The Burden of Life Sunday
I've been wrong. I've had a Life Sunday service since 1989. The problem is that often I've preached as if I wasn't speaking to God's holy people, the saints of God gathered around Word and Sacrament. I don't need to convince God's people that taking the life of the unborn in the womb or killing people because they're suffering is murder. God's people have never been in favor of murder. The Epistle to Diognetus dates to 150 AD. It says, "The Christians marry as do all; they beget children; but the do not commit abortion." Augustine writing in about 400 AD addresses killing because someone is suffering. He says, "It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books can there be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning or ridding ourselves of anything whatever." Abortion and killing in the name of mercy have been around since the Fall, but God's people haven't accepted them.
So on Life Sunday my goal isn't' to convince you that it's wrong to take human life for personal reasons. My goal is to point you to God's grace. God truly has shed His grace on us. There is no country so blessed as ours. By every measure of life there is no country that rates as well as we do. Our life expectancy is longer, our infant mortality rate lower, our median income higher, and our nutrition better. This is all due to God's grace, not our merits or works.
However, God's time of grace is going to run out. It ran out in Noah's day. God sent Noah, a preacher of righteousness. He gave him 120 years to call the world to repentance. It didn't listen, and judgment by water came swift and complete. God's grace ran out in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah too. God sent Lot to preach to them and had Abraham pray for these wicked, godless cities. God was willing to graciously spare them if just 10 of His people could be found in them. There were not 10. He still spared His people but judgment by fire came swift and complete. God's grace ran out in the days of Jerusalem too. God sent His only begotten Son who warned Jerusalem that judgment was coming. God put His Church in their midst and preached repentance and grace for 40 years. But Jerusalem didn't listen and judgment by the Roman armies came swift, complete and horrible.
The wickedness of Noah's world, the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jerusalem cried to heaven to be judged. God heard those cries and responded not by sending judgment right away but by graciously sending preachers of righteousness. But the day of grace runs out and, the crying for God to judge eventually brings judgement. What cries out the most for judgment is the shedding of innocent blood. Repeatedly the Bible says that innocent blood cries out for judgement. It's as we sing in the Lenten hymn, "Able's blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies." The blood of about 45 million babies in the last 30 years, the blood of over 80,000 that are sacrificed each year just in Texas cries loud and long to heaven: "Avenge our deaths. Avenge our deaths."
I need to let you know that God's day of grace will run out and He will bring America into judgment for the blood of the unborn. You need to know this, so you will be prepared. Like Noah, Lot and the Church in Jerusalem, the judgment of God will not be directed against those in Christ, but we will still suffer. Noah and His family suffered in the ark and in starting a new world. Lot was scared out of his wits and took to the hills. The Church was driven away from Jerusalem. Friends, it will be horrible and sad, and our hearts will go out to those suffering the just judgment of God even as Abraham's did for Sodom and Christ wept over Jerusalem. It will look and feel like we in Christ are being judged, but that won't be the truth.
The burden of Life Sunday is to speak accurately about God's grace. The day of grace will run out and judgment will fall on those who destroy God's gift of life for personal reasons. I also need to tell you about a denial of God's grace. I've made the mistake of implying the burden of stopping abortion is on us. I purposely published an article in the last newsletter which says, "The reason we are where we are is that the Church has been silent too long...If Christians were to boldly speak up, abortion would end." That's simply not true. This is no different than saying if the Church spoke up there would be no crime, hunger, or poverty.
Christians have been speaking up for 30 years. The abortion rate has declined. President Bush is addressing pro-life issues, but abortion is not going to end even if the Supreme Court should rule it unconstitutional. For long as people have been having babies, some have been killing them. For as long as people have been sick and old, some have been killing them.
Friend, this doesn't mean we should not speak, preach, and pray against abortion and euthanasia. However, neither are we to put the burden of ridding the world of any sin on our shoulders or in our consciences. This is particularly true of this sin of legalized abortion. Something is wrong at a foundational level. Our Constitution says people have rights and protections simply because they are people. This is why our courts say illegal aliens have rights even though they aren't citizens of this country.
Saying that people as people have certain inalienable rights is an incredible thing to say. That's not what was said in the French Revolution. There as citizens they had certain rights. Likewise in communist revolutions people had rights because they were comrades. It's very easy to declare a group or person not to be a citizen or comrade any longer, and then do whatever you please with them. This is exactly what happened to the German Jews in Nazi Germany. It is much harder, however, to declare a person no longer a person so you can do what you like to them.
