the differences between the child in the womb and the adult have nothing to do with their essence as human beings. And the tyranny that results from this bigotry is even more heinous. Not only is the unborn child treated as a commodity, to be manipulated and produced in the way that adults wish, but adults have the right to kill the child at any point until birth. Just as no white person would be a slave in early America, so no court today would recognize the tyranny of one adult holding the power of life and death over another.

Today we have a society that has as one of its core values the bigotry of the born against the unborn; the bigotry of one generation against the next. This inborn bigotry sees the child in the womb as less than human, perhaps not biologically, as it is hard to deny today the biological reality that the unborn child is a human being; instead, it is claimed that the child is less than human in some moral or philosophical sense. The language of ‘person,’ is a weapon used against the unborn, as we arbitrarily set boundaries as to when a human being becomes a ‘person,’ and thus can access the unalienable rights given to all such ‘persons.’ Pro-lifers should be careful when we attempt to pick up that weapon and use it for our own cause. The language of ‘personhood’ is a philosophical attempt to draw a distinction between what is simply a human being and what is a human being with unalienable rights. It is a dangerous game for us to play to also draw a line, even if the line is at an earlier stage of development than what the pro-choice crowd would say. A human being is a person; in fact, the language of ‘person’ is arbitrary; we should simply speak of those who are human beings and those who are not, and that is a biological, not philosophical, reality. We must fight against the language of ‘person’ as opposed to ‘human being,’ for in the minds of many, if not most, in our world today, those who are not ‘persons’ can then be arbitrarily destroyed.

This is much more subtle than what we used to deal with as a pro-life community. We used to have to make the argument that the unborn child is human; with the march of technology, that has become difficult to deny, now, we must make the argument that every human being is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” The struggle against abortion is a struggle against bigotry, the bigotry of a group (adults) that has the power, means, and legal authority to exercise tyranny against another group (children). We have much to learn from those who came before us in the battle against bigotry and tyranny; one of the most fruitful studies we can do as pro-lifers is to examine the legal and legislative battle against slavery. Though it took much work and many fits and starts—and the process is still not completed—we defeated tyranny and bigotry before, and we can do so again, but only if we see the problem for what it is: a system of tyranny founded on a deep-seated bigotry and the two great divorces.

But we must be prepared to fight on all fronts. It would be naïve of us to assume that the tyranny of adults over against children would only manifest itself when the child was in the womb. If tyranny is legally granted to adults over their children when they are in the womb (or the petri dish), then it would follow that there would be attempts to exercise this tyranny after children are born. We talked about the dangers of adult-centered adoption, where the desires of adults are given priority over the interests of children. We also talked about the divorce between marriage and sex and sex and babies that I believe is at the heart of all of these ills. We think we can exercise tyranny over the next generation because sexuality has been divorced from the procreation of children within the bonds of marriage. But what if marriage itself is destroyed, defined out of existence? The two great divorces have already done great damage to this foundational institution of society, an institution intended to defend both children and women. But at least marriage still exists, and it still technically has, as it always has, a connection with the procreation and raising of children. Marriage is still, on paper, a child-centered institution, intended to join children to their parents, and the parents to each other, providing a stable environment for the raising of the next generation.

But we are on the cusp of destroying marriage entirely, the final goal of the sexual revolution’s intention to enshrine the tyranny of adults over children. With no-fault divorce, we have already removed one factor—stability—intended to protect children from the whims of adults. And now, with the coming redefinition of marriage to make it genderless, we will sever marriage from its procreative moorings, recreating an institution that was intended to protect the interests of children, into an institution that satisfies the desires of adults. The tyranny of adults is the link between the two great social issues of our day; pro-lifers cannot ignore the fact that the same impulses that lead to the tyranny of adults over children in the womb also lead to the tyranny of adults over children by the redefinition of marriage. Marriage was designed to join fathers and mothers to their children and each other; those purposes are being swept away, and children will be the ones who will suffer. To be pro-life is to be pro-child, and to be pro-child is to be pro-marriage. The goal of those who champion sexual freedom is the stripping away of every right a child has to be raised in a home where his or her father and mother are married to each other. Make no mistake, it is not the redefinition of marriage that they are ultimately after; they intend to eliminate marriage entirely, destroying utterly an institution designed and established throughout history to protect and provide for children.

To be pro-life, therefore, is to be much more than anti-death. We cannot allow ourselves to be simply defined by what we are against, but by what we are for: we are for the next generation. Our children must be protected from death, but they must also be protected from the tyranny of adults. The same instinct that causes us to recoil from child abuse and human trafficking should also lead us to fight against abortion, genetic manipulation, and even attempts to redefine marriage. In everything we do as pro-lifers, the interests of children, the most vulnerable among us, should be paramount. And that will naturally lead us to the other end of the spectrum, to a topic that I have not yet directly addressed, but is tied up with all of these issues. The tyranny of adults, the bigotry of one generation over against another, is not only exercised against the unborn, but also against the elderly and infirm. The issues that surround the beginning and end of life are inseparably linked, because the same rationales given for the tyranny of adults over children are given for the tyranny of the young and healthy over the elderly and infirm. Those at the end of life are treated as less than human and subjected to death by those who exercise tyranny over them.

