“The Very First “Sanctity of Life “Sunday”?””
Text: Luke 4:16-30; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The first thing to say on a Sanctity of Life Sunday is this: God loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. God loves every person He has created. From the day they are created by Him in the womb, for as many days as He gives them life here on this earth. Every man and woman, boy and girl, loved by God. Those who accomplish great things and receive the praise of the world, and those who fulfill their vocations unnoticed by the world. God notices. And He loves them all. The man in the mansion and the one whose home is a cardboard box under a bridge. The immigrant and refugee, as well as the law enforcement officers and judges who uphold and rule on their cases according to the laws. Those the world thinks are worth something, and those the world thinks we’d be better off without. Those WE think are worth something, and those WE think we’d be better off without. God loves them all. And you. God loves you.
Even when you don’t love Him back. Isn’t that something? The cross shows us that. Jesus bearing the sin and dying for the sin of every person He created, and would create in the future. Not only the good ones whose burden of sin wouldn’t be too heavy, but the really bad ones with the crushing burden. Especially them. Come to Me, Jesus says, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). So if you have a lot of sins and regrets and failures and disappointments you’ve been lugging around for a while, making life heavy . . . why? Jesus took them; don’t take them back! Jesus wants them! And He wants to give you rest from them. To forgive you. Because He loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. Imagine a cross big enough on which to hang every single person who ever lived in the entire history of the world, all at the same time. That’s a pretty big cross. Well that’s Jesus’ cross. And the weight He bore on it. Because He loves you.
And He loves those He grew up with in Nazareth. And they loved Him. At first anyhow. When He spoke gracious words, words they liked. Words that made them think that surely, they were next in line to get some miraculous goodies, that what He did in Capernaum He would now do here, for them. Oh boy!
Jesus wasn’t against that. But Jesus also loved them enough to want them to know that if He did, it wouldn’t be because they were His homies, it wouldn’t be because He liked them, because He knew them, because He grew up with them and they were nice to Him was He was little - it would be mercy and grace. Like it was with the widow of Zarephath in Sidon, and with Naaman the Syrian - and not only the Syrian, but Naaman the commander of the army of Syria that was plaguing and tormenting Israel! God healed Him, showed mercy and grace to Him, of all people.
Well, the people of Nazareth, they loved hometown Jesus, gracious Jesus, their Jesus. But the Jesus who talked like that, who called them to repentance . . . not so much. That Jesus they wanted to throw off the cliff! And maybe we do, too, when we don’t think God is doling out His gifts as we think He should. When others get what we think they don’t deserve, and we don’t get what we think we do.
So that Sabbath Day in Nazareth . . . maybe we could call that the very first Sanctity of Life “Sunday.” Jesus teaching about life, and about His love and mercy and grace that is for ALL people. Sidonians, Syrians, and Nazarenes alike.
Because Sanctity of Life Sunday isn’t about us better than them, because we’re Christians and they’re not. Or because we teach that abortion, mercy killing, assisted suicide, and all the different ways we destroy life these days is wrong and they don’t. I fear that sometimes that happens on this day and turns us into holier-than-thou hypocrites. Because we’re not holier-than-thou. We are sinners. And quite possibly “sinnier”-than-thou. So this day is a day for us to do what the people of Nazareth that day did not - repent. And receive the Jesus of mercy and grace that came for us. And the forgiveness He has for us. And the life He has for us.
And it is a Sunday to ask for His help. To give us the ability to see every life as He does. To pray not just that God would change the hearts of those who think the destruction of life is okay, even good. Of course we want that, and for our world to once again be a culture of life not a culture of death. But we can’t just ask for that. But to pray that God would change our hearts, too. To see every life as He does, and to forgive me when I don’t. To rely on Him and His mercy and grace, and forgive me when I don’t. To mean it when we confess that I am a poor miserable sinner, and forgive me when I don’t. When I think I’m not as bad a him! Or her.
Now, how do we do those things? Well, surely, there is a myriad of ways. But let me mention three here specifically today . . .
First, to forgive us when we destroy life. Christians, too, at times look to death as an answer to our problems. Instead of dealing with a person, with a life, instead of giving of ourselves and serving others, just get rid of them. Or, get rid of ourselves. Satan tempts us to think that ending life is an easy way out. And maybe it is - easy. And our world seems to keep making it easier. But it’s not good. It’s not mercy and grace. It’s not trusting that God can bring good out of a difficult situation. Forgive us for that, and forgive us for when we make others think that by how we treat them - when we make their lives bitter or sad with our anger, hatred, or condescension. When we, well . . .
Secondly, treat them as a part of the body we don’t need. In the reading from Corinthians, Paul was talking about the Church as the Body of Christ, and that we need all the parts. We’re all different in that some are more honored and some less, some are more presentable and some more modest - but none less important. Forgive us when we don’t see each other that way; when we don’t see ourselves that way. And when we don’t see others as those Jesus wants to bring into His Body, too.
And third, forgive us for relying on the Law, not the Gospel. A lot of people think this will be the year the Supreme Court overturns, or begins to overturn, Roe v. Wade. Maybe so. But whatever the Supreme Court decides, abortions will continue, as will other ways of destroying life. Because the Supreme Court cannot change hearts. We should strive to have good laws that protect life, but even more should we strive for hearts changed by the Gospel that are not just restricted from taking life, but which love life, all life, as a gift from God. Something only the Word and Spirit of God can do.
That’s what Jesus was doing that day in Nazareth - preaching to change the hearts of the people He grew up with. For forgiveness. Forgiveness for them and through them for others. For really, forgiveness and life go together. Forgiveness gives life. For the wages of sin is death, so where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation (Small Catechism). And life without forgiveness . . . well, that’s what we see happening in our world today, with more and more polarization, more and more selfishness, more and more isolation, more and more violence, more and more death and ways of death. Death as the answer. Death as the solution. Death as good.
Death is never good, though we know God can bring good out of it. And once again, it is the cross that shows us that. And what Jesus’ cross brings us: life. Jesus’ death and resurrection fill His Word and Sacraments with His life. Holy Baptism is our re-birth to a new life that will never end. Holy Absolution and the Holy Gospel give us that forgiveness of sins that brings life and salvation. And the Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood feeds that new life to keep and sustain us steadfast until our life here is transferred to life everlasting. Life that Jesus died to provide for each and every person, bar none. Life that the Father created each and every person for, bar none. And life that the Holy Spirit would breathe into each and every person, no one excepted.
And so life that is here for you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. If life throws you a curve and knocks you off balance, Jesus is here to catch you. If your life isn’t turning out how you thought it should be, maybe your thinking about life is off, and Jesus is here to teach you. And if your life is nearing its end, Jesus is here to shepherd you through death to life. And if you’re failing at life, if you’ve taken life, made a life bitter, thought little of life, neglected life - if you just can’t seem to get life right, Jesus is here to forgive you. Always.
So the last thing to say on a Sanctity of Life Sunday is this: God loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. That’s why, as we prayed in the Collect of the Day earlier, looking upon our infirmities, God stretched forth the hand of his majesty to heal and defend us. That is, God sent the Son of His right hand to heal and defend us. To forgive and save us. To fight sin, death, and the devil, and win. And so really, as He is here with us, that makes every Sunday is a Life Sunday. God giving us life, now, and leading us to life, everlasting. Lord, give us that life. And help us treasure that life. All life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.