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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Chose Life: Abortion and Controversies

Epiphany 6A      Duet. 30:15-20

From Deuteronomy, Moses said, “Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, good and evil, blessings and curses. God is our witness, and I say to you, chose life. Love the Lord your God. Obey God’s laws. Be faithful. And then, it will go well for you in your new land.”

Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the Bible. I love the book of Deuteronomy. I always have. I always will. I especially love Deuteronomy, chapters 4-11 and 30-31. In particular, chapter six and chapter thirty are the very best, from my point of view. My lecture notes from years ago say that, and I feel the same way about these chapters today.

A problem that I have is that I underline or highlight almost all the lines of the book of Deuteronomy. They are all my favorites. There are so many classic Bible verses in the book of Deuteronomy.

More recently, I have been reworking our confirmation curriculum for seventh grade confirmation. Those poor kids in my confirmation class when they get to the book of Deuteronomy. During their homework, they will have to underline five to ten verses in many chapters in Deuteronomy. In all the other books of the Bible that they are reading, there are a few verses to underline per chapter. But in the book of Deuteronomy, they will underline almost all the verses in chapter after chapter.

Why? Why is Deuteronomy so great? Why do I underline so many verses in that book?  Why do my confirmation students have to underline so many lines of this book? What makes it so great? Because it was written by Moses, that is why. Because Moses is the spiritual giant of Judaism. Because Moses is the author of the Ten Commandments.  Because Moses is the writer of the moral law that under girds all western civilization. Moses wrote the Law, the Torah, which is the most sacred part of the Old Testament for a Jew. All the prophets of the Old Testament are based on Moses. Jesus quotes Moses and Deuteronomy more than any other book. Moses? He is the spiritual giant of western civilization. That’s all. Moses is one of the five or six human beings in all of human history who have shaped the moral code of human civilization. That’s all.

Today, I wanted to have images of Michelangelo’s Moses projected onto the walls of our church. Michelangelo’s Moses is a towering figure, a powerful figure, an incredible figure, much larger than life. Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses is enormous. And so was Moses. He seemed to be larger than life itself.

The Israelites were getting ready to enter the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. The Jews had been in the wilderness for forty years. They had become weak and soft bellied due to their days in Egypt, and those people died in the wilderness. The people who survived the years in the wilderness were hard and lean. These survivors had experienced God’s majesty, Mount Sinai, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna and the quail to eat in the wilderness.

This prophet Moses saw that the people of God would be ensnared and brought down by the Canaanite religion in the land to which they were going. They would be ensnared by the Canaanite people who sacrificed their children on altars, who burned their children as sacrifices, who practiced witchcraft and idolatry and who used cult prostitutes.

So the people of God stood in front of Moses, east of the Jordan River, before they entered the Promised Land. Moses was saying goodbye to them, as he gave his last sermon. Moses, the spiritual power of Judaism, was at the very end of his life.  The Bible says he was 120 years old; that he was strong in body and his eyesight was still very, very sharp. Moses stood before the people on the banks of the Jordan River, and he gave his farewell speech.

“Today, I am giving you a choice…between good and evil, between life and death, between blessing and cursing. God is our witness. I say to you: chose life. Chose life. Love the Lord your God. Serve him. Obey him. Do his laws. Be faithful to God, and then…it will go well for you in the land.”

The Christian religion has always been a religion of life. Life has been a good word, a core word, a key word. Jesus said, “I have come to give you life and give you life more abundantly.” Jesus said, “ I am the bread of life. I am the water of life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am everlasting life.” The opposite of God or Jesus is Satan who is the prince of death, the source of death, the essence of evil. And Jesus said, “I have come to destroy the powers of death and hell.”

The love of life is found in the first pages and the last pages of Scripture. In the first pages of our Bible in the story of the Garden of Eden, we hear about the tree of life. Yes, we also heard about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and people were forever

having to chose between good and evil. But there in that garden stood the tree of life. If Adam and Eve would ever eat from that tree, they would live eternally and immortally.

And then at the very end of the Bible, in the very last chapter of the last book of the Bible, we see that hell and death are thrown into the fire, and all that remains is the tree of life. For God is life, eternal life, everlasting life, immortal life, abundant life.

