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Every Sunday is Life Sunday

1/24/10

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"The life issues are political issues that do not belong in church." Maybe you think that; maybe you've said that. Well, you're half right. Life issues are political issues, but they do belong in church. In fact every Sunday is life Sunday.

Christians don't worship Death. Our society, however, in subtle ways does. What's the answer to a crisis pregnancy? What's the answer to intractable pain? What's the answer to a disease that is terminal? Our Large Catechism says that whatever your heart clings to "from which it hopes to receive more good and help than from God" is your god (LC, I, 28). The victim of rape, an unwed mother, the mother of a Down's syndrome child is pointed to abortion for "good and help." The person in unbearable pain or a terminal disease is pointed to "mercy" killing, assisted suicide for "good and help."

Think this is a bit of a stretch? Not hardly; even the organized church looks to death for "good and help." Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, the new president of the Episcopal Divinity School, said in a speech that "abortion is a blessing" and that abortionists and those who assist them are "saints" engaging in "holy work" (Rev. David Grassly, Redeemer Lutheran, Fort Worth, TX, 5-30-09). Remember Dr. George Tiller, the late term abortion provider, communing member, usher, leader in a Wichita, Kansas ELCA church who was murdered there in May 2009? "On his [October 2008] website he boasts that he has already performed 60,000 abortions, mostly late-term, and week after week he is killing more than 100 unborn babies" ("Remembering Collective Shame, Uwe Siemon-Netto, 10-11, 2008). These 2 "Christians" believe killing babies is doing God's work.

The society around us worships Death, but whose dying you're talking about changes the picture. The earthquake in Haiti has reportedly killed anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000, and that is a tragedy, a catastrophe to newscasters, movie stars, and rock singers around the globe. But the fact that more than 500,000 babies die each week from abortion(Actually it's over 800,000.) around the globe (http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html) isn't ever reported let alone decried or mourned. Whose dying changes everything.

A woman goes to her doctor saying, "I have a serious problem and desperately need your help. My baby isn't even a year old and I'm pregnant again. I can't handle kids so close together." The doctor asks what would she like him to do. She says, "I want you to tell me the safest and best way to end this pregnancy." The doctor thought for a minute and then answered, "The best solution, the least dangerous for you, the one that will insure you don't have to take care of 2 babies at the same time is to kill the one you're holding in your arms. There would be no risk for your body, and you would have time to rest before the other child was born." Horrified the woman says, "Doctor! That's terrible! It's a crime to kill a child!" "I agree," the doctor replied. "But you seemed to think death was the answer to your problem, so I looked for the death that would do you the most good."

Death is no answer to the problems of life, but the Devil always whispers it is. Remember Jesus says that from the beginning the Devil was a murderer. Cain thinks the answer to his jealousy is murder. David thinks the answer to an unplanned pregnancy is murder. Judas thinks the answer to his unspeakable guilt is murder. Every Sunday is life Sunday; every Sunday the Church gathers to say Death is not our God, not our good, not our help, not our answer!

We don't worship Death, but we don't worship life either. I know this is paradoxical, but our society that worships Death also worships Life. Death is the greatest evil. Anything that takes away Life is the ultimate evil. War, cancer, aging, the death penalty are to be struggled against, protested against, eliminated at all costs.

Once more, however, whose life you're talking about changes everything. Here's a person of 90. He can't feed himself. He has to wear diapers and you know what that means. He can't walk or talk. He needs care 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Most of the world agrees this is a life not worth living, keeping, or protecting. But if tell you I'm talking about a 90-day-old baby boy rather than a 90-year-old man suddenly this life is full of promise and hope, a worthy life: one to keep and protect.

Do you think this is how God sees it? Does God see the life of a 90 day old baby as more worthy than a 90 year old man? How about a 90 day old baby in the womb? How about a malformed life? How about a life men deem unwanted, unnecessary? Whose Life we're talking about changes the picture for us but not God. In both Psalm 139 and in the incarnation of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary, God laid claim to all Life.

