Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Wyoming, MI

Check out out Fr. Mike’s written sermon below....

Sermon: Our Lives Are Not Sound-Bytes

the Rev. Mike Wernick                                                                                                                                  June 26, 2022

Year C

1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21

Psalm 16

Galatians 5:1,13-25

 

Luke 9:51-62

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

Today’s Epistle and Gospel are about freedom and commitment… Paul writes that Christ has set us free for freedom…  and that we’re to use our freedom to become slaves to one another… and that if we’re led by the Spirit… then we’re freed from the Law…  and this seems kind of paradoxical… because in many ways… when we’re free… we have no constraints…  so how can we be slaves to one another…  ] and when we’re fully committed to something… we’re not free to make other choices…

And we want to be free… we don’t want anyone telling us what to do… impinging on our sense of agency… but there are still many things we do…  and many things we may not do…  which are decided by others…  or by outdated laws or social convention…  so in Christ…  what are we freed from doing…  and what are we free to do…

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel…  The Handmaid’s Tale…  is a story which takes place in the Republic of Gilead…  a totalitarian and theocratic state in what was formerly part of New England…  and which was formed in the wake of declining fertility rates… the republic enslaves and forces fertile women to bear the children of the Republic’s elite… and in doing so…  forbidding women many of the freedoms they enjoyed…  at first…  they are sent to the Red Center…  where they are inculcated into Gilead’s ideology…  about how women should be subservient to men and be concerned with nothing more than bearing children…  and being beaten when they resist…  they are then assigned to the infertile families of Gilead’s elite…  and renamed…  the main character of Atwood’s novel is Offred…  which is really Of Fred…  indicating the man to whom she belongs… at least until she conceives and bears a child for him and his wife…  and once a month…  during The Ceremony…  the Commander reads the Biblical passage in which God commands the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply…  and Offred is then ritually raped…  while his wife sits behind her…  holding her down…  both of them praying that Offred becomes pregnant and bears what in their minds…  is the wife’s child…  a child borne through violence…

And throughout history…  women have borne children…  and have aborted them…  and what has tied these two together…  is choice…  choosing to become a mother…  or being forced to become one against one’s will… and in our public discourse…  as we have done with so many other issues…  we have reduced this highly complex…  moral…  medical…  and spiritual decision into two…  woefully inadequate sound bytes…  pro-choice…  and pro-life…

The positions of the ELCA and The Episcopal Church on this matter are virtually identical…  and Presiding Bp. Elizabeth Eaton reminds us that in church teaching…  there are no exclusive rights in pregnancy…  a pregnant woman does not have an exclusive right to abort a fetus at all points during the pregnancy… and a developing life does not have an exclusive right to be born…  the concern for both the life of the woman and the developing life in her womb expresses a mutual commitment to life…  this requires that we move beyond the usual pro-life vs. pro-choice language in discussing abortion…  Eaton reminds us that this church does not support abortion as a normative form of birth control…  but rather understands it as necessary in some morally responsible circumstances…  that this church does not condone late-term abortions except in extreme circumstances which must be determined by the individuals and their medical caregivers…  acknowledges that individuals and religious traditions hold divergent viewpoints over when life begins…  and that these divergent views are not only scientific…  but also biblical and cultural…  and the ELCA’s social statement acknowledges these ethical ambiguities and holds that “the closer the life in the womb comes to full term…  the more serious such [moral] issues become.” In other words…  there are no easy answers… 

In his own statement supporting this decision…  Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that…  In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due-process precedents…  these precedents arise in part from the Fourteenth Amendment which affirmed equal protection under the law…  and came about in response to issues faced by former slaves after the Civil War…  and by turning this decision back to the states on Friday…  women no longer have equal protection under the law…

And some due-process precedents which are now at risk…  include the right of married couples to buy birth control (the 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut)…  the prohibition of states from criminalizing consensual sex (the 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas)…  and the right of same-gender couples to marry (the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges)…  interestingly…  Justice Thomas… who’s married to a white woman…  failed to include another substantive due-process case for possible review…  the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia…  which protects interracial marriage…

And so I wonder…  how do we reconcile the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade…  motivated by a commitment to protect life…  with its decision that very same day…  to strike down a New York state law…  which will make it easier to carry concealed weapons in the nation’s most populous city…  thereby making it more likely that other lives will be lost…  in one day…  relaxing regulations on guns…  and tightening regulations on women… 

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to Jerusalem…  I came across a quote years ago by the German philosopher Goethe that has stuck with me… part of it says…  Until one is committed…  there is hesitancy…  the chance to draw back…  always ineffectiveness… it’s in the moment we definitely commit ourselves…  that providence moves too…  and the commitment which Jesus made in coming…  was irrevocably tied to his leaving…  and so with Jesus as our exemplar…  what kind of commitments are we called to make… and do they incorporate our baptismal vows…

One of the men said…  I will follow you wherever you go… and Jesus’ response about foxes and birds is telling…  because those who follow Jesus…  will feel less “at home” with established conventions…  and will begin to see that…  if anyone is in Christ…  there is a new creation…  in Luke 14:26…  Jesus said…  Whoever comes to me…  and does not love their family…  and yes…  even life itself…  less than they love me…  cannot be my disciple…  so the man who said…  Let me first say goodbye to those at home…  may have been on the fence about this commitment…  may have wanted to get his family’s approval… like Elisha may have…  but it’s our commitment…  made as best as we are able…  ]  seeking permission reduces personal responsibility… because if things don’t work out… we always have someone to blame…

 Pastor Liv Larson Andrews…  of Salem Lutheran Church writes…  No one who [ fill in the blank ] is fit for the kingdom…  Ouch…  this sentence has been completed by so many preachers and theologians over the centuries who have sought to define what is central to the practice of our faith…  what does following Jesus look like…  it’s an essential question…  but it has also been bent by hatred…  and levied in harmful…  even violent ways…  to the detriment of the kingdom…  that pain and hurt is [ still ] in the air when we read texts of judgment such as this…  it’s true that sometimes a boundary needs to be set…  but Jesus has the capacity to cross every boundary and work even among those with whom we can’t keep fellowship… 

For freedom…  Christ has set you free… and as we follow Jesus…  as we move into this new freedom…  which itself is free of the constraints we impose with our limited perspectives…  as we figure out where we go from here…  we must ask what frees us…  and what constrains us…  and what keeps us from setting our faces to Jerusalem…  maybe not the way Jesus did… but from living into the Gospel as fully as we’re able…  and allows each one of us to make the choices we feel best for us…  instead of having them made for us…  against our will…  you see…  peacemaking is about a revolution of love that is big enough to free us from imposing our ideologies on others…  and free from ideologies which impinge on us… a love that can set both the oppressed and the oppressors free…  Holy God…  make it so…