Sunday, January 16, 2011

Compassion for The Offensive & The Sanctity of Human Life

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation creating a special day to focus on the sanctity of human life and the fundamental right to life.  National Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is held on the Sunday in January which falls closest to the day on which the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions were handed down by the United States Supreme Court.  That date was January 22, 1973. ("Sanctity of Human Life Sunday," in Save-A-Life of Montgomery, Inc., Volume 26, Issue 1 [January 2011], p. 1.)
Save-A-Life of Montgomery, Inc.
I am very thankful for Save-A-Life of Montgomery, Inc., because it has been through interaction with their staff and volunteers that I have been challenged to give special thought to the tragic issue of abortion.  The January newsletter, from which I quoted above, challenges local ministries to make plans for celebrating the Sanctity of Human Life. Our home church, Trinity Pres, along with other local churches have given special attention to this special day.  Since I am regularly preaching in a rural church outside of town and had been afforded the privilege of preaching today, I gave some thought this past week to the subject of the sanctity of human life.

Mark 6:30-34
The text I prepared to preach this morning was Mark 6:30-34.  This text does not speak directly to the issue of abortion or the sanctity of life, but I did find an interesting, and I believe appropriate, way of bridging the text to my reflections on the sanctity of life.  Here's what I found and shared with our people this morning.

Mark 6:30-34 draws the story of the first missionary venture of the disciples to a close while introducing the account of Jesus feeding the 5000.  The apostles returned to Jesus exhausted yet exuberant.  While telling him all that they had done and taught, Jesus recognized their need to rest and responded to them by calling them away from the crowds.  After setting out on the boat to find a desolate place, the people from the surrounding towns recognized their direction and went ahead to meet them.  What was expected to have been a desolate and quiet place turned out to be filled with another crowd of people.

Jesus Teaches Us How to Respond to Those Who are Offensive
At this point, Jesus becomes the center of the story and his response to the unexpected crowd is what arrested my attention.  "When he went ashore he saw a great crowd and he had compassion on them" (emphasis mine). In his excellent commentary on this Gospel, James Edwards notes that there are four occurrences of "compassion" in Mark's Gospel.  These occurrences are not used with reference to friends or compatriots, but rather to “those far removed and even offensive: lepers (Mk. 1:41), revolutionaries [5000 Jews] (Mk. 6:34), Gentiles (Mk. 8:2), and demon-possessed (Mk. 9:22)” (p. 230, emphasis mine).

Mark 10:14 should also be noted in this regard.  Although the term "compassion" does not appear here, the disciples' rebuke directed toward those bringing children to Jesus illustrates a form of offense, and Jesus' indignant retort and acceptance of the children illustrates, again, his compassion for those who are "far removed and even offensive."

In Mark 6: 34, Jesus shows the disciples how to respond to those who are offensive, or shall we say, inconvenient.  The disciple is to accept the interruptions, inconveniences, problems, and even sufferings of life as a part of his/her calling.

Applying Jesus' Example of Compassion to the Sanctity of Human Life
I understand that by law the decision to abort an unborn child resides with the will and/or desire of the mother. Reasons given for choosing to have an abortion include: trauma, handicap of the child, social affects, economical situation, and the health of the mother (AbortionFacts.com). In other words, our society has decided that life and death is something we have the right to control. If it is an inconvenience to us our our family, if it is untimely, an interruption, or a problem we’d rather do without, our laws say that that the decision is ours.

It once was the case that many Pro-Lifers thought that the development of ultrasound technology would finally give the window into the womb that would solve the question of personhood, but sadly the technology has come yet our society is still unmoved (see R. C. Sproul's discussion of this subject here). Still, although many have come to accept that these unborn babies are truly persons, the choice is given to the mother to decide whether or not the child will live. Many professing Christian doctors have either skewed Scripture in order to justify their murderous practice, or have claimed that they are personally pro-life, but publicly pro-choice (see John Piper's discussion of this subject here). They have effectively severed the sacred from the secular and are seeking to live an unscriptural, schizophrenic sort of a life. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.

The Bible clearly teaches us that both the giving and taking of life are God’s prerogative only. For instance:
Psalm 139:14-16
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
The Church Must Serve as an Advocate for the Unborn Children
This past weekend I took up the challenge to spend some time giving special attention to the cause of the unborn.  I flipped through John Piper's book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, and found a chapter titled, "Brothers, Blow the Trumpet for the Unborn" (pp. 211-27).  This was a very helpful essay which answers the major objections to the Pro-Life position as well as providing a strong biblical foundation for the Pro-Life viewpoint.  I would encourage you to read this chapter, or go to the Desiring God website and search for articles and sermons on Abortion.  There is a wealth of excellent information to be found there.

It is all too often the case with unborn children that he or she has no one who cares for them as a human being, as one who desperately needs an advocate, a helper, a friend. When so many foes are gathered against them to destroy them because they are untimely and inconvenient, the Church collectively and Christians individually need to be standing in the gap, having compassion on them. We need to be pleading with mothers, no matter how they have arrived in their present situation of pregnancy, to let God have his way and embrace the God-made human life they are carrying and nurturing.  There are plenty of options other than abortion with which God will be pleased.  And as much as is possible, we, the community of faith, need to embrace these unwanted children for God's sake.  This is the way Jesus taught his disciples to respond to the inconveniences of the unwanted, even the offensive (thinking especially of those children who are aborted because of some handicap).  God help us to follow in His steps!

I have a lot more to learn about this issue, and I will be seeking out ways to be involved in the fight and to encourage our people to be involved in the fight. If you know of any other helpful resources that we should consider, please leave a note in the comments.

May we be a people (a Church) that give heed to the cries of the unborn! May we do our part as we petition the Lord our Maker to…
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the rights of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
(Psalm 82:3-4)

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