It has only happened once in America that a group of people has been declared non-persons. When the Supreme Court in 1857 took away the rights of black people and legalized slavery, it could only bring itself in the Dred Scott decision to declare "that unfortunate race...had no rights which the white man was bound to respect" because they were not citizens. In 1973 in Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court did the unheard of thing of declaring that the unborn are not persons. In 1982 an Indiana court following Roe v. Wade declared a handicap child already born wasn't a person.
Do you see how things have been overturned at the foundational level? Unhatched eagle eggs are considered eagles. Unborn deer are considered deer. If you kill a pregnant doe out of season, you'll be charged with killing not just the doe but also with however many deer she was carrying. Deer in the womb, eagles in the egg, lobsters under the tail of the female are all considered by law to be deer, eagles and lobsters, but since 1973 a child in a person's womb is not a person. An illegal alien is and so has more rights and protection than an American child in the womb.
If you think it's up to you to stop abortion by being outspoken, by writing letters to your congressmen, by joining a picket line, you're wrong. I'm not saying don't do these things; I'm simply saying God hasn't put on His Church or on the individual Christian the burden of stopping the world from sinning. If you think He has, you will eventually despair. I think despair is what led to that Lutherans for Life newsletter quote, "If Christians were to boldly speak up, abortion would end." That's the sort of thing spouses say to each other when they are in despair about some family situation: If you just did more, better, different than we wouldn't be having this problem.
The real tragedy is that whenever we despair, we are losing sight of the one thing that can help. The grace of God. Only the grace of God can stop abortions, so this is what Christians should be focusing on. The first way to focus on God's grace is to see the child in the womb as a gift of God's grace. God says in Psalm 127 that the fruit of the womb is His reward not a burden, tragedy, or accident. While an unwanted baby may be the result of a sinful sexual act, the child is not tainted. The child remains a gift of God. An instance of God once more bringing good out of evil.
What about deformed, handicapped, sickly babies? What about deformed, handicapped, or sickly people? Even fallen man is able to see them as special blessings. Special Olympics, handicap parking, the Disability Act all point to such people outside of the womb as being special, with a right to more privileges and protection than others. If fallen men can see the deformed, handicapped, and sick outside of the womb as special, surely there is no reason not to see them as a special blessing inside of the womb too. Or does the location of the person nullify the blessing?
We want to focus on God's grace of sending children into womb, and we want to focus on His grace of providing for all the children that He sends. While men have the arrogance to declare a baby unwanted, God knows of no such thing. All the babies God in grace gives to the world are wanted by Him, and so He pledges His resources to take care of them. And rather than thinking it's up to us to provide for them, God's people have thought of God providing for the rest of us for the sake of the children. A pious Lutheran story illustrated it this way. Originally God created wheat to have grain from its head to its root, but then man fell. God was going to curse the wheat so it didn't have grain at all, but then remembering the children, He left grain on the head. So we all eat because God couldn't let children go hungry.
We Christians want to cling to the grace of God not to the burden of stopping abortion. We want to cling to the fact that though the blood of babies cries for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries for our pardon. The blood of Jesus is thick enough and rich enough to cover even the sin of killing a baby, of paying for a baby to be killed, of not discouraging the killing of a baby. When God loaded the world's sins on Jesus you can be sure the sin of murder in all of its forms was there. When He suffered on the cross He was suffering for that sin too. Though your conscience might not let you forget; though Satan or someone speaking for him says you can't be forgiven, the Word of your Lord is what counts. And He says the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sins even ones you can't forget or others won't forgive you for.
God's forgiving grace must flow into our lives or we'll be prisoners of this sin. The popularity of abortion in its many forms has co-opted many of us. We think, "How can I be against abortion if I in some form or fashion have participated?" Friends, don't you think every time St. Paul who murdered Christians spoke against murder, his conscience could've pricked him? Don't you think every time St. Peter spoke against denying Christ he could've blushed? How could these men be against the very things they had been guilty of? Because God's grace in Christ forgave them that much, that completely. And that's how it is for you who have in anyway been a part of this sin. You're free of this sin because Christ has completely forgiven you. He bore the burden of this sin, so that this Sunday is not a burden but a celebration of God's grace to life both inside and outside the womb. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Life Sunday (1-19-03), Matthew 6:24-34