We also discover in the first book of the Bible that the living God breathed life into Adam. God gave Adam the first breath of life. We human beings are sacred because we are made in the image of God and we have the sacred breath of God within us. We human beings are spiritual stuff. We are life stuff. To murder a human being is a great sacrilege because human beings are sacred in the eyes of God. 

You see, at the very core of our religious heritage, from beginning to end, ours is a religion of life. We are pro-life.

And so Moses, 120 years old and wise. Moses, having walked with God and been with God when God gave him the moral principles for human civilization. Moses, his body strong and his eyes still clear. And the people of God on the edge of the Promised Land, going into the land of Canaan, with all of its pagan degradation and child sacrifice and burning their children on altars and cult prostitution, God said to his people through his prophet Moses: “Today, I am giving you a choice…between life and death, good and evil, blessings and curses. God is our witness this day. Chose life. Serve the Lord your God. Love God. Be faithful to God. Obey God’s laws and … then…it will go well for you in the land.”

These are complex and difficult times for us in the State of Washington. This week, many of us are going to vote on issues that have to do with life and death. We will face Initiative 119 which advocates active euthanasia, the killing of a person in order to relieve pain. We will face Initiative 120 which would create a state law giving women the same abortion rights as Roe and Wade which was passed by the Supreme Court in 1973. Both are life and death issues. It is difficult and confusing.

Sometimes in our moral confusion, we take comfort when we find people of good will on both sides of the issue. We can find morally outstanding people on both sides of the issues, morally upright people who are for or against these initiatives. So, how does one decide?

But that has always been true. For example, with slavery, there were people of high moral standards on both sides of the issue, but time and history showed one side to be wrong. The slave owners were wrong; the abolitionists were right. And today in the State of Washington, even though there are moral people on both sides of the issue, that does not ease the necessity of making a moral choice. It does not mean that both sides are right. Time and history will tell who was right and who was wrong on the Initiatives 119 and 120.

Within our church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we do not lay out moral positions and demand that you have to think and vote in a certain way. Rather, moral positions are left up to the conscience of individuals. The church offers moral conversation about issues, but does not tell us how to think or make moral decisions for us. The vast majority of us like it that way. We don’t want some pastor or church majority telling us how to think or vote. I agree.

Even so, the church of Jesus Christ has always attempted to be the moral conscience of our society. But the church is as pluralistic as our society. The church is pluralistic and it always has been and always will be. There is no uniformity of moral thought within the church. Even so, one of the primary purposes of the church is to be the conscience of our society and to help our society wrestle with moral issues, such as Initiatives 119 and 120.

Christians know that God loves law, and God loves good law. Read the Old Testament. Read the Ten Commandments. Read the laws of Moses. By reading them, you know that God loves law. You also know that God loves good law. It seems to me that God and the people of God are always working for good laws, laws that reflect God’s desire for justice and righteousness.  Human laws are to reflect God’s moral laws, God’s values of goodness, fairness, and justice, and these laws change in every generation.

Now, laws do affect behavior. Change laws and over time you do change behavior. Children no longer work twelve hours a day. It is against the law. Blacks cannot be confined to the back of a bus. It is against the law. Women cannot be forced to stay home on voting day. It is against the law. Christians are forever working to make laws more just and good, so that our laws will reflect the goodness and justice of God, in order that society will act more justly and humanely.

Sometimes, laws can change for worse such as the apartheid laws in South Africa. The apartheid laws were a regression when they were in existence; the apartheid laws were a step backwards. How do we know that? How do we know that apartheid laws were a step backwards?   Because we intuitively understand that the apartheid laws step further away from the moral laws of God. We know that the apartheid laws stepped further away from the moral law of God.  Those laws did not reflect God’s goodness and fairness.

Now, Initiative 119, which is called the “death with dignity” legislation, advocates active euthanasia, a lethal injection to end human life. I personally felt that the most persuasive arguments about this piece of legislation were written by the Washington Physicians Against Initiative 119. Among their statements were the following:

  1. These doctors believe that for 2400 year of western civilization, the purpose of doctors has been to heal and relieve suffering, not to kill patients. This initiative creates an enormous philosophical change in the way the doctors do their work.

  1. These doctors believe that the vast majority of doctors are against this initiative and the result will be a few euthanasia clinics. There will be a few doctors who do all the injections for killing, and Washington will offer a few euthanasia clinics where people can come to receive their lethal injections and die.