What does all of this mean for those who call themselves ‘pro-life?’ I firmly believe that until we grasp the deeper issues underlying abortion, we will never completely eliminate this scourge from our land. As long as marriage is divorced from sex and sex from babies, abortion will always be necessary, because more sexual promiscuity always leads to more unwanted or unprepared for pregnancies. The abortion industry knows this better than we know it ourselves; that is why Planned Parenthood is glad to hand out free birth control. We will not rid ourselves of abortion until we address the two great divorces, which form the foundation of the bigotry of the born against the unborn, a bigotry that manifests itself in the tyranny of adults. This means that we have to take a firmer stand as a pro-life community against the proliferation of birth control in our society. Many in our ranks have pretended for far too long that we can argue against abortion and not against the rampart use of birth control; we must learn that one cannot exist without the other. As paradoxical as it might sound, the statistics bear it out: as long as sex is divided from babies, we will have a need for abortion. And, as long as we have sex without marriage, we will have a need for abortion. Both divorces need to be combatted, or else the need for abortion will remain.

We must strive to create a society that honors and welcomes children as gifts, not as products. We must strive to create a society where marriage is honored and strengthened, and is child-centered; many of us are involved in both causes already, but the pro-life movement and the pro-marriage movement must be more united, under the common banner of the interests of children and of women. We must strive to create a society where those who have no voice, who cannot vote, are protected by those who can. To do this, we must be constantly aware of every instance where the desires of adults trump the interests of children. Legally, legislatively, and in our own lives and conversation, we must once again protect children, the most vulnerable among us. And if we protect children from exploitation and death, then for many of the same reasons we will protect the elderly and infirm. The pro-life movement is far more than ‘anti-death,’ we are ‘pro-life’ in every sense of the word, caring for the least of these, from the child in the womb to our elders in the hospital bed, even the mother who is contemplating the abortion.

The solution to a crisis pregnancy is to eliminate the crisis, not the pregnancy, to provide for the person who feels they have no choice, who has been duped by the culture around them. Our efforts to provide for desperate mothers and fathers in crisis situations are absolutely vital; being pro-life is much more than being anti-death, it is being for the unborn child and for the mother and father. They are as much victims of this culture in which the tyranny of adults is enshrined as their children are. In all that I have said today, please remember that I am speaking primarily against the cultural elites in the media, in the academy, in politics, who have crafted and created a society where adults hold tyranny over children. They have misled and deceived an entire culture; they have duped mothers and fathers into seeking tyranny over, and even the death of their children. They think that they are left with no choice; the pro-life movement needs to not only speak against death but provide for life with works of mercy, realizing above all that the victims are not only the children. 

We must treat the parents as victims of abuse by our culture, those attacked by a predatory elite class who has deceived them into thinking that they are the tyrants. Tyranny harms those who are placed in power, as any post-abortive woman will tell you; the adults are in need of the truth in love, especially our young people, who are deceived by their schools, they are deceived by the media, they are deceived by the abortion providers which come and give presentations in their dorms. Our young people are being exploited for the profit of the abortion industry, and so we must speak the truth to them in love. The women who have had abortions or who are in a crisis pregnancy are the victims of a culture that has taken away from them every protection as they have taken away every protection for their child. The desperate couple seeking in-vitro fertilization or genetic manipulation is often the victim of deceit and dubious ethics. By serving their children, we serve them, and we must serve them. We must educate this generation, we must teach them the truth about the society the elites have assembled and promoted. And we must do this with care, with compassion, with love, knowing that while legislation and court cases are important, the only way a culture of adults can be transformed into a culture that welcomes and protects children is by convincing one person at a time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter (James 1:16-21)

“Do not be deceived my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” 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 evening comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of James. Dear friends in Christ: do not be deceived, my beloved brothers, do not be deceived. Do not be deceived by what your eyes see, by what your experience tells you. All you see around you is change; one moment is different than the last, not to mention one day, one week, one year, one century. The only constant in this world is change. What was new one day is obsolete the next, what was once young is now old, what was once polished and shiny is now dingy and rust-covered. Hair turns grey and eyes grow dim; joints wear out and organs fail. Friendship grows cold, attitudes shift. The wind blows, and man flutters away. Do not be deceived. There is nothing in your experience that is immune to change; even the lights of the heavens move and shift, they dance across the sky as the seasons change. But there is a constant; there is something—or someone—who is impervious to change, who stands as a fixed pillar in the whirling chaos: God. Do not be deceived; what characterizes His creation does not characterize Him. In Him, Him alone “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

He does not change His nature, He does not change His attitude, He does not change His identity. He is a giver, One who bestows wondrous treasures upon His creation, and that will never change. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights.” He who created the very lights of the heavens, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night, gives all good things to His creatures. There is nothing good in this world that did not come from Him. The One who gives you light richly and daily provides you with all that your need to support this body and life. He it is who gave you life as His gift, knitting you together in the womb of your mother. And He it is who gives you new life, a new birth from above through Christ in the waters of the font. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.”

