Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sermon for Life Service - Mk 10:13-16

                                                                                                Life Service
                                                                                                Mk 10:13-16

            Amy and I have been blessed with four children.  We have a son, Timothy, who is a senior in high school.  We have a son and a daughter, Matthew and Abigail who are twins, and are in eighth grade.  And our youngest son, Michael, is in fifth grade. 
            Once in awhile, one of them will ask about the baby who died.  There is a curiosity because it happened before Matthew, Abigail or Michael were born.  Timothy was only two at the time, and says that he has nothing but a vague recollection that something happened.
            Amy’s pregnancy with Timothy was exciting because he was our first child, and things went well.  At the end it was necessary to induce labor, and two attempts at this failed.  The third one finally succeeded and after a very long labor Timothy was born.  The duration of labor meant when he came out, his head was a long cone.  My first impression of our son was that Amy had given birth to an alien. The nurse saw the look on my face and assured me that everything was fine, and sure enough we brought a healthy baby boy home from the hospital.
            After the experience with Timothy, we were joyful when Amy became pregnant again.  Timothy was going to be a big brother.  Things moved along and the pregnancy entered into the second trimester.  Amy had taken on the beautiful appearance of a pregnant woman.
            But while we are at my brother’s house, she saw signs that concerned her.  My brother is a family practice doctor, and he helped to get her in to see an Ob/Gyn right away.  As the ultrasound began, I knew exactly what to expect as we listened to the heartbeat.  But instead, there was the most deafening silence I have ever heard.  It quickly became clear that our baby had died.
            I did not understand at the time how common miscarriages can be.  Sometimes, like with Amy, they are events that family and friends know about.  At other times, only a wife and husband know that it has occurred. Under any circumstance, they are a source of grief because a death has occurred – a baby has died.
            As Christians, we mourn when a baby is lost in miscarriage.  We do so because we know that a life has been ended by death.  We know that God established the one flesh union of marriage to create life.  In the union of husband and wife the wonder of God’s creative action is present, for his work of creation did not end on day six in Genesis chapter one.  Instead his creative work continues as he gives life in the womb.  Indeed, the psalmist wrote: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
            The culture of death around us on the other hand is schizophrenic when it comes to the unborn. Refusing to acknowledge life as the gift of the Creator, it plays god by “deciding” whether a life exits or not.  According to the world, a woman bestows the status of life through her own choice.  If she wants the baby, then the unborn baby is a life.  If she does not want the baby, then the unborn baby is not a life, and instead is something to be eliminated. 
            Of course, there is no difference in the baby between the former and the latter outcome.  The baby can be celebrated on Facebook as the most wonderful new life.  The baby can be killed and thrown away – or perhaps sold off as spare parts for research. According to the world, it all depends on what status the woman chooses to confer.  In fact, recent comments by politicians and legislative action in our country have made it clear that this status of “not life” extends even after birth for a baby that survives an abortion.
            As God’s people, we in the Church know that life begins at conception.  We know that life is God’s gift that is to be nurtured and protected.  In our vocation as citizens of this state and country we seek to bring about change which will end abortion and protect the lives of the unborn.
            Because we know that life in the womb is God’s precious gift, the loss of a baby in miscarriage is a source of profound grief.  The joyful expectation of knowing this little one abruptly ends, and we are left with nothing but sonogram images.  Where a miscarriage occurs in the setting of ongoing fertility problems, it can be particularly crushing.
            Yet it is not just the grief of a life lost. Our knowledge from God’s Word about the nature of man since the Fall also means that miscarriage presents us with troubling questions.  Our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  We know from Scripture that sinful, fallen man produces sinful, fallen man.  It matters not how cute that sinful, fallen man is.           
           For this very reason Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Our Lord has given us Holy Baptism as the means by which babies receive a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, and become saints forgiven because of Christ. What then are we to say about these babies who were never born alive, and so never could receive rebirth in Holy Baptism?
            Our text from Mark chapter ten provides encouragement to think about these things on the basis of our Lord’s word.  It does not provide an exact answer. But it sends us to Christ in faith and hope.  Mark begins by telling us, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.”