But still life is no answer to the problems of life or even death. Every Sunday is life Sunday but we don't worship life. Physical life is not the ultimate good and physical death isn't the ultimate evil. God is the one who stationed the cherubim outside the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life from man "lest he put forth his hand, and take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever." Not even the Tree of Life itself is the answer to our life problems; another tree is.

Every Sunday is life Sunday, we gather not in worship, praise, fear, or love of either Death or Life. We gather to worship the God who lived, died, and rose again. In His life and death are the answers to our living and dying and all the lives and deaths we're confronted with.

If we focus on our life or the life of any other fallen human being, we don't find answers there. We find failings, faults, sin and more sins. The Death worshippers, promoters, and glorifiers make such headway because we are all afraid of Life less than perfect. We're afraid of Life that is unwanted, diseased, painful, or even meaningless, and that's almost down right funny because this is what all sinful life must be to the Holy God. Read in the Old Testament some of the disgusting ways God describes fallen man. Even the best of lives don't help, please, or serve God.

Only one life did that. His life is the answer to all fallen lives. God the Son took on our flesh and blood, and did what we can't even dream of anyone being able to do. He lived a holy life not just in outward deeds, not just in what He said, but even in what He thought. Here was a life God wanted and wasn't meaningless. Here was a life that didn't stink in the nostrils of God, that wasn't some malformed creature weltering in it's own blood. Here was the Life that was the apple of God's eye. We only think we love our kids the way God loved His Son.

The life of Jesus was perfect, wanted, and meaningful, yet what do we find? He shared our diseases and our pains. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. The life we all fear, cower at the prospect of, shrink from when we're around it, Jesus lived. Jesus lived knowing that His life was terminal. Each day He woke up facing that. Jesus being a "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" meant chronic disease, chronic pain were His, but that's not all or even the worst of it.

The pain, the suffering, the unwantedness we see in our life or that that of others is not about paying for our sins or anyone else's. Jesus' life was. Jesus was led like a lamb to be slaughtered as a sacrifice for sins, and all along the way He was kicked, poked, prodded, and beaten. He answered for all the sins of the world against life. All of God's wrath against abortionists and murderers, all of His rage against those who neglect the lives of the aged, unwanted, diseased, or malformed, all His anger at those who live their own lives in bitterness, was taken out against the holy life of Jesus. That's what it means to be a wrath removing sacrifice; that's what it means to be an atonement, a propitiation; that's what Isaiah means when he says, "By His stripes we are healed."

Every Sunday is life Sunday. We gather not just to celebrate Jesus' life but to study it, to learn it, to adore it, to eat, drink, and wash in it. There's holiness in His life. There's strength, courage, and meaning in His life. Though I can find none of those things in my miserable, fallen, sinful life, I find a whole world's worth in His. You know those huge suits in science fiction movies that the men of the future put on giving them super strength, speed, and power? That's the life of Jesus for you. That's the life you climb into in your Baptism or Communion. That's why Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That's why Paul gladly boasts in the weakness of his life "so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Paradoxically, we Christians gather not only around the life of Jesus but also around His death for by dying He swallowed Death. He shut the gaping maw of the grave that mocked us. He shut the eyes of the grave "that opened eyed" were staring at us. How? By the power of an indestructible life. Jesus took on our flesh and blood from the Virgin's womb but from eternity He was true God. God the Son wedded eternal life to your flesh and blood. On the cross, Jesus gave up His life in payment for the sins of the world, thereby satisfying God's wrath and taking away the debt of our sins that the Devil waved in God's face. While Death could hold our flesh and blood, it couldn't hold Deity. And since God was joined to man in the person of Jesus, where God went man went, where Deity went humanity went. By rising from the dead, Jesus broke Death's grip on flesh and blood.

Every Sunday is life Sunday. At my first congregation, a member told me that one of their regular guest pastors began every sermon saying, "Happy Easter." That's good theology. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter. We go from womb to tomb with Jesus confronting every single life and death issue along the way, and in the end we come out of that tomb victorious, resurrected, relieved of all our failings and fears connected to living and dying. Life issues are political, but since they belong to the God who lived, died, and lives again, they certainly do belong in His Body, the Church. By living, dying, and rising with Jesus we are uniquely empowered, instructed, and motivated to deal with them. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Life Sunday (20100124)