light and life
Life Sunday – 2023 LSB #’s 904, 849, 814
Text – Matthew 5:14-15
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house.
LIGHT & LIFE
The theme for this year’s Life Sunday, “Blessed for Life,” is based on the opening verses of Psalm 41. There, the psalmist declares that the one who “considers the poor” will be blessed by God. He will be “protected & kept alive in all things,” for He did not give him up to his enemies. (41:1-2)
It’s an appropriate theme because it speaks of the calling we share to be protectors of life, to be advocates & voices for the poorest among us, for the ones who have no voice & cannot advocate for themselves. We are called to proclaim & affirm the “Sanctity of Life,” which lies at the core of who we are as people created in the image of God.
The ability to share in this calling with other partners in the Gospel is a high & a noble opportunity. Although there are many life-related issues needing to be addressed in the society & culture in which we live, the one most often thought of & central to any serious discussion of life issues is tied closely to the question of abortion.
Roe versus Wade, as we all know, was a landmark decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. It ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a woman’s freedom to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
That Supreme Court decision also became the fuel for an ongoing debate about whether, & to what extent, abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of the abortion decisions, & what role ethical, moral & religious views should play in the political sphere. Part of the challenge is that there are diverse & passionate opinions in the political realm & within the Church as to how we should proceed as a nation in addressing this crucial & defining question. Not one of the many Christian denominations in our country would be able to claim that all their members are of the same opinion & speak with the same voice.
What place should be given to the parents of the yet-to-be-born child, when it comes to the ultimate decision of whether anyone has the right to take the life of another human being, yet-to-be-born or not?
Many people struggle with doubts about when, in the pregnancy, a child truly becomes a child, & whether the so-called “unborn fetus” has the same inherent rights & deserves the same protection as a child that has left the mother’s womb.
Those discussions & debate make ultimate decisions on the political front only more complex. All the differing opinions of human beings challenge us in our thinking & raise the bar on the significance of the decisions.
Add to this God’s Word in the Bible, & the fact that our ultimate allegiance as Christians is, as Peter declared, to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19 RSV), & there’s little room for doubt that the questions in front of us & the ensuing answers are of ultimate & eternal concern. Thus, we come to words from our Lord that are as pointed & powerful as they are familiar.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14). In the abortion discussion & debate what do those words mean to us, that we are called & have been declared & have become, in Jesus, this world’s salt & light?
As followers of our Lord, you & I have the opportunity & the responsibility to have an impact on the world in which we live. It’s not because we are so salty in & of ourselves; not because our light is any brighter or more important than that of anyone else. It is because we are connected in our calling to the One who salts all things in this life, & whose light, from the
beginning of time, is the only real & lasting hope for anyone, pregnant or otherwise.
Looking back on history & considering some of the critique thrown at the Church from the outside world, that we have not been aggressive enough, or involved & relevant enough, in addressing human need, we have to confess that there is an element of truth to the criticisms that are shared.
An honest assessment of what has been done & what has failed to be done, where & in what ways the Church has fallen short, will lead us to an acknowledgement, if not a confession, that so often we have come up short. In more ways than we care to admit, all of us are in need of God’s forgiveness & grace.
At the same time, there is a long & growing list of ways in which the Church has, throughout history, been a motivating force &, more often than not, been the primary force behind nearly every significant social advance that has happened.
Go down the list & it’s consistent: the care of the sick, the elderly, the orphan; movement toward a public education system at the primary, secondary & college levels; advancement of the status of women in society; cultivation of the arts & the humanities; concern for the physically & mentally handicapped; the whole concept of welfare, the dignity of work, the elimination of slavery; the idea of a constitutional government & of democracy itself.
In every case, it’s the same. In these & many other areas of life, the Christian Church as such, or the leadership of individuals with a Christian motivation behind what they have done, have been instrumental, if not responsible, for these things we consider to be humane & good.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the Christian Church has ignored the needs of this world, or failed to address its challenges. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though the ultimate reality of the Christian Gospel has to do with forgiveness & the promise of life eternal, because of Jesus’ death & resurrection, that message, nonetheless, has unavoidable & immediate implications for this life, here & now. Over the course of the world’s history, the witness & the actions of the Christian community have been significant & profound.
It’s as true today as it was when Jesus first said it: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14) Those words were not only given to the Church as a whole, but to each one of us within the Church, who have been called & claimed by Him.
This is not only an “us thing” as we think about the calling we share within the body of Christ. It is also a “you thing” & a “me thing” as we consider the calling Christ laid upon each of our lives.
