Monday, January 19, 2009

Sermon on Philippians 2:15-16a, for Life Sunday, "The Word of Life"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today many churches across the country are observing Life Sunday, and putting a special emphasis on the life that God has granted to us, the value He places on it, and the calling He has given to us in living out our lives. The sermon text, as found in the special bulletin insert, is Philippians 2:15-16a: “Be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

First of all, we might ask, “Why be concerned about life issues?” There are a variety of answers to that question. Not least among them is that life is constantly being devalued around us, or not valued at all. But we have been given a calling to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” Crooked and twisted thinking is responsible for attitudes that devalue life or give excuses for not treating human life with dignity. And this is inconsistent with how we as Christians have been called to live. We have been called to be innocent of this, and to shine as lights in this world—to be examples of not succumbing to the distorted thinking that lowers the value of life. I want you to begin thinking about what it is or who it is that gives human life value.

But first, where is human life threatened? I’m talking about more than just the daily, unexpected dangers from things like travel, unexpected illness, fire, crime, etc. But rather about organized or systematic attacks against human life and dignity. The danger begins in the womb, from the time of conception—the danger of abortion. It continues in life when people’s rights are wrongfully taken away, it continues to the deathbed where some people are pressing for a “right to die” expressed in euthanasia (or so-called “assisted suicide”) laws. In every case where human life is under attack, one common, underlying theme is that “all human lives are not equally valuable.” But is that true? Is the life of one more valuable than another? From a Christian standpoint we know this isn’t true. We believe as the Scriptures teach, that mankind is made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). And Scripture again and again makes the point that God is no respecter of persons, He shows no favoritism or partiality (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11). God does not esteem the wealthy above the poor, or the strong above the weak, or the healthy above the sick.

One doesn’t even need to be a Christian to understand that all life is equally valuable, though God’s Word certainly makes it inescapable for us. Simple reason and fairness should lead people to conclude that all human life is equal; and many do come to this conclusion, quite apart from being Christian. Unfortunately though, it isn’t always…and hasn’t always been self-evident to all people that these things are true. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, it’s “self-evident that all men are created equal, and are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights;” and what’s the first among those rights? The right to life! Yet throughout history not every nation has recognized that created equality or that right to life. Even with those words in our Declaration of Independence, our nation allowed the horrible practice of slavery to continue for many decades, in violation of that created equality and right to life and liberty. So having the words on paper is no guarantee that we’ll live by them and uphold those ideals!

It’s scarily similar for Christians. Just because the Word of God says something, or our church publicly teaches it, doesn’t guarantee that we’ll live by those ideals. We live in a crooked and twisted generation. We easily absorb distorted thinking from our surrounding society. Think how heavily outweighed God’s Word is, just in the amount of time we hear or take it in every week, compared to the time we give to music, television, movies, internet, etc. How little we hear of the “word of life” in contrast to all the other “stuff” that comes into our eyes and ears. These things influence our thinking in ways both subtle and obvious, at times either mildly or powerfully. I don’t think the answer is to adopt the mentality of “See no evil, hear no evil” and simply insulate ourselves. We do need to interact with the world around us. Jesus didn’t say that it’s what comes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out of their heart and mouth that defiles them (Matt. 15:10-20). But we’re to be blameless and innocent children of God. We’re not to be drawn into the world’s twisted way of thinking, or follow in its actions, or speak it from our mouths. So we do need to guard what messages come into us from society and from media, and process it by God’s Word, to see that we don’t become sucked into false ways of thinking.

Especially in regards to the value of human life. It should be a prominent concern in our minds that 3,000 children are aborted every day in America, and that in the approximately 36 years since its legalization, there have been 48-50 million lives lost to abortion in America alone. By sheer numbers alone, this constitutes the greatest threat to human life today. When you count the mothers, fathers, siblings, families and friends that are also impacted, the number of lives affected is greatly multiplied. So many lives have been affected by this tragedy, that has at its root a disregard for the equal value of human life.

So why preach about it in church? Because there are countless lives that are broken by this sin, or living with unforgiven guilt, and unresolved grief, and these are at the heart of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ addresses. Along with that is the distinctive message of life’s value that comes from God’s Word. Women across the country who’ve undergone abortion procedures in the past are beginning to speak out and let their voice be heard through organizations like Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and a recent advertising effort called “Abortion Changes You.” I want to share with you one woman’s reflection about her experience with grief after abortion, and don’t worry, it’s not going to be graphic.

