Sermon for Sunday, June 26, 2022 (Lectionary 13)  
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, MA

[Watch Here: TLC Worship Service 6/26/2022 Sermon at Minute 27:20]

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has produced a number of Social Statements. These social statements are teaching documents that help us think and talk about issues before church and society. In 1991, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a Social Statement on Abortion. Click HERE for a link to the Statement.

The ELCA website describes the statement this way: “The ELCA’s social statement entitled Abortion is grounded in the conviction that “Christians are united in Christ through faith with both the freedom and obligation to engage in serious moral deliberation.” The social statement provides guidance for pastoral care and deliberation regarding unintended pregnancies as well as basic themes for reflecting on and discussing public policy issues.”

The statement acknowledges that disagreements exist among ELCA Lutherans about abortion, but nonetheless offers clarity about what this church teaches. The ELCA Social Statement on Abortion says this:

Because of our conviction that both the life of the woman and the life in her womb must be respected by law:

  • this church opposes the total lack of regulation of abortion
  • this church opposes legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances
  • this church opposes laws that prevent access to information about all options available to women faced with unintended pregnancies
  • this church opposes laws that prevent couples from practicing contraception
  • this church opposes laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion.

In other words, this church opposes much of the action and legislation occurring throughout this country that is both attempting to restrict access to abortion as well as intimidate and harass people considering abortion and those providing assistance and counsel.

The website introduction also says this: As ELCA social teaching the Social Statement draws upon this community’s faith tradition that understands God’s life-giving purposes as pressing “beyond the usual ‘pro-life’ versus ‘pro-choice’ language.”  

It strikes me that we should retire the term “pro-life” from our public discourse as shallow and meaningless political jargon.

For example:

  • If you are against abortion …  but if you also defend the right of people to carry guns, especially machine guns with the only purpose to kill lots of people quickly, please don’t call yourself “pro-life.” If you believe a fetus has the right to live, then you should also believe that children, and people of color, have the right to go to school, or bible study, or the grocery store, in peace and safety without fear of being killed.
  • If you are against abortion … but disagree with scientists about climate change, and believe global warming is a hoax– please don’t call yourself “pro-life.” If you believe the unborn in the womb must be born, then you should also work to make sure the earth’s climate won’t be irrevocably changed and cause untold suffering to generations yet to be born.
  • If you are against abortion … but if your next target is to roll back marriage for LGBT Americans, if you don’t believe health care is a right for all Americans, if you don’t believe that all people should earn a living minimum wage – please don’t call yourself pro-life.  If you believe a mother should carry her unborn child, then give her health care, and a living wage, and make college affordable.

But there’s a greater issue at play here.

The Supreme Court decisions seems to be just one step of many currently going on to roll back rights for Americans. If the Supreme Court can roll back decades of settled law, then what’s next? Who’s next? Gay marriage? Protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans?  Access to contraceptives? What right that is granted now will be declared a non-right and be stripped away in the future?

The larger, more pressing issue, is how we treat one another in this country. That’s always been the case in this country – how the “other”– in this case pregnant women – is defined. It seems as if there are sinister forces at work in this country that will stop at nothing to destroy and devour those different than themselves. The bigger issue we need to name is the evil at work leading people apart from one another – in all the ways that happens – rather than leading them towards one another. Rather than seeing each other as fellow citizens with differences, it is evil in this country, and evil in us, when we cynically and sinfully, name others sinful, dangerous, and threats to the country.

In today’s reading from Galatians, our Second Reading (Galatians 5:1, 13-25), Paul spoke about how we are to treat one another.

Paul warned the church in Galatia that “works of the flesh” would destroy the Church, and we can add – destroy a country. Paul described those works of the flesh as “idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions.” For Paul, those were the actions that eroded trust, distanced people from one another, and worked against the will of God. Those are the actions at work in this country. Those are the actions that will destroy this country.

In contrast, actions that would build up the church, and we can add – build up a country, were described as “fruits of the Spirit.” Those actions were: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. For Paul, these weren’t just feel-good feelings, these were the real actions of leaders that built community, that established trust, that built understanding, and built the church of God on earth.

It’s been said that justice is love lived publicly. The fruits of the spirit aren’t just intended to guide personal interactions, but also public policy. What if we imagined the fruit of the spirit guiding our public discourse? What would public policies of joy and gentleness look like? What would legislation of kindness and self-control look like? What Supreme Court decisions of generosity and peace look like?

“Today, we are called to leave our old lives behind,” writes Chris Honig commenting on today’s scriptures.  “The scripture readings today serve as a candid reality check of what a life committed to God requires. Elisha slaughters an entire yoke of oxen – a drastic act that indicates he is willing to leave his old life behind. If we are to join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, we must leave our old lives behind.”

The old lives we are called to leave behind are those lives we live for ourselves. Lives of sin lived for self – lives filled with strife, quarrels and dissensions – the works of the flesh. In Christ Jesus, the lives we are called to live is the life Christ lived for us – lives lived for others – lives of love, joy, peace the fruit of the spirit.  

“This church encourages its members to participate in the public debate on abortion in a spirit of respect for those with whom they differ,” teaches the ELCA Social Statement on Abortion. “Committed to a process of raising and deliberating the difficult and unresolved questions, this church encourages its members, informed by faith understandings and by their conscience, to decide and act on this issue in ways that are responsive to God and to the needs of the neighbor.”

In the fruit of the spirit – Lutheran ethics is always grounded in the needs of the neighbor. Lutheran ethics does not ask, “What is right for me?” Lutheran ethics asks: “What is helpful for my neighbor?” Along with Paul, Lutheran ethics warn against works of the flesh that turn us inward on ourselves and away from each other in ways that destroy community. Lutheran ethics, grounded in the fruit of the spirit, turn us toward one another in love.

Rather than asking, what is my view on abortion, Lutheran ethics asks:

What does the unexpectedly pregnant single college student need?
What does the woman who is raped and pregnant need?
What does the woman who is facing health complications in pregnancy need?

As Christians, we are called to live and love publicly in the timeless movement of God’s work through the ages.

The living God existed long before this country was founded and will exist long after this county’s demise. As a counter to the hopelessness and despair of set-backs, rejections, pain, suffering, death, our Christian hope places us with Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the great movement of the communion of saints through history.

As disciples of Jesus, the lives we live we do not live to ourselves – the lives we live are lived for God and lived for one another. I believe this is what Jesus wanted his would-be followers to know in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62). He wanted them to turn themselves to him alone – not to turn back, not to be distracted, not to give in to any momentary despair/or triumph/or whatever the world gives. Rather, to find their lives, to find their hope, to find their meaning, in God’s love announced in Jesus Christ, made known to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the waters of baptism we are named and claimed as God’s beloved people. In meal of bread and wine, we meet the risen Jesus Christ who has defeated sin and  death and gives us today a foretaste of the feast to come. Named and claimed by Christ, and filled with his presence today, may we indeed go forth as a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Having received the unconditional grace and mercy of Jesus Christ – may we build a church, and a country, of mercy and justice where all people are respected, where all people are valued, and where all people are fully included in the decisions that impact the people.

Thanks be to God.