Home > Uncategorized > Message on Sunday, 9 August, (Pent 11)

Message on Sunday, 9 August, (Pent 11)

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sermon today is based on the second reading for today, chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus.

The Christians in Ephesus were primarily Gentile converts. They had lived in the Greco-Roman Med_Aspendos_Turquiaworld and they were shaped by the values of that society, a society that did not understand many of the core values we take as self-evident. That there is an inherent dignity in human life no matter how frail or how robust. The foundational document of our nation, young as it is on the world stage, begins with that very line. We should note how profound the idea behind that line truly is and where it comes from. And before we do that we should also note, that as great as the Roman world was, that idea and anyone who said it, would have been laughed out of town. Paul called it the futility of the mind, a darkness in understanding that came from living alienated from God and the hardness of their hearts. No in these pre-Christian societies, certainly in Ephesus in Paul’s day, all people were not equal, not by a long shot. There were the aristocrats and lesser nobility with connections to Rome. There were the middle class merchants and perhaps the priestly classes. And then there were the hoi polloi, the great teeming masses, peasants even though the feudal system had not yet begun. And none of them were “created equal.” Some were obviously more equal than others. Lower still were women and children. Lower still were the slaves, what Aristotle called “human tools” born into their state. Paul encouraged the Ephesians not to live that way any longer in that greedy, callous, lustful manner.

That is not the way they learned Christ! No! They should put off your old self and to put on the new self. What is that new self? It is none other than the likeness of God. I think it’s right have Genesis 2 here in mind where we learn that God created them male and female and in the image of God He created them. If you want to have a sure foundation under your country’s idea that all people are created equal, it must be built on the idea that all people have an inherent worth, a dignity bestowed on them from outside themselves. It is most certainly the case that our idea of human dignity comes from the Christian doctrine of humans bearing the image of God. Peter Singer, no less than one of the biggest opponents to that idea says that’s the case. He says, the idea of human dignity is a “distinctively Christian attitude rather than a universal ethical value.” And, “Once the religious mumbo jumbo surrounding the term ‘human’ has been stripped away… we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species.”[1] Singer would have felt quite at home in a Roman city in the time of Paul, perhaps almost as much as he does now at a time when the influence of Christian ideas like the dignity of human life are more and more in question.

I have said many times in this pulpit and in the classroom that we are living in a post-Christian age. And there are many people who are very happy about it. We not only live at a time when an unplanned pregnancy can simply be aborted, it seems as if, if these new sting videos of Planned Parenthood are even close to the truth, it seems as if many, many people in our land are quite happy to buy and sell those aborted babies for their tissues. What is this but hardness of heart? Darkness of ignorance. Callous. Greedy. Alienation from God.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that this change to a post-Christian worldview has happened in the last ten years. It goes back at least a century in our land if not further. But back then, only the elites could afford to be godless. Now it’s a perfectly middle class thing to think we don’t need God so much and we certainly don’t need that oppressive morality of the Bible telling us what to do. The truth is, while I might not have the same greedy hardness of heart as what makes a shocking video, it’s in there. It’s in all of us. In fact that’s another one of those pesky doctrines from Christianity that fouls up the enlightened works of our thoughts about ourselves and our place in the world. We’re flawed, fatally so. Every action a mixture of motives and left to ourselves, Paul says, we would be cut off from God.

But Paul also encourages us to encourage one another, to speak truth to one another. Not to just get angry, there’s enough of that on the television, but to the wrong for what it is and do right. To terminate a pregnancy can never be considered a good thing. It might be medically necessary to save the life of the mother, and in that case not illegal, but it’s still not a good thing. To think it a good thing is to be callous. Worse still are the arguments that suggest the child might have lived a terrible life. Economists have actually suggested that the real reason the crime rates in the US dropped in the 1980s and 1990s was because of Roe v. Wade. They say there just weren’t as many troubled kids to get in trouble because they started to get aborted in 1973. It may well be true. But even if it is how far gone are we as a nation, how callous and hard-hearted are we that we would prefer economically disadvantaged moms abort their children? Are we or are we not members of one another?

Politicians and pundits always turn these debates into a fight between “us” and “them.” Christians cannot. For we are all members of one another. It doesn’t work any other way in God’s economy. I’ll say it again. It obviously bears repeating. We are all members of one another. That’s why these videos are so terrible. They are my tiny brothers and sisters caught in a world that does not want them except for their tissues. Lord, have mercy on us.

The earliest Christians were known to fish babies out of the rivers where they’d been thrown into because parents did not want them. Influenced by the teaching of Jesus passed on to them through the apostles, they took care of widows and orphans, the lowest of the low in the social pecking order in the Roman society where Christianity began to grow roots as a counter cultural movement. Soon after, it was the dying and the chronically ill cared for in newly established hospices and hospitals. Why? Why all this effort and energy on people who didn’t really matter, on people who were dying anyway? Why waste such time and resources on such people? Because they were people, each one, a life for whom Christ gave His life to suffer and die on the cross. We can learn much from their example.

I hope a couple things happen as a result of these videos being made public. I hope primarily two things. The first is that I hope all Christians will act, will speak out on behalf of these little ones who cannot speak, and write their elected representatives and say that this abomination must end. And that we get serious again about caring for the least of these as our mothers and fathers in the faith once did. And the second is this, that among all those non-religious people out there, the writing of the law on their heart would burn in reaction against such atrocities and that they see clearly the difference in the kind of world driven by Christian ideas of charity and love and the kind of callousness driven by the Peter Singers of this world and choose to live in a world that sees value in human life.

Paul’s encouragement was clearly based in the sacrificial love of Jesus. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That’s what we need, more Christians imitating the love of God in Jesus and walking that love. Just do it. My Christian friends, walk in that love. Amen.

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[1] Peter Singer, “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?” Pediatrics 72 (July 1983), 129.  As found in Maas, Korey; Francisco, Adam (2014-01-06). Making the Case for Christianity: Responding to Modern Objections (Kindle Locations 3442-3444). Concordia Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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