Sanctity of Life Sunday, January 23, 2011
God has called the church be the church for the world, to be the fellowship of the Baptized who sees reality from God’s perspective and clearly enunciates and demonstrates this reality, this truth to the world. Today we have the opportunity to do that in a powerful way. Today we observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
On one hand we celebrate the gift of life and the Giver of life. We celebrate that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It was Isaac Newton who said, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” The mystery and marvel of new life defies expression. The newborn’s cry testifies to life’s Creator. If you’ve ever given birth or been present at a birth you know the surge of emotions that pulses through you.
On the other hand, we mourn the death of untold millions whose lives have been cut short through abortion. As you know, yesterday marked the anniversary of the January 22, 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade, which essentially legalized abortion in our nation. Abortion, however, isn’t just an America issue; it is a global issue. Worldwide 100 babies are aborted every minute; 6,000 every hour, 144,000 every day, over 52 million every year. Every six years our world aborts the equivalent of America’s entire population. This reality must give us pause; it should take our breath away.
The Gospel of Choice
I think this goes without saying, but we live in a pro-choice world. And that’s not just an abortion term. Our world celebrates choice. They proclaim the ‘Gospel of Choice.’
I think this goes without saying, but we live in a pro-choice world. And that’s not just an abortion term. Our world celebrates choice. They proclaim the “Gospel of Choice.” You can choose anything and everything. Choose your hair color. Choose your online identity. Choose your computer wallpaper. Choose your cellphone skin. Choose your virtual friends. And while these choices may be innocuous enough, they aren’t enough. The Gospel of Choice must be absolute. You must have the right to choose without limitation.
So the preachers of this gospel insist that you can choose without limit. You can choose your own definition of marriage. You can choose your gender. You can choose to abort. You have the right to choose. The Gospel of Choice must be absolute. Our choice must be supreme.
And I wonder how much the church has believed this gospel? Is choice absolute? Do we have the freedom to choose whatever we like? Do we have the freedom to choose marriage’s definition? Do we have the right to choose our gender? Do we have the right to choose when fertility is a blessing to receive and when it is an annoyance to medicate away? Do we have the right to choose to end a life we don’t want, whether in the womb or in the wheelchair?
Has the church believed the Gospel of Choice? We are quick to criticize pro-choice advocates, but do we not use the same rhetoric?
Has the church believed the Gospel of Choice? We are quick to criticize pro-choice advocates, but do we not use the same rhetoric? We may not espouse abortion, but have we not used the same language: “My body, My choice, My family, My plan … I get to choose.”?
We may have ruled out abortion, but I suspect we’re still pretty fiercely clinging to choice. We may not support a woman’s right to choose to murder her unborn baby, but the truth is we’re all pro-choice at heart. We all insist on our right to choose. I used to think the debate was between the pro-life camp and the pro-choice camp, but it finally dawned on me that we’re all pro-choice. It just happens that some of us are anti-abortion.
Awhile back this became clear to me when I came across these stunning words from the United States Supreme Court. In the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which supported and upheld Roe v. Wade, our highest court made this shocking statement: “in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception ... for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” Those words are absolutely stunning. They just blew me away.
Do you see what the court said? Because choice is absolute, it’s impossible to limit it. They said once the culture embraced contraception, abortion was a must. It was the simple outworking of absolute choice. The court even said the choice to contracept was of the same character as the choice to abort. That just stunned me because that’s not the church talking; that’s the Supreme Court. They’re both about our choice.
For generations the church stood against the Gospel of Choice and spoke very clearly against it; in the last generation the church, in line with the culture, has embraced it. We love our choice. Dare I say we worship it? Dare I say “choice” is the idol of the twenty-first-century church?
The world needs us to be the church, the fellowship of the Baptized. The world needs to see a different reality here. The world needs to hear a different Gospel from our lips and Jesus has given us a different Gospel. It is not the Gospel of Choice; it is the Gospel of Chosen.
I have no doubt we would all love abortion to stop and we should keep being a voice for life, offering loving compassion to women contemplating abortion, but as long as the church continues its love affair with choice, the silent holocaust of abortion will not stop because we will only differ from the world in degree not in kind. In other words, as long as we still cling to the Gospel of Choice, the world won’t see anything qualitatively different in us. If we’re claiming, “Marriage is only about love,” homosexual activists will claim, “We love each other; we want marriage too.” If we’re claiming, “Children are a choice,” abortion activists will claim, “That’s what our clients are telling us in the abortion clinic.” The world needs us to be the church, the fellowship of the Baptized. The world needs to see a different reality here. The world needs to hear a different Gospel from our lips and Jesus has given us a different Gospel. It is not the Gospel of Choice; it is the Gospel of Chosen.
