The Slippery Slope
The Church needs to preach and teach about the issue of abortion. First, because in the state of Texas alone 233 children are dying each day. Imagine if each day a K-8 Lutheran school was disappearing from the state of Texas. Imagine if no one said anything. That would be insanity. The Church has always been a sane voice in an insane age; a source of light in a world that loved darkness.
The second reason the Church needs to preach and teach about abortion is because there are literally millions of people carrying the stain of baby blood on their hands and the guilt of abortion on their conscience. This is a horrible burden. The Church has always been the voice of forgiveness and grace in a world that it is unforgiving and merit based.
But neither of these themes are what I want to preach about on this Life Sunday. Today I want to speak to you about the slippery slope that most of us are sliding down. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion on January 22, 1973, I was in high school neither paying attention nor caring about it. However, it sticks in my mind that a teacher warned us that once a society started judging some human life as not worth protecting it starts down a very slippery slope where more and more life will be found not worthy.
She was right. I have since read of the work of psychiatrist Leo Alexander who in the late 1940's was assigned by the US government to find the reasons that led to the Holocaust. "It started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived." Hitler started with killing the infirm, the mentally retarded, and the senile. By the time World War II had arrived the category of the doomed had broaden to include World War I amputees and even children with badly modeled ears.
This too is part of the slippery slope. Not only do we think in terms of quality life, but we think in terms of equality of life. We find it difficult to make distinctions between human life and animal life or human life and even plant life. There are more laws protecting unborn deer, lobsters, and salamanders than there are protecting unborn babies. Ask your kids if animal life has as much right to be here as human life, and I predict you will find a blurring in their minds.
The slide continues till we come to this thing called euthanasia. This is a Greek word meaning "happy death." Euthanasia was what Hitler practiced, so the post-World War II world shied away from the term. But it's advocates have always been around. They've resurfaced under the banner of assisted suicide, but the concept is the same. Some lives are so painful, so poor in quality, so useless that a person is better off dead whether by his or her own hand or someone else's.
Dear friends, euthanasia, has always been opposed by the Church. St. Augustine already in the 400's was writing against it. He noted how the Greek hero Hercules was praised for killing himself. He burned himself because he was not able to endure the disease under which he suffered. Augustine contrasts this pagan understanding of life and suffering with the Christian one saying that it's significant that in no passage of the Bible can there be found divine command or permission to take away your own life in order to go to heaven or in order to shun or rid yourself of anything at all.
Why am I giving you this background? Why am I showing you that euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the idea that some people's lives are of such poor quality they should be killed are not Christian? Because the slope we're on is tremendously steep, and the people who are being drawn or pushed toward it are the elderly, particularly the sick and infirm. But please understand. Longing for death, longing to depart and be with Christ, like St. Paul did, is not wrong. Thinking you should die, thinking that your life is so useless, pointless, or of poor quality that you ought to get out of the way is wrong. But these are the conclusions the slippery slope pushes us toward especially when we're old, chronically ill, or dependent on others. This is evil. As novelist Ayn Rand said, "A viler evil than to murder a man is to sell him suicide as an act of virtue."
The way to get off this slippery slope is to return to what God says about life. A song published by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod organization, Lutherans for Life says it best. "God loves life, from cradle to grave, God loves life." There is never a point in human life from conception to death that God ceases to love life.
Human life is sacred not because it can do certain things but because humans are handmade by God. Yes, not just our first parents, Adam and Eve were handmade, so were you. You were knit together by God says Psalm 139 in your mother's womb. You're not the result of chemicals or genes haphazardly coming together. You're a result of an act of God's will, a product of His handiwork. Handmade furniture, art, and clothing are valued highly in our society. If sinful men value what they make by hand, how much more does God value what He has made?
Ah, but I know what you're thinking? Doesn't sin nullify to some extent what God has created? What then should we do with passages like "While we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly?" God didn't turn His back or turn up His nose at sinful life, did He? The familiar John 3:16 was not spoken of a perfect world, of perfect life but of the miserable, sinful world and life we know so well. God loved sinful life so much that He sent His only begotten Son to redeem sinful, disfigured human life. Romans 8:3 tells us that God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh. Note, sin is what was condemned not life. Our text says God sent His Son not to condemn life but to save life through Him. God loves life.