            Presumably parents were bringing their children – and the term used here includes very young children – so that Jesus could touch them.  Now in Mark’s Gospel, every other time that Jesus touches someone it is order to provide healing. The saving power of the kingdom of God – the reign of God – was present in Jesus.  People recognized this.  On three different occasions in the gospel, Mark tells us that people in need of healing hoped to touch Jesus, or even just to touch his clothes.
            Why did these parents want Jesus to touch their children?  They did because Jesus came proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” They did because Jesus healed the sick, the blind and lepers with his touch.  They did because the demons cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God,” before he cast them out.  They wanted Jesus to touch their children because Jesus and his touch brought God’s saving reign.
            However, we learn that when this happened “the disciples rebuked them.”  Since the text never actually mentions who brought the children, I think we have to assume that the “them” refers to the children themselves.  This fits with an important piece of cultural background that we need to understand. 
            In our world children are revered.  They are viewed as pure and untainted sources of wisdom.  “Listen to the children” we are told.  However, in the ancient world children were viewed as inferior because they were helpless and not able to work like adults; they were physically weak; they were likely to get sick and die; they were not guided by reason.  They were looked down upon and were not held up as role models for adults to imitate.
            But in response, the Lord Jesus was indignant about what the disciples were doing.  He commanded them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And then Jesus took children in his arms – he embraced them - and blessed the children, laying his hands on them.
            Jesus says in our text that the kingdom of God – the saving reign of God – was meant for those children.  It was his will for them to receive it.  He did not want them hindered from being brought to him.  In the experience of miscarriage these words give us comfort and hope.  Jesus wants these children in the womb to receive the reign of God. When Christian parents are prevented by miscarriage from bringing a child to baptism, we take comfort in the knowledge that our Lord does not want children to be hindered from receiving his saving reign.
            Jesus Christ was so intent on bringing the reign of God that he suffered and died on the cross for you; for me; for every child we have lost in miscarriage.  It is in this same chapter that our Lord says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Christ offered himself up in the suffering of the cross as the sacrifice for our sin.
            But God’s reign in Christ could not be defeated by death.  Instead, Jesus passed through death in order to defeat it.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In his resurrection Christ has conquered death – even the death of infants in the womb.  He has begun the resurrection of the Last Day that he will bring to completion for us when he returns in glory.
            We entrust the little ones we have lost to the crucified and risen Lord.  He has said that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  He has said that he does not want them hindered from being brought to God’s reign.  We know that he has bound us to the Means of Grace.  But as God he knows no limitations.  Indeed, it is immediately after our text that in response to the disciples shocked question, “Then who can be saved?”, that our Lord says: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” We know the kind of Lord that Jesus has revealed himself to be in his death and resurrection, and so in hope and faith we entrust these little ones to him. They rest in his hands. That is all we need to know, because we know him.
            And because we know him, we find comfort in the midst of our grief.  In our text Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”  Our Lord declares that the kingdom of God – the reign of God – belongs to children.  It belongs to those who were considered weak and helpless – those who had nothing to offer.
            That is what we are.  We are weak and helpless.  We are not in control. The loss of a child in miscarriage unmasks all of these realities.  But Jesus Christ came to bring God’s saving reign to just such people.  He came to bring forgiveness and life.  He came to bring comfort. He came to bring hope. Sin, sorrow and death do not get the last word. They do not because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
            The Holy Spirit raised Christ on the third day, and now through baptism Jesus has given you the same Spirit. The Spirit helps us in our weakness. Sometimes it is Spirit himself interceding for us with groanings too deep for words. But always it is the Spirit sustaining faith in Christ. In his love we find   
forgiveness, peace and comfort. It is the Spirit directing us in faith toward Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  For in his resurrection we have the living hope that will sustain and carry us to the Last Day when grief, sorrow and death will be no more. Instead, there will be only resurrection life with our Lord and all his saints.   




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