  1. These doctors believe that a purpose of medicine is to control pain, and they believe that they can control pain. They believe that they already practice “death with dignity” when they control the pain of a dying patient. They believe that the “aid in dying” is really a misnomer and cover-up for what really will happen. It is not “aid in dying” but a giving a lethal injection.


  1. These doctors believe that there will be pressure on the elderly to end their lives when the elderly aren’t ready and don’t want to. The elderly and dying are already sensitive about being a burden on their families, and eventually these elderly people may to feel guilty about not having themselves injected and die in order to relieve the pain of their families.


  1. These doctors believe that opening the doors to active euthanasia will make it possible for more different kinds of people to ask for the right to die. Who is to say that someday, a person will take a family member who has been severely injured, to a death specialist, and ask for a lethal injection rather than living through the pain of that loved one’s natural death.


It seems to me that Initiative 119 is another example of the law stepping backwards. Just as the apartheid laws were a stepping backwards, away from the moral law of God, it seems that active euthanasia is a stepping back away from the moral law of God. The moral law of God believes that human life is sacred; that human beings are made in the image of God; we human beings are sacred stuff; and to murder a human being is a violent act in the eyes of God. It seems that Initiative 119 is caving into the shallow and short-sighted morals of our society which is valuing human life less and less.

Regarding Initiative 120, the right to abortion, it seems that many people feel that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe and Wade, and that Initiative 120 would give women the same rights to abortion that they currently have under Roe and Wade. If Initiative 120 does not pass and if Roe and Wade is overturned, Washington law would then revert to our 1970 law which grants abortion through the fourth month and a minor would need the consent of a parent. The issue is not whether or not abortions will be legal in our state, but rather, how will abortions be regulated.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, of which this church is a member, recently published a study document on abortion for our consideration. Basically, the ELCA took the traditional position of the Lutheran Church. That is, human life is sacred. Human beings are made in the image of God. Therefore, abortions needs to be legally available only when the life of the mother is threatened, when the fetus is malformed, and when there is rape or incest. Abortion is allowable, but only as a last resort for these given conditions.

The purpose of abortion is not to be a form of birth control. One of the great tragedies of American life is that fetuses are dying by the millions because abortion is being used, not to protect the life of a mother, not because of malformed fetuses, and not because of rape or incest, but because of “extenuating circumstances.” That is, we are seeing millions of abortions today because of circumstances and unpleasant situations. This is happening among our children, our grandchildren, our families, and our closest friends with whom we talk.

It seems to me that God, who is always concerned about law and good law, and we God’s people should be working hard to reduce teenage pregnancy, young adult pregnancy, and the use of abortion as a birth control procedure. To have laws that permit abortion as a birth control procedure seems to take a step away from the moral law of God. It seems to be backing away from what God desires. Initiative 120 seems to cave into the values of our society where sexuality, pregnancy and birth are no longer sacred events. Throughout the history of Christianity, sexuality, pregnancy and birth have been regarded as sacred and holy events in the eyes of God.

It seems to me that we should work for laws that allow abortion, but work for laws that do not permit or encourage abortion to be used as a birth control procedure. It seems to me that Initiative 120 continues to endorse the use of abortion as a birth control procedure. It seems to me that we should work for a better law in our state than Initiative 120 provides.

(As a footnote to this sermon which was given at Grace Lutheran Church in 1991, now eleven years later and 2002, while researching the medical programs at the University of Washington where my son is enrolled for the fall quarter of 2002, I discover that abortion is listed in black letters as part of the university’s normal medical procedure. I also see that the word, adoption, is not listed as an alternative to an unwanted pregnancy. This bothers me; that the State of Washington, through its university medical program, seems to be encouraging abortion as birth control.)

Moses was a moral giant, a spiritual giant. He is one of the five or six people in human civilization of the last three thousand years whose words have become the moral code of our civilization. Moses walked with God. Moses was on the mountaintop with God at Sinai.  Moses experienced the holiness and sanctity of God and he knew God’s mind. Moses also knew the future. As he looked into the future and at the Israelites as they were about to go into the land of Canaan, into a land that Moses said had “detestable and disgusting moral practices,” into that land, knowing that they were going to be faced with immense moral ambiguity, Moses then said to his people: “Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, good and evil, blessings and curses. God is our witness. I say to you this day, chose life. Chose life and walk with God. Love the Lord your God, obey his commandments, be thankful to God, and so that it will go well for you.” Amen. 

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