Our Lord created us to make decisions, yet, because of sin we make ungodly decisions & have to live with the consequences of those decisions. As hard as it is to hear, the truth is that abortion takes a life. Abortion brings an end to God’s creation. The life it takes, & the end it brings, is a choice Yahweh does not give us the right to make.
The protection of the unborn, who have no voice of their own, is not going to happen in this country without the witness of the Church. Collectively & together, each one of us is called by God to do our part. To get this right, will take a great amount of forgiveness & grace. If we’re going to make this right, it’s going to take a lot more than we have on our own to give.
The North American Lutheran Church has a statement taking a strong stance in support of the unborn. It’s not a social statement, declaring what we need to believe. It’s a word of counsel to the Church on what we hold to be true & how the conversation & decisions need to be framed.
“The Lord Is with You” is the title of the document – “A Word of Counsel to the Church on the Sanctity of Nascent Life.” I printed a few copies & will email it to our congregation, so I encourage you to read it. Think of it as a way to put into words what we believe as children of God. It must be more than just a document on paper or a website if it’s going to take hold & change lives to have the impact the authors are hoping & praying for.
It should be our witness, individually as believers, in our churches & to our communities, to a world that is confused & does not have a moral framework with which to start, let alone the ability to come up with answers that last & make sense.
“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14) Let your light shine that the world might see. Let the salt that is yours in Christ give flavor to that part of the world in which you live. That’s one of the realities, if not the beauty, of how the Christian faith is meant to be lived & played out.
I can’t change the world any more than you. You can’t change it any more than I. Thankfully, that is not our call. Yet, I can have an impact on the lives of those I know as I witness to Jesus & offer the light & salt that He gives to me. You can have an impact as well.
Let your light shine, that the world may see. Harsh & condemning words are not light. Lines & judgments drawn so straight & absolute that there’s no room for forgiveness only serves to deepen the divide that’s already there. Shine Christ’s light in love, with grace & a recognition that all our lives come up short, that each of us needs a Savior, every day.
The good news is that we have one, & He loves not only the child who never had a chance at life, but also the one who made the choice to bring an end to that life. For all of us, which is the witness we need to give, there is life & there’s hope & there’s forgiveness in what God has done for, & promised to, you & me in Christ.
It’s a complicated web, this whole question of who has the right to choose. Pro-life or pro-choice? Pro-choice or pro-life? Situations involving incest or rape or the life of the mother are ones we cannot avoid, let alone quickly & easily dismiss. Decisions have to be made by someone, & choices are not always those where everyone wins.
If we are to make choices that are godly & life-affirming, if we are to bear witness to the God who creates & sustains all of life, then our voice, our witness, our decisions need to be consistent & in alignment with the calling we’ve been given in Jesus.
From the beginning of time, from that moment God created the first human beings & placed them in the garden, He gave the ability to choose. There’s a tree in the middle producing beautiful & enticing fruit. Stay away from it & you will live. Eat of it & you will die. Adam & Eve made a choice & all creation has lived with the consequences ever since.
It was the same with Moses. Not long before he was to die & hand over the mantle of leadership to Joshua, he gave the people a choice: “I call heaven & earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life & death, blessing & curse. Therefore, choose life that you & your offspring may live…” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
All kinds of choices in life. All kinds of choices we need to make. Not every one leads to life, as much as we try to convince ourselves that it does. That’s why the salt & the light of the Christian community, & each of us in it, need to be the seasoning that brings true life, & the light that dispels even the darkest of situations, fears & troubles this world brings.
Let your light shine in the choices you make. Let your salt do its “salting the world” thing by allowing your choices, offered in a spirit of love & of grace, to add the flavor that people in this world are longing to taste.
We could talk a long time about the complexity & the seriousness of the abortion debate. We could talk equally as long about all of the related salt & light decisions concerning life & death that each of us are confronted with. It’s not simply about the beginning of life, but also the end of life, different, yet just as sacred. The decisions concern a child born when a single mother has made that difficult choice & needs help. Salt & light do not allow us to let her struggle with the decision & then go it alone once the child arrives.
The stance for life & its sanctity goes far beyond the focus of today’s message. It goes infinitely beyond what any Sanctity of Human Life Sunday may highlight. Our stance in favor of life needs to be one in favor of all of life. In Christ it is consistent, even when that consistency forces us to stand out or sometimes even stand against.
As Christians, we know the Author of life & we know His will. He has called us & forgiven our sins so that we are able to be the salt & the light this world so desperately needs.
“You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of this world … Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-14, 16) Amen.
Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen. LSB 849:3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet