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Life Problems

1/18/09

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For 21 years I've had Life Sunday. Years ago I got tired of citing the grizzly facts and figures, but even when I began a sermon saying I wasn't going to cite them this year, I ended up doing so. This year I mean it. You don't really get to the problem by citing numbers because the problem isn't with numbers but with life.

Life problems are many. Not everyone who gets a child wants one; not everyone who gets a life wants that life. You have teenage unwed mothers; you have middle-age couples who thought they were done bearing life; you have rape and incest victims who want no part of the life growing inside of them; you have mothers and fathers expecting a life with health problems that they can't bring themselves to want. And the problem isn't only at the beginning of life. It's at the end and even middle. There are people who ask themselves every day, "Why is God keeping me alive?" There are people asking what purpose God has in continuing to give life to a poor, suffering person who will never get better. Not everyone who gets life wants life; not everyone who gets a child wants one.

Life problems come from the other direction too. Not everyone who wants a child gets one; not everyone who wants life gets life. Unlike Hollywood stars who believe if they want life, married or not, they should get a life, you have millions of Christian men and women who will never marry and may want life but won't get it. And there are millions more married people who want a child yet never get one. And still there are worse life problems. There are those who get life but only to have it snuffed out by childhood cancer, tragic accidents, brutal acts of violence.

Life problems don't exist only in abortion clinics. They exist all around us, in us, through us. And in every one of them, we ask what is the God who is life, who loves life doing? He gives children to those who don't want them, and withholds them from those who do. He gives life to those who don't want to go on living, and withholds it from those who desperately do. All your life problems come down to one: God. In Deuteronomy 32:39, He declares, "There is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life." Even if we could somehow close all the abortion clinics in the world, there would still be this issue: God gives life to those who don't want it, and keeps it from those who do.

You've heard the expression "big as life" meaning that something is larger than life, too big to get a handle on. Life problems are "big as life." They're too big for us. If it were only a matter of picketing an abortion clinic, voting for pro-life candidates, or writing a congressman, that we can do. But then we go to the nursing home, to the hospital nursery, or to a nursery that never was and we're confronted with life problems that scratch our heads, hurt our hearts, and despair our souls.

How could they do otherwise? God declares that He unilaterally kills and makes alive. He doesn't ask us where and when to give babies and where and when to withhold them. What goes on inside the womb is God's business not ours. Earlier generations had fewer problems with this than we do. They had no means to see into the womb. They didn't even know a woman was pregnant till months after the fact. We can know at home within days. Because we can see into the womb we think we know far more than we do. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, "As you do not know how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things." Because we can to some extent understand the former, how the baby is formed in the womb, we think we can understand the latter, the work of God.

What goes on inside the womb, when, where, and how God weaves life together, is exclusively His purview. What goes on outside the womb is our concern, but even here we aren't to lean on our own understanding. We aren't to be wise in our own eyes. We are to fear the Lord and turn away from evil even when, as usually the case, that evil seems good.

This means we are to deal with life problems according to His Word. First, our Lord commands us, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones." We aren't to despise life no matter how much of a burden it might be to us or to someone else. Life that comes as the result of rape or incest; life that is hopelessly ill or miserably painful isn't to be despised by us. Neither are we to solve a problem of a life given by God by a death caused by us.

I'm not talking only about aborting the unwanted, the ill, or the deformed in the womb. This is men solving a life problem by death, but we do it other ways too. To bring life to a womb, we will create a dozen lives outside the womb implanting only a few, and we flush the rest down a drain despising them. To solve life problem like diabetes, spinal cord injuries, or cystic fibrosis, we bring death to life at its very beginning so we can harvest stem cells. This is a flagrant despising of the littlest ones.

These two truths are foundational: What goes on inside the womb is God's concern. What goes on outside the womb is ours under God's revealed Word. But having said this, I haven't said near enough. Knowing these two truths doesn't shrink life problems as big as life down to manageable size. These two truths don't take away the pain or answer what on earth God is doing with life or in my life. These two truths don't take away the truth that life problems are too heavy for you, too complex to get your head around.

Put your life problems down. Walter Cronkite tells of being in Germany at the scene of Hitler's great annual rallies. The mayor after the war used them for a peace rally to mark the first anniversary of the war's end. There were huge marble brass bowls in this stadium from which great flames burst during Hitler rallies. At the peace rally, children were playing on them. The mayor's first words at the peace rally were, "Will the children please come down from the sacrificial urns."

Yes, there is a problem with unwanted life, but the answer isn't for us to murder it. Let life come down from the sacrificial urns of abortion and mercy-killing. Let unborn life, old life, deformed life, painful life come down from the sacrificial urns that men have built. And you come down as well. Don't sacrifice yourself to the despair of death because of a problem of life. Don't see the carnage of the baby-killing clinics and despair of God's gift of life. Don't see the damage of disease or old age and sacrifice your faith by despairing of God's purpose and meaning in all life even when you can't see it. Don't see the disparity between life given where it's not wanted and not given where it is and sacrifice the God who is life and love by despairing of your life and His love.

Neither our heads nor ours hearts are capable of dealing with life problems. When I think about the millions and millions of unborn children mankind has butchered, when I think about the millions of unwanted lives worldwide, and the millions more who want life, my head short-circuits and my heart just hurts. If I must think these things through, I will die of despair. Psalm 139 assures me God is the One who does the thinking. God thinks about the unborn, long born, and you more times then there are grains of sand. Surely, the Holy Spirit is pointing us to the Gospel by this figure. God promised Abraham through the Promised Seed more descendants than there are grains of sand. He gave them to him through the Gospel.

Life problems are answered by the Gospel, not answered to the satisfaction of our fallen intellect but to the salvation of our eternal soul. The Gospel says Jesus bore your life problems. God sent His only beloved Son into life to do that. Our life problems become monstrously heavy when sin and guilt are attached to them. This can happen two ways. We can bring sin and guilt into the issue by blaming God. If God loves life so much why does He give it where it's not wanted and not give it where it desperately is? Or we can blame ourselves for life problems. Our sin and guilt have caused them. The truth is most people do it both ways at the same time.

We do blame God for life problems, Jesus never did. The disciples saw the man born blind and concluded God did it to pay back sin. Jesus said, "No He did it for His glory." We blame God for life problems, Jesus never did, but God blamed Him for our doing it. He wasn't guilty but God made Him so and punished Him according to our sins. Now, God doesn't deal with us according to our sins - whether the sin of blaming Him for life problems or for solving a life problem by committing murder - because He already dealt with Jesus for them. Out of Jesus' perfect life and innocent death, comes life for you, and all the love, mercy, and peace God has.

You can't bear the problems of life, Jesus can and has, and by means of the gifts He gives to your life - Baptism, Absolution, and Communion - He redeems and sanctifies not just your life, but life's problems too. That's what He did with the cross, isn't it? At first people streamed away from that ugly, cruel, deformation of life, and now we sing, "Hold Thou Thy cross before my dying eyes." "In the cross of Christ I glory." That instrument of death now means life, blessing, and help to us in our darkest moments.

Baptismal water sprinkled on life problems, Absolution spoken over life problems, and the Body and Blood of God eaten and drank in the midst of life problems redeems, sanctifies and transforms these things that our so painful to us into tools, into helps, into blessings. This might not be so according to our perceptions but it must be so according to God's promise. How can this be? The Water that give eternal life certainly can deal with any problem of this life. The Word that forgives sins of a lifetime is more than a match for any thing life can dish out. And since the One who is not only the Way and the Truth, but the Life can give His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine, surely He can give life problems for life blessings. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Life Sunday (20090118); Proverbs 3: 5-12