Do not be deceived; what is true in the Garden is true in the Church. He gave life through His Word, saying “let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” while forming the man from the earth, and He gives new life through His Word made flesh, saying “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” while pouring water over our heads. Not by God’s creation, but by our sin, our first birth gave us life in this world but doomed us to death; solely by God’s work, by the power of His Word crucified and risen, our second birth put us to death in this world, but destined us for life. Both His work, both His power, both His gifts. Our God has not changed; He has always been, and will always be, a giver.

Do not be deceived, you cannot change this God; you cannot make the One who is a giver into a dealer, a trader, a negotiator. He is a giver, period; that is His identity from everlasting to everlasting, world without end. You can’t negotiate with a giver, you cannot make deals or arrangements. You can receive or reject, but you cannot make a trade, you can’t haggle. A giver wants nothing to do with such nonsense; He simply wants to give. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” A receiver simply listens, simply hears, simply offers thanks for what has been given. A dealer can’t be quiet, he won’t stop talking, he is in constant negotiation mode. Dealers talk, receivers listen. And we are always talking. We are always trying to negotiate with our giver God, trying desperately to make Him into a dealer like ourselves. We want to trade in some obedience, some piety, some good deeds for His favor. We know from our own experience how uneasy we get when someone gives us many expensive gifts. We feel like an obligation has been laid upon us, that we are now required to give back just as much. We view gifts as transactions, and we are looking at our account and calculating how much it will cost to pay up.

That is how we treat our God; we want Him to change into a seller of goods. We all do this, no matter how ‘Lutheran’ we are; we all try to negotiate with a God who simply gives. We refuse to sit still, shut our mouths, and receive. We either think that we need to somehow pay back our giver God for what He has given us, like when Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon to “earn this” in Saving Private Ryan, or else we think that though our piety, through our good works we have put God in our debt, and now He owes us. And when he doesn’t pay up, we get angry. Anger is a posture of demand and entitlement; the one who gets angry at God or men has no appreciation that everything he has is a gift. We cannot be quiet and receive; we chatter on and on about our rights, we demand what we ‘deserve,’ we cannot quit trying to point God to what we have done for Him and demanding our due. Do not be deceived, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Anger is the posture of demanding our rights, of calling for our wages, of bringing our God to the negotiating table and demanding that He pay up.

Humility, on the other hand, is the posture of reception and gratitude, of receiving all things from God as gifts, not as our due. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampart wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Do not be deceived, God refuses to make a deal with us, to negotiate, to receive any price; He simply gives, because that is who He is, and He will not change. He gives all that is needed for this life and for the life to come. He gives His best, He gives His Son. The Word is made flesh as God’s gift to His people. He will not receive any trade, He will not bargain; He will simply give, and He will give His Son into death, so that you will have life in His name. The angry man thinks he has a bone to pick with God; the humble man sees his sins, despairs of them, and clings to the One who does not change, the One who has given every good gift, even forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the death and resurrection of His Son. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We humbly and joyfully receive the good gifts, the gifts that sustain this body and life; but incomparably greater are the perfect gifts, the gifts which flow from the pierced hands, feet, and side of Jesus, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In baptism, the perfect gift, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is planted within you, and your soul is saved.

Do not be deceived, God does not change; everything else in this world changes in each and every moment, from men and grass to the sun and moon, but God does not change. He stands as the pillar in the midst of the whirlwind, the rock that we can cling to when this world seems to be in utter chaos. He will not change; He is today, and He will forever remain, a giver. And the only disposition one can take toward such a giver is humble reception. The angry, self-righteous person shows God his good works, his offering totals, his church attendance record, his positions in the church, and demands that God respond. The humble, meek person shows God His own promises, which are all yes in Christ; he shows God Christ’s cross, and calls on the God who does not change to keep those promises. Both cry out to God, but their attitude and the basis of their cry is completely different. Because God does not change, we can hold Him to His promises, we can call on Him to deliver us, we can cling to Christ’s cross when our world is falling apart. We listen, not speak, because we have nothing to give, nothing to say, and everything to receive, everything to hear. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Do not be deceived, the Incarnation was no change in our unchangeable God; He who gives all things gave the perfect gift down to this earth to be lifted up high upon the cross, so that every perfect gift would belong to His people, to you and to me. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.