A Prayer for Life Sunday
As early as 1972 a LCMS seminary professor saw a link between the slaughter of the Bethlehem babies and abortion in this country and didn't see how pastors could preach on the former and not mention the latter (Scaer, "Abortion: A Moment for Conscientious Reflection", Springfielder, XXXXVI, 3, Dec. 1972, pp. 180-4). Concerned Women for America made the link in January 1993 (Family Voice, Vol. 15, 1, cover). I have had Life Sunday for 30 years; I only made the direct link 5 years ago. The Latin Collect for Holy Innocents, which we use, dates to at least the 11th century and it's a fitting prayer for Life Sunday.
"Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will," we pray. May this lead to our seeing that this public, legalized sin is personally destroying each of us. Stephen King writes of a land where every generation or so a tribe raids it and takes a way one out of every pair of twins that most every couple has. They take them away to unknown horrors and send them make "Roont". As the time for the next raid approaches one father calls a town meeting and asks them to consider, "What is this doing to us? Each time they come and take our children, they take a little more of our hearts and our souls" (Wolves of the Calla, 29-30). Just how much do you think is left of our hearts and souls after 60 million pieces have been taken from them over the last 46 years? Even Janis Joplin didn't really want to have another piece of her heart taken.
"Put to death in me O Lord the apathy I have toward this sin." How can the home of the brave be so apathetic about abortion? Abortion was legal in Russia from 1917-56. In 1921 there were 21 abortions for every 100 births by 1926 it had reached 90 out of 100 (Thielicke, Sex, 230). So how come a group of Russians was so shaken by the death of one more baby? It's 1941; Germany has invaded Russia. Russian partisans are tramped in swamps in water. "'Our radio operator was a woman who had recently given birthIt had to be nursedBut the mother herself was hungry and had no milk. The baby cried. ..If the dogs heard it, we'd all be killed. The whole group thirty of us you understand. The commander makes a decisionNobody can bring himself to give the mother his order, but she figures it our herself. She lowers the swaddled baby into the water and holds it thereThe baby doesn't cry.And we can't raise our eyes. Neither to the mother nor to each other'" (Unwomanly Face of War, xxiv). After a generation and a half of baby killing, we're more apathic then Russians.
Put to death in me O Lord the convenient fiction that abortion is a social issue and a kingdom of the left issue like gun control, Obamacare, tax rates, and border walls. In the King novel the richest guy in town doesn't want to go to war to stop the baby snatchers and he resents that the pastor' dares to speak in favor of war. He thinks, "When he kept to his church, and his rituals, he was fine. In such things, a little madness made a fine sauce. This, however, was something different" (169). In 2012 MSNBC can have a full page ad in Time displaying TV host Rachel Maddow saying, "We are not going to overturn Roe V. Wade" (Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013). This year the New York Time can a run an 8-part series championing abortion rights, and this is responsible, unbiased journalism. I'm a crazy pastor overstepping his calling, overreaching my area of concern when I speak on behalf of the dead babies and the women "roont" by abortion.
And you're kidding yourself if you don't see that the majority of our church body feels the same way. At best they take the position, "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't presume to speak for others." You may say that with poltical and social issues. You may personally be for building the wall or restricting guns and leave others to their opinions. You may not do that with moral issues. Try saying, "I'm personally opposed to child abuse, but I don't presume to speak for others." Supporting actively or passively abortion rights directly conflicts with the will of Almighty God. Our church body has said this officially in conventions but start asking around. Ask pastors here and there and watch them hem and haw. Luther didn't. He branded abortion as godlessness and said aversion to one's offspring was "'inhuman and impious'" (Peters, Ten Commandments, 253, fn. 159). Not very politic, huh?
The pastors who hem and haw on abortion say to me what they do about the living together I discipline and they don't. "Abortion is the only sin to you and it alone is unforgiveable." First, abortion is not an us and them thing. Abortion is my sin, my guilt. Read the Old Testament. God holds the entire land guilty of the innocent blood shed in it. Second, if the ancient church thought the slaughter of 25 or so babies was worth commemorating each year, I don't think I'm overemphasizing 60 million dead U.S. babies by having a remembrance once a year. And Abortion almost always kills at least 2 people. Those who walk away from abortion do so as the living dead; any day the Zombie of abortion guilt may awake. Third, the only unforgiveable sin Scripture knows is unconfessed, unadmitted sin. It's not that Jesus didn't carry such sins away; it's not that Jesus didn't shed His blood to cover them. It's that the person pulls them off the back of Jesus and out of the flood of His blood because denied sin isn't sin or guilt to them and so doesn't belong there.
