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Anglicans for Life Reflections for July Lectionary

June 30, 2014

Each month Anglicans for Life publishes a Lectionary Life App that includes reflections on the Sunday Lectionary readings that focus on the Sanctity of Life.  For July, I wrote reflections for each Sunday.  They are published below.  You can sign up to receive the Lectionary Life App each month here.

Sunday July 6th  Readings: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Genesis 24:67

As a seminarian, I learned immediately from Dr. Erika Moore, my Old Testament professor, that “context is king.”  And as with my own preaching and teaching, I’m sure that lesson reverberates in your ministry of the word.  Each passage of Scripture we interpret has a literary, historical and theological context in which it has been weaved by its author. The context shines a light on the meaning and message of any text.

Each young woman who considers abortion has a relational, familial, spiritual and cultural context in which she lives that informs this seminal decision to keep or abort her child.  Similarly, each person and family facing end-of-life care decisions has a context for their hopes and fears.  Folks don’t come to these crisis-decisions in a vacuum, and I think God has placed pastors in positions to inform the larger context of people’s lives with a value on the sanctity of life.

A foundational building block of that context of life is inviting God’s presence and guidance in all stages of life and all of our relationships.  The hand of God in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah illustrates his thoughtfulness and passion for family and bringing a man and woman together for love, comfort and life.  We know in the Biblical stories that things are rarely sunshine and lollipops, but here is a moment of God revealing himself in initiating the marriage bond.  It gives Isaac comfort after saying “Goodbye” to his mother Sarah. The event of their union in marriage exists in the larger context of God’s story of redemption. 

This recognition of God’s hand in life is such a contrast to the circumstances that bring mothers to have abortions.  Abortion rejects the reality of the role God plays in life. The same ignorance of God’s presence and eternal purpose leaves people in despair without comfort in the face of suffering and/or death.

I believe that the peace and rest that Jesus gives comes not only from his presence in us but also from the relationships he develops between us and others in the family of God, especially our own families.  It is among the context of our Christian brothers and sisters that we are guided by his gentle, easy yoke into comfort, rest, wisdom, strength and hopefulness.  We promote the sanctity of life, as we promote relationships among believers.  We create the context for life-affirming decisions, as we encourage our congregations to invite the Lord into every relationship and activity of our lives.  This dynamic fuels a Christian imperative to continually invite the lonely and lost into this context of a loving Christian family that affirms life. 

Finally, the conclusion of this Sunday’s text from Paul’s letter to the Romans offers profound hope and promise for women and men who have chosen abortion and those suffering end-of-life challenges.  He writes, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a)  No matter whether we have been doers of evil and/or victims of evil…Jesus Christ saves us, redeems us and gives us new life in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Amen! 

Sunday July 13th Readings: Genesis 25:19-34 & Psalm 119:105-112 or Isaiah 55:10-13 & Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 

The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. Genesis 25:22

Rebekah voices her struggle of carrying twins in her womb.  Her plea seems relevant to so many who have an unexpected pregnancy or who face suffering from illnesses or injuries.  The answer that comes from the darkness often is something like, “It would be better to be dead.” Or, “Everything is ruined.”  Or, “There is no hope now.”  I wonder how many in our congregations are facing or will face a life dilemma that leads them to wonder, “Why do I live?” 

Rebekah responds by coming out of herself and inquiring of the Lord.  The Lord reveals the truth of the twins, Esau and Jacob, and shares a vision of their lives.  This prophetic insight from the Lord must have encouraged Rebekah with the awareness that God heard her cry and was aware of her plight.  She must have been strengthened to know God was involved in her children’s lives already and would be in the future.

There are two mindsets demonstrated in the story of Rebekah.  We see her mind—the mind of the flesh; we also see the mind of the Lord—a sovereign, loving and caring mind of the Spirit that gives a higher, eternal perspective.  Paul sums up this dichotomy by saying, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)

Even in a person’s most trying, overwhelming moments, like when we face the consequences of a foolish decision or a terminal illness is diagnosed, the mind set on the Spirit will have “life and peace.” This mind of peace comes from the word God speaks to us.  Scripture tells us that his word is life to us.  He speaks peace to his people.  For those who come to him in Christ, no matter from where, he accepts them, because, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) What a great promise to offer those who feel like they have ruined their life or done something terrible.

Let us always be praying that those who listen to our preaching, teaching or counseling will have soft, fertile hearts that will accept and guard God’s word, so that it will accomplish its purpose and produce a harvest of life and peace.

