Chose Life: Abortion and Controversies
Epiphany 6A Duet. 30:15-20
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
(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.