The prayer for Holy Innocents, "put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will", is a fitting prayer for Life Sunday, and so is the prayer "that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips." Each Sunday we confess, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Even in the case of sparrows life is His choice not ours. Among animals whose purpose is this life only, quality of life is certainly the proper consideration. But we've been created for eternal life. That's our purpose and we've been created in God's image, so the eternal sanctity of human life is the standard rather than quality. God only knows the how, the who, the what that will serve His eternal purposes. You're trespassing on His turf and contradicting the faith you profess with your lips when you take human life for personal reasons.
Nothing in this culture where self, personal choice, and randomness are sacrosanct, will put to death in you the things that our contrary to the faith you profess. The fact that you want to preserve your own life is no proof that you hold life sacred (Chesterton, XX, 606). It's what you think, say, and do about the life of another particularly the most helpless of all: the unborn. And if you have bought into the evolutionary assumptions that man is the product of chance and time rather than created by God in His image, then taking a life is one action among many. It is to be judged on pragmatic grounds. What are the benefits, the risks, the costs of killing or not killing (Idols for Destruction, 78) this baby in the womb.
You profess with your lips not only that God is Creator of all life, but that God the Son has redeemed you a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. May we bear witness to this and what 1 John 2:2 says: That Jesus is not only the wrath removing sacrifice for your sins but the sins of the whole world: the born, unborn, the abortionist, and the women having abortions.
A 20th century Catholic theologian said that "'only where God becomes person (namely in Christ), will anybody be treated as a person'" (Balthasar, Church from Age to Age, 861). And where has the Church always professed that happened? Not when Jesus was born of Mary but conceived in her. The 20th century LCMS professor I referred to earlier said that historically "the moment of genuflection in the Mass, happened when the Son of God entered' the womb of Mary, not when He was born" (Springfielder, 181). And we leave it to a 4th century church father and a 16th century Lutheran farther to flesh' our confession out completely. Gregory of Nazianzus said, "For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved" (NPNF2-07, 440). Martin Chemnitz completes the beautiful confession: "Thus the Son of God in assuming His own flesh, but without sin, also endured those things which commonly befall man in conception, pregnancy, and birth, so that from His very beginning, rise and, as it were root, He might first restore in Himself our depraved nature and so cleanse and sanctify our contaminated conception and birth that we might know that Christ's salvation applies even to man's fetus in conception, gestation, and birth' (The Two Natures in Christ, 102).
We profess with these lips to believe in not only the God who creates and has redeemed all life but who sanctifies all life. May my life bear witness to this faith, particularly the last. When we speak of sanctifying we think first of God the Holy Spirit. Fittingly when a group was formed in Rome about 1160 to care for abandoned infants and stop the great number of dead babies cast into the Tiber River, it was called "'The Order of the Holy Spirit" (Asimov's Book of Facts, 226-7).
I was surprised to learn some years ago that some of my leaders were bothered because they had no idea how to argue life issues. I was surprised because for the last 15 years this is not what I thought I had been preaching for anyone to do. I was preaching first to get an ouch'. A father is having a bad day, his 5 year-old comes in crying, "Daddy I hurt my finger." "What do you want me to do about it," he snarls. The little girl pauses and says, "You could say, Ouch.'" Start there. Start there you who've been created by the hand of God, you who've been redeemed by the blood of His Son, you who the Holy Spirit has sanctified for everlasting life, start by saying, "Ouch."
"Ouch" our faith says for sinners caught up in their sins; "ouch" our faith says for the unborn being murdered in the womb; "ouch" our faith says for a hell bound world that God sent His only Son to redeem. And with every Lord's Prayer you are saying ouch' because we never turn those "us" and "our" petitions into me' and my" ones. It's always give us our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil. Now that's a prayer not only for everyday life but for Life Sunday. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Holy Innocents, Martyrs - Life Sunday(20190120); Historic Collect