Sunday, July 20th Readings: Genesis 28:10-19a & Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 & Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place– and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17) 

The Lord confirms to Jacob the promises that he made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, including the promise, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  Jacob has seen the vision of the stairway between heaven and earth and recognizes that God is present in that place.  In the narrative of Jacob’s life, we will never see him abandoned by God, even though he later describes his life to Pharaoh, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.” (Genesis 47:9)  God continues to reveal his presence and providence in Jacob’s life.  Jacob experienced an ongoing connection between heaven and earth.

Through the work of Jesus by the grace of God, Paul assures us that those who have believed in Jesus and received him have received the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son.  By that Spirit, we know that we are his children, and we know he is with us.  Through the Holy Spirit, we not only dwell in the place of God; we become the place where God dwells.  Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:14-17) 

Jesus tells his disciples that evil will continue to exist in the world, and the evil one will sow his seed and grow his weeds.  Jesus suffers this evil for a while.  He promises that at the proper time, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:41-43) 

Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit and all of creation, including ourselves, groan for the coming of that time when evil is discharged from creation and all things are renewed for the glory of God.  This glory will overshadow any hardships we have suffered during our pilgrimage on earth.  In the meantime, we can have the assurance, as we go through any trials, that God is our “Abba, Father,” and he is with us to bring us into his kingdom.

I think we, as preachers, have a calling and anointing from God to encourage people to have courageous faith that overcomes the fears that can rise up to undermine the sanctity of life.  Too many members of our congregations are led by their fears and anxieties and a desire to avoid suffering rather than being led by the Holy Spirit.  The same is true for us.  I think it is important for us to demonstrate courage in challenging, even confronting, listeners about whom they follow—the Spirit of the Lord or fear.

 

Sunday July 27th Readings: Genesis 29:15-28 & Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 or 1 Kings 3:5-12 &  Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 

In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

As we continue to read through Genesis, we come to the marriage of Jacob to Leah and then Rachel.  Jacob loved Rachel, and the seven years working to have her went by quickly.  When he awoke the morning after his wedding party, he found that he had consummated a marriage to Leah.  That for which he longed and worked seemed to have been taken from him and replaced with something he didn’t want. 

An unexpected or unplanned pregnancy is often referred to as an “unwanted” pregnancy that is another way of saying “unwanted child” in the womb.  The unwanted child may be something that threatens the desired path of the mother’s and/or father’s life.  It may seem like a hindrance to reaching their dreams or having “their best life now.”  Too often, the Western church’s message is that with God you can have your dreams and reach your goals and have all that you want.  If that is how we interpret God’s mission in our lives, then fulfilling that can justify getting rid of something that hinders its attainment—like an “unwanted pregnancy” or a debilitated loved one.

We see in the wonderful text of Romans that God’s goal is not making our dreams and wishes come true.  His goal for our lives is that we become conformed to the image of his Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  The image of Jesus Christ is self-sacrificial love.  Through self-sacrificial love, God fulfills his purpose of making Jesus the “firstborn within a large family.”  Therefore, God does not let anything stop him from loving people.  He desires to love them into his family through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

Jacob accepted Leah as his wife, and then he received Rachel as his wife also.  He had to work seven for years for Laban.  Leah, the wife Jacob did not expect and did not want, gave Jacob six sons, including Judah from whose tribe Jesus was born.  He received blessings of sons from both Leah and Rachel. 

An unplanned pregnancy that becomes an accepted and loved child can become the best blessing of a mother’s and family’s lives.  God promises to be present “to help us in our weakness.” He gives the Holy Spirit to us, and Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  When we sacrifice our self-serving ambitions, dreams or treasures for the sake of loving and serving God and others, he will cause it to work for our good according to his purpose of conforming us to the image of Jesus. 

The gospel reading mixes metaphors for the kingdom of God that can also serve as analogies to babies conceived in the womb and growing.  Like the kingdom of God, at conception a baby is the size of a mustard seed, and like the kingdom it grows to life and can become a blessing to those who love it.  Jesus also compares the kingdom to a treasure in a field and a pearl of great price.  When it is found, it becomes the greatest treasure of the one who values it.  A child, planned or unplanned, can become a family’s greatest treasure—if accepted and loved, whether given for adoption for love’s sake or kept for love’s sake.  God is present to help us with the greatest force in the universe—his unconquerable love.

PRAYER FOR LIFE

 Lord God, thank You for creating human life in Your image.
Thank You for my life and the lives of those I love.
Thank You for teaching us through Scripture the value You place on life.
Help me to uphold the sanctity of life in my church and community.
Give me the strength to stand up to those forces
that seek to destroy the lives of those most vulnerable,
the unborn, the infirm and the elderly.
Today I commit myself never to be silent, never to be passive, never to be forgetful of respecting life.
I commit myself to protecting and defending the sacredness of life
according to Your will, through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
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