March 10 & 11, 2018 Lent 4 (Sanctity of Life Service)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” I cannot think of a better Word of God to hear today than this one. This is a word to give sinners like us hope, a word to point us in the right direction, a word to say: whatever you have done, whatever regrets you have, you have a God who loves you. That is a word we need to hear, especially today, on our annual Sanctity of Life Service. It is a word we need to hear because all of us mess up life. We do.
For you see, sanctity of life is more than just a one weekend a year topic. It is Ground Zero in the battle between God and Satan, between God who believes every life is worth saving and Satan who believes every life is worth consuming. And this sanctity of life topic is more than just about abortion. It is about that, for millions of babies continue to be cut down at the very beginning of their lives. And the problem is getting worse with the advent of pills that abort babies the morning after they have been conceived, just like taking a couple of aspirin to get rid of a headache. These medical abortions may soon out pace and outnumber surgical ones, if they don’t already. And how dangerous are these? They certainly are to the life of the baby, but also sometimes to the physical, emotional and mental health of the mother. It is also dangerous to the spiritual health of the mother, for these pills are being advertised as a way to “prevent pregnancy” (which in this case is just a new, nice sounding way to say abortion) but, they say: “without judgment”. Without judgment. Well, not exactly. For there is a judgment coming for all people, for all of us who mess up life whether we like it or want it or not.
There’s no denying that’s a big problem. But as I said, there’s much more to be concerned about. Perhaps we could call it the “abortion mindset”, the continued, creeping mindset that has so infected people today that we have the ability to cut out of our lives those people we just don’t want in it, viewing life as disposable, valuing life by how valuable it is to me. There’s even a new phrase being used these days to reflect this cutting out of others from our lives: You’re dead to me. That’s more than just a new, clever phrase. In the context of this Sanctity of Life Service, that little phrase should send chills down your back. What are we doing? What are we saying? Where are we going with this mindset?
Consider all the life issues that plague our world today. Mercy killing is being extended and thought of as a viable option for more and more people of more and more ages and stages of life. Assisted suicide is now thought of as just a variant of that, the only difference being who is administering the lethal medicine. Genocide and ethnic hatred continues to produce great atrocities. There also continues to be the problems of human trafficking, sexual slavery, and more.
The bottom line is this: how do we look at ourselves and how do we look at each other? Is each and every person, no matter how small or how large, no matter how new or how old, no matter how frustrating or useful, no matter how frail or how strong, a life given by God and therefore precious to him, and thereby to us?
So I cannot think of a better Word of God to hear today than the words of John the Baptist who looked at Jesus and said: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
We’ve been thinking about how we look at other people, how we regard them. When John looked at Jesus, he saw more than just a man, he saw the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world. That phrase was a significant one to the people then. Lambs in the Old Testament were sacrificed on a daily basis to deal with sin. They are the reason why the Tabernacle and the Temple were established by God. The lambs sacrificed there were substitutes, graciously allowed by God to die in the place of the sinners who deserved to die for their sins. The people would confess their sin, see the death of their substitute, and give thanks to God for his mercy, love, and forgiveness for them, his mercy, love, and forgiveness that was not just an idea or a mental or “spiritual” thing, but which they saw very definitively and concretely when that lamb gave its life and shed its blood for them, so they could live.
Lambs had special meaning. Now, to be sure, sometimes that meaning was forgotten. At times, the people would forget the meaning of what was happening there and simply see the Temple liturgy as a ritual, and what they did as just going through the motions. But God didn’t forget. He didn’t forget that all those lambs being sacrificed in the Temple foreshadowed and pictured THE Lamb that was to come, THE Lamb who would not only take away the sin of this person or that person and a sacrifice that would have to be repeated time and time again but THE Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. All the sin of all people, ever. And for that Lamb you needed not only an animal, and not only a man, but God himself. Only God himself could provide and be such a sacrifice to do such an enormous thing.
So as we have been celebrating through the Christmas, Epiphany and now Lenten seasons: the Son of God came, was born as the man named Jesus, was the Immanuel: God with us, and now is revealed to us as the Lamb of God. And who he is, is what he will do.
Because when Jesus looked at you, he saw more than a sinner, he saw a life worth saving, a life worth loving, a life worth serving. You may not think you are worth that much, or even worth anything, but God disagrees. And quite frankly, HIS opinions matters more than yours! So if you are worth something to him, you are worth something. And what are you worth to him? The life of his Son, who came to trade his life for yours, who came to take the judgment for your sin and give you his forgiveness, who came so that God would not say “You’re dead to me” but that you would be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
What a world this would be if we could look at each other as God looks at us, if we could look at every person as a life worth the life of the Son of God, as a life worth laying down our lives for. The sanctity of life wouldn’t be a problem then, would it? Can we do that? Can we do that in this sinful world and as we live in this sinful flesh?
Well yes, we can begin to. Not perfectly, to be sure. But baptized into Jesus and given his Spirit and given his Word and learning of him and growing in him, yes, we begin to be like him. His Word and Spirit and forgiveness working in us are conforming us back into his image, the image lost in sin, but now restored to us in Jesus. So yes we begin to see as Jesus sees, love as he loves, serve as he serves, and do as he does. But we still have our moments, don’t we? We have those moments when we revert back to the old, back to the sinful, back to the selfish, back to the unacceptable in his sight. Those are moments when we see ourselves or others as bothers, as inconveniences to be avoided, as less than worthy of our time and effort, as just getting in the way, as wishing to be cut out of our lives.
Repent of that. Repent for thinking of yourself that way, for thinking of others that way, for living as if you had not been baptized into Jesus at all. See again the new life Jesus has given to you, the new life provided for you by the Lamb who took away your sin, who took away your old, who took away your death, and gave you something new, something better, something that will last beyond this world and life: himself. And he continues to give you himself. That new life begun in baptism continues in his absolution, is fed by his Body and Blood, and brings you to everlasting life. And not just you, but all people. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, you are not too far gone, you are not too sinful, for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
So have you had an abortion? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Have you remained silent and not confessed the sanctity of life? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you have guilt about decisions you have made and things you have done? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you think of yourself or others as worthless? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Have you failed to love, failed to serve, failed to forgive? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Have you made the lives of others bitter and hard by your words or deeds? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Have you not been dead to sin and alive in Christ? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Have you cut others out of your life, or wished they were? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you want to do better? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you want to know the love of God? “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
And on the last day, the Judgment Day, when you see the face of Jesus, you will see the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who gave you his life, for the sanctity of your life. You will see the Lamb of God, whose love for you will never end. Amen.