[delivered on January 19, 2019]
Good afternoon. I am Pastor Timothy Winterstein from Faith Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee, a congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Thanks, Gene, for inviting me. What a great privilege it is to be with you today, as we pray and trust God in Jesus Christ as our only hope in life and death.
I am six years younger than Roe v. Wade, which means that I and my younger siblings have always lived under its death-shadow. I was probably 10 or 12 when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the Washington March for Life in Olympia, where I grew up. I remember asking my mom, “What is abortion?” and from that moment on, there was no doubt in my mind that legal and unlimited abortion was a tragedy unlike nearly any that we have seen in this world.
The question for us gathered here and around the country this weekend, as we approach the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, is not whether that event is a nearly unfathomable disgrace and stain on the fabric of the United States of America—we have no doubt about that—but what to do about it.
As much as we would like to see that Supreme Court decision overturned, it does not—at least to me—seem likely in the immediate future. And even if it were to be overturned, that would not erase the need for Christians and any others who hate the devaluing of life to continue the work for mothers, children, and fathers that has been given us to do at this time and in this place.
As a Christian and a pastor, I am first of all concerned with what the Church has to do. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, her savior, then the Church’s work flows from what Christ has done and does. One early Christian from the second century, named Irenaeus, said this about Christ’s work: “For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children…and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children…[even] an old man for old men. … Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be ‘the first-born from the dead.’”1
Jesus’ own body, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit from Mary’s body, was once a tiny “clump of cells,” as they say. It was just that tiny when His cousin John, six months old inside his mother’s womb, jumped for joy when Mary greeted Elizabeth. He knew that his Lord was there, even as an embryo. Our Lord was there, even as a fetus, even as a newborn, even as an infant, even as a child. He is Savior and Lord for all people, at all times, in all circumstances, whether they are inside the womb or out, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, disabled, elderly, bed-ridden in hospital beds and nursing homes, from conception to natural death. So let the Church be the Body of Christ wherever there are Christians and wherever there is sin and death: mercy for all, just as Christ has had mercy on us; love for all, even as Christ has loved us; forgiveness for all, even as Christ has forgiven us.
And though Christians believe that because the Son of God took on flesh and lived, died, and rose from the dead to put an end to death, the value we understand life to have is not, in itself, a Christian, or even a religious, issue. Human life has value because it is human, not because it is helpful, or contributes, or reaches an intellectual milestone, or fits any other judgment that we may artificially or arbitrarily assign it. Any time we—who were once ourselves in the vulnerable position of being inside a womb—claim for ourselves the ability to destroy other life, it cannot be long until we find ourselves under the same judgment from other people, for whatever reasons they decide are valid. We know all too well—especially in the light of the last century, or the last 46 years—what happens when humans are given authority to decide which other humans are deserving of life.
Because the fact of our shared humanity is not something in which only Christians are interested, we call on our duly elected authorities to have not a conservative definition of life, but a liberal one—the most liberal definition of life possible, one that is constantly being liberalized and expanded to include any and all under the protections of the law.
This world, as it is, will never be a completely safe place for the vulnerable, including mothers in crisis pregnancies, infants in the womb, and the aged in nursing homes. So it is up to us, according to each of our individual vocations, as parents, pastors, governing authorities, citizens, family, and friends, to do whatever is within our power to fight for the helpless and the voiceless, to give any and all help to women who need resources and care, whether they care for their own children or allow others by adoption to do so.
Evil will not be eradicated from this earth until the Lord returns to restore all things and heal all wounds in the Resurrection. Until then, it seems unlikely that evil will be combated effectively from the highest levels of political compromise. While not neglecting our civic and political duty, let us all work in our own families, in our own churches, in our own neighborhoods, to do whatever is given to each one of us as we do the sometimes hard work of love toward anyone who needs it from us. It seems much more likely to me that, while we want bad laws and bad judicial decisions overturned, we will continue (and we have already done much) by slow, deliberate, hard, and personal work to kick holes of light in the culture of death and darkness, which sometimes seems insurmountable.
But it is not insurmountable. It is not hopeless. It is not a foregone conclusion, no matter what the agents of the culture of death would have us believe. Because we who are Christians work always in the Light of the World, who is risen from the dead. Because death did not have the last word over Him, it cannot have the last word in His creation. Death is not Lord over Him or over us. He is Lord of life and death and He is our Lord. And He is victorious. The Light has come into the world, and the darkness cannot overcome or extinguish it. In His Light, we know the victory has already been won. And we work for the spread of that victory here and now.