She wrote: “I could not find solace from the haunting in my heart. This change within me was everywhere, and nothing I could do would let me escape. So I cried, and cried, and cried. As time passed, the nagging in my heart subsided periodically, as I worked to push those thoughts out of my mind. The efficiency of this tactic only lasted 2 years, until I finally decided to face the music and find healing. I know women who echo my words, some waiting 15 years or more before seeking restoration.” She continued to describe the healing process in this way: “It may be one of the toughest topics to face, but it is crucial for future success. When we don’t deal with issues in our lives, they can taint our future outlook, dreams, and desires. In facing the past, specifically abortion, one can grieve, heal, and move on to enjoy the life God has given them. God has forgiven repentant men and women for the act of abortion, but forgiveness is not healing. Men and women must walk through the process of tackling grief.”

I would just point out that forgiveness certainly is the beginning of healing, even if there still remains grief to be resolved afterward. But her story is repeated by countless women, and even men who regret lost fatherhood. The details and the extent of the guilt or grief may vary; the consequence on their lives may differ, but their common theme is that it does change you. This is why it’s so important that we raise awareness and help people affected by abortion to speak about it, confront their actions, and repent and find healing. Organizations that have been started by women who themselves have gone through this, want to help others avoid making the same mistake, and suffering through the same emotions. And to stop the unhealthy, gnawing grief from pushing people into self-destructive behaviors or despair.

So what we can do is shine like lights in the world, bringing the word of life to people that may be very near to us, people who’ve also been affected. First people need to face the reality that an innocent life was taken, and to own the responsibility. Then to ask and be given Christ Jesus’ forgiveness for this sin, to have His mercy wash over your heart and soul, to know that your sin is covered. To know that you’ve been forgiven, of this sin or any other, is the beginning of the healing of that pain, the fear of guilt, and a burden that you cannot carry alone. And Jesus has taken that burden from you! That is the joy of forgiveness! Finally a person can begin to deal with unresolved grief they feel, or even allow themselves to grieve for the first time. And we should allow ourselves to grieve whenever there’s been a significant loss in our lives, whether the death of an unborn child, or of a loved one, or even to have separation from someone dear to us. But when we grieve as Christians, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13-14). But “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Our hope is in the resurrection from the dead, of a new life for believers in Christ. We entrust the unborn children who have died to the merciful and compassionate God who has shown His boundless love through His Son Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the word of life.

It’s this word of life that changes our perspective, that helps us to see the value of all human life, to treat all human life from conception to the grave with dignity. It’s the word of life that shows us that God is the one who gives value to life, and that it’s not us who give life its meaning or value. This is how God’s word teaches about the value of our life. First of all human life is valuable because we’re created in the image of God, as I said before. Life is valuable because God is the Creator, and He doesn’t show partiality among people. Secondly, all human life is valuable because Jesus redeemed us or bought us back. How? He “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (explanation to the 2nd Article, cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). Human life not just in general, but yours specifically, is valuable because Jesus Christ shed His precious blood for you. The only Son of God, whose blood is more precious than gold or silver, was poured out for your life. So never doubt or question the worth or value of your life, since God cared so much for you!

And third, our lives as Christians are valuable because God has sanctified us, He has set us apart for this holy purpose of being blameless and innocent in this crooked and twisted generation. God values us because He has a purpose, a plan, a calling for us. To be lights in a dark world, to be God’s children in all we do, and to live with the joy of His word of life. Our life is valuable because the Holy Spirit has set His seal upon us in baptism, and He has called and gathered us into His church to hear and be nourished by the word of life, by the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. His word of life that enters our ears and changes our hearts to pure and wholesome thought, to a vibrant love for and respect for all human life, and a desire for us to protect and show dignity to life in whatever ways we are able. Jesus died on the cross to destroy the works of sin and death, and rose to show His power to do it. May His word of life be ready on our lips, and permeate our lives, so that we can help break the silence and bring healing to hurting souls, and to speak boldly about the God-given value of human life. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. Why do Christians need to be concerned about life issues? How can we stay informed?
2. Name some specific examples of how human life is devalued. How can we help change those attitudes?
3. What are examples of crooked and twisted thinking about life, and how do we try to justify it? How does society, the media, etc try to justify it?
4. What are the implications of the equal value of all human life, and the right to life?
5. What threefold value does God give to our lives? (hint: think of the Creed)
6. What comfort does the “word of life” bring to us, or others? Who can you share it with? How does it change our outlook on life?

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