Now friends, when Scripture speak of God redeeming us in Christ, it's not just referring to redeeming us from sin as moral failing. It's speaking of sin and all it's effect. The reason why we grow old, get diseases, become debilitated is because this world is fallen. Scripture doesn't say that we sin and put on a wrinkle, or we sin and lose a hair, or we sin and get cancer. Age, debilitation, disease, aren't usually the result of individual sins but they are always a result of sin in the world. Just as sin produces thistles, thorns, pain in childbirth, and the groaning of creation, so it produces age, disease, and decay in life. But God sent His Son to redeem us from these things. Like we sing in the hymn, "No more let sin and sorrow grow/ Nor thorns infest the ground;/ He comes to make His blessings flow/ Far as the curse is found." God loves life far as the curse is found.
God loves life, even sinful, fallen, diseased, decrypted life. In fact, God loves this type of life MORE. Don't believe me? What happens when a mother has one of her children sick? Whom gets more attention the healthy children or the sick child? For whom does she lose sleep, make special meals, buy special things? If we sinners, with our sin-tainted love favor our sick children, how much more so does our God who is love?
God loves all life because of creation and because of redemption. Say you have handmade a fine car. You would value it, treasure it, care for it. If it got wrecked, you would restore it, sacrificing much to do so. Then the car would be twice yours by creation and by recreation. You would love it that much more, wouldn't you? Once having restored it, it would be all the more a treasure. So it is with you created and redeemed by Christ.
God loves life especially sinful life, especially old life. He doesn't look at you and shake His head because you can't do as much as you use to. No, He looks at all that Christ Jesus did for you and smiles. He doesn't wish you would just get out of the way. On the contrary, God is just tickled that you are the on the Way home to Him. He may indeed be taking you the long way home, but we often do that with those we love, don't we?
God loves old decrypted, diseased, disabled, sinful life. He sent His Son into the world for the specific purpose of redeeming such. In Luke's Gospel to whom does God go out of the way to show His Savior to? To the shepherds who were considered too unclean to be in the Temple, to the wise men who weren't even allowed to enter the Temple, and to old Simeon and Anna. These old folks might have been ignored by people, maybe even looked down on because after all they could do so little, but they were important to God. He couldn't wait to show them their salvation.
What God has done for the infirm and the old changes our perspective on them. What would you think of a patient who can't speak or comprehend the spoken word? Sometimes she babbles incoherently for hours on end. She is disoriented about person, place and time. She does, however, respond to her name. She has been worked with for the past six months but still shows complete disregard for her personal appearance, and makes no effort to assist in her own care. She must be fed, bathed, and changed by others. Because she has no teeth all of her food must be pureed. Her shirt is always soiled from incessant drooling. She doesn't walk. Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she awakes in the middle of the night and her screams wake others. Even during the day she becomes quite agitated without apparent cause. Then she wails until someone comes to comfort her.
How would you feel about caring for such an indvidual? Frustrated? Hopeless? Depressed? Annoyned even? No you wouldn't. You would enjoy it. Don't believe me? The person I've just been describing is a six-month-old baby girl. Why is it so much more diffiucult to think of caring for, or being, a 90-year-old than a 6-month-old with indentical symptoms? You know what the difference is? The infant represents new life, hope and unlimited potential. The aged person represents to us the end of life and almost no potential. But God redeeming all life changes our perspective.
We're ALL new creatures in Christ says Paul. We're ALL newborn babes by Baptism says Peter. But since it's true, as John says, that it doesn't yet appear what we shall be, we get fooled by outward appearances. We see wrinkled skin, feeble legs, and a scattered mind and think only of the helplessness, the pointlessness, the hopelessness of old age. But that's not what God sees, and that's not what is there. There is life there. There is as much fresh, redeemed, valued life there as in any six-month-old. And talk about potential! Do you know what God is going to do through that six-month-old? No. Neither do we know what God is going to do through that 90-year-old. To be used by God a person doesn't have to be able to do something; they just have to be alive. The God who brought life through the death of His Son can surely bring far more than we think from any life.
God loves life from womb to tomb. You might not be able to see this when looking in the mirror or when looking from the world, but you can see this from the hill called Cavalry. Here is the moutain to stand on to avoid the slippery slope. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris,
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Life Sunday (1-23-00), John 3:16-21
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church