The Gospel of Chosen
St. Peter writes (1 Peter 2:9):
you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
God has chosen us! Us! A bunch of self-obsessed, inwardly turned, navel-gazing, choice-worshiping sinners! Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (cf. 1 John 5:16). Does He know me? Why would He choose me? When I consider the depth of my depravity, the height of my hypocrisy, the breadth of my sin … when I consider my idolatry of my choice … when I consider the iniquity of my heart, the immorality of my desires, the arrogance of my attitude, how, why did He choose me? I search in vain for any merit or worthiness in me. Even my best works are soiled with selfishness. Even my highest thoughts are saturated with sin. I deceive myself into thinking I’m good enough to merit God’s approval, but I’m not good enough. Are you? My choices aren’t selfless enough. Are yours? My heart isn’t pure enough. Is yours? I know how much I yearn for the Gospel of Choice—my choice, my choice, my choice! I fight tooth and nail for my choice because the truth is I care more about me and my way and my comfort and my convenience than I care about God and His truth. I am a sin-soiled man.
I must look beyond me for a place to anchor my hope. And when I do, I see a man dying on a cross, but not just any man. I see the God-man, the Son of God, dying on a cross because of the choices I made, because of the choices you made, because of the choices the world made, because our choices are sinful.
I must look beyond me for a place to anchor my hope. And when I do, I see a man dying on a cross, but not just any man. I see the God-man, the Son of God, dying on a cross because of the choices I made, because of the choices you made, because of the choices the world made, because our choices are sinful. They’re not a little misguided; they’re not simply wrong; they are depraved and sinful. Our choices are self-focusing, self-worshipping, and self-esteeming choices. They’re all bent inward on us. If God didn’t do something, our choices would alienate us from Him for eternity; our choices would damn us. We would pursue the Gospel of Choice to hell.
But God has done something. His righteous wrath against us and our sinful choices falls on Jesus. And then Jesus buries our sin with Him. We are freed from sin’s condemnation. That gift is given to us in Baptism and it is a gift we must return to every day. Every day we need to drown again the sin within that rises up to insist upon its choice.
Remember Romans 6:3-5:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.
In Baptism God chooses you for salvation. There He pours His Gospel of Chosen on you. This Gospel incorporates us into a reality beyond the individual, beyond myself, beyond my way and my choices. This Gospel incorporates us into Christ’s body, His church. And this Gospel changes us. It liberates us from the self-worshiping Gospel of Choice and elevates our eyes to the One who has chosen us and redeemed us and loved us in Christ. It opens our eyes to the One who has promised to be with us and provide for us forever. And it opens our eyes to the City of God and the New Earth that is for all God’s chosen. There is something beyond today. There is a reality bigger than my own.
And this Gospel of Chosen humbles our hearts so that we don’t stand on the sidelines self-righteously condemning abortionists and women who have had or are contemplating abortions. While their choices are sinful, we don’t condemn them for placing their hope in the Gospel of Choice because 1) we’re not their judge and 2) we know all too well how much our hearts continually run after that false gospel. And we know the Gospel of Choice is a dead end; it’s a miserable, hopeless, empty dead end because the heart of the chooser is corrupt, wicked, deceitful, self-centered, and bent inward on itself. The Gospel of Choice is a hellish gospel. People need something better than the Gospel of Choice.
So we offer a different Gospel. We offer the Gospel of Chosen in Christ. And we offer a community formed and shaped by that Gospel
So we offer a different Gospel. We offer the Gospel of Chosen in Christ. And we offer a community formed and shaped by that Gospel. We offer a community of love, a community of compassion, a community of forgiveness. And this is more than sincerity; this love, compassion, and forgiveness have substance. We have been chosen to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). Don’t we do that in our relationships? Shouldn’t our love for our neighbor reflect the Gospel of Chosen? Don’t we do that in our marriages and in our families? So shouldn’t we resolve to make our marriages work for the glory of God and the declaration of His praises? Shouldn’t we more readily welcome the gift of new life and stop insisting on our choice? Shouldn’t the church be leading the way in adoption? Shouldn’t we be extending the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ to men and women who have been deceived and hurt by the Gospel of Choice?
The Gospel of Choice is a false gospel. It is a hopeless gospel. It is a hellish gospel. Jesus offers a different gospel, a true Gospel—the Gospel of Chosen. The world needs to hear this Gospel. You need to hear this Gospel because this is the Gospel of life—eternal life, abundant life, unending and undying life. And it is only available in and through One person—Jesus Christ. Only He offers the Gospel of Chosen. He offers it at this font and at this altar. It is for you. It is for me. It is for sinners. Here God declares you chosen, forgiven, and redeemed. So come, receive this Gospel. Revel in it, celebrate it, proclaim it, and share it. In Christ, you are chosen. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.