Posted on February 6th, 2014
Who is a human being? In America’s terrible history of slavery, some people were judged as less than human, and not accorded the basic dignity and rights that belong by nature to every member of our species, homo sapiens, man made in God’s image.
Who is a human being? In Germany’s terrible history of the holocaust, some people were judged as less than human, and not accorded the basic dignity and rights that belong by nature to every member of our species, homo sapiens, man made in God’s image.
Who is a human being? In modern America’s obsession with sexual excess, some children who naturally result from these unions are judged as less than human, and not accorded the basic dignity and rights that belong by nature to every member of our species, homo sapiens, man made in God’s image.
Last week, USA Today published a beautiful essay by Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie on how she became pro-life. She writes,
As a doctor I can tell you that no scientist questions the fact that a zygote, embryo, fetus and infant are all human beings in different stages of development. Those who believe in unrestricted abortion license do not acknowledge the conflicting right of the little human being, who might be unwanted, but is just as valuable and beautiful as a wanted child.
It is terribly easy to look back on America’s history with slavery and judge this country’s fathers. How could they regard African-Americans as less than human?
It is terribly easy to look back on Germany’s history of anti-Semitism and judge them. How could they regard the Jews as less than human?
It is terribly easy to look out on the supporters of abortion and judge them. How can they regard an unborn baby as less than human?
And then we look on our own treatment of others every day. In a thousand different ways, we look at the person in the next pew, the next car, the person in our way on the Metro escalator, the person kicking your seat on the airplane, the husband or wife with whom you no longer get along, and regard them as less than human.
Every sin of the second table, Commandments 4-10, is a sin that disregards the full humanity and dignity of others who are, like us, made in God’s image, and who are, also like us, fallen sinners struggling to survive in a broken, hostile world.
How many ways have you, this past week, already this morning, regarded others as less important than yourself, regarded their lives as less significant than your own? How many ways have you become sick and tired of dealing with the weaknesses and inadequacies of others?
About a year ago, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote an essay entitled “So what if abortion ends life?” Saying all life is not equal, Williams emphasizes autonomy:
A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.
That dream of autonomy is what drives us to treat others as less than human, as having less rights than me, as being less important than me. Autonomy literally means “self-law,” to be a law unto yourself. Autonomy is the devil’s lie: “You shall be as gods.”
When you judge others, you make yourself the law. When you condemn others, you make yourself the law. When you ignore others, disregard others, treat them as obstacles, regard them as burdens and annoyances, you make yourself the law.
Today, on the festival of St. Titus, we see that God is altogether unlike us. In the first reading for this festival, Acts 20:28-35, St. Paul tells pastors like Titus to “pay careful attention to [themselves] and to all the flock.” Why? The flock, the congregation, the holy church, “God … obtained with his own blood.” The blood of Jesus is the blood of God. Consider that carefully. Plant it into your heart. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on our human nature, our flesh and blood. The blood Jesus shed is the blood of God.
That’s how He cares for us. That’s how He loves us. That’s how He rescues us. That’s how He redeems us. He who is the Law and gives the Law becomes One of us, under the Law, suffering the penalty of the Law. For us lawless ones, who disregard others and treat them as objects to be used and discarded when they are no longer convenient, for us God sheds His blood.
St. Titus was a pastor of the early church, appointed by St. Paul himself. Thus on his festival, the Scriptures teach us about pastors, giving a special warning that there will be false teachers in the church, wolves who will twist the Scriptures and lead others astray. Some will make new laws and bind the conscience where God’s Word does not. Others will disregard God’s Word and will on things like marriage and family, or Baptism and Lord’s Supper. In all of these, the wolf substitutes for God’s Word human words and what is appealing.
So St. Paul gives to Titus and to us the most important thing, the thing we are to cling to above all else. He says, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace.” Grace—God’s free gift of a favorable disposition, of His love and compassion, forgiveness in Christ Jesus—that’s the one thing that matters in a vain world. When you lament that the politicians are corrupt, cling to the word of His grace. When your body aches with pains that will not heal, cling to the word of His grace. When your wife disregards you and treats you with contempt, cling to the word of His grace. When your career seems to be going nowhere, cling to the word of His grace.
And then, when God gives you prosperity, a nice house, a nice car, a terrific job and a beautiful wife and everything you could have wanted, then beware, lest you fall again into autonomy, becoming a law unto yourself, filled with pride. When all is well, then especially, cling to the word of His grace.
In fact, we could define the Church that way: the Church is those who repent of their autonomy and cling to God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
And what do we do, who cling to God’s grace? Give it away. As St. Paul instructs both Titus and us today, “We must help the weak.”
We are surrounded by people who need our help. You live with them, you work with them, you go to church with them. This is what we do, this is what our vocations call us to: helping the weak.
We must help the weak first by repenting of our selfishness.
We must help the weak by speaking for the defenseless – the unborn child, the infirm widow.
We must help the weak by educating children who would otherwise fall prey to soul-destroying schools.
We must help the weak by supporting the local crisis pregnancy center.
We must help the weak by forgiving sins as we wish ours to be forgiven.
We must help the weak by welcoming the difficult, the different, the strange, the abused, the lonely into our church.
It begins anew this morning by acknowledging that we are weak. Our bodies are weak, soon to die. Our souls are weak, quick to despair. Our wills are weak, quick to compromise. Our ears are weak, too eager to take in gossip. Our eyes are weak, too quick to take in impure images. Our tongues are weak, too swift to slander. Our prayers are weak, spoken without confidence.
But today, the Lord comes again to us weak men and says, “I will be your strength.” He comes to the weak of body and says, “I have trampled down death by My death; I will be your life.” He comes to the sinner and says, “I will be your righteousness.” He comes to the anxious and says, “I will be your comfort.” He comes to the fatherless and says, “My Father will be your Father.”
This is what compelled Him to become incarnate. In the divine counsel of the Holy Trinity, God said, “We must help the weak.” And thus the Logos, the Word, made Himself weak as an infant, taking on the weakness of our mortal nature.
The Father sent His Son to the blind and said, “We must help the weak,” and blind Bartimaeus recovered his sight.
The Father sent His Son to the deaf and said, “We must help the weak,” and the deaf heard the Good News.
The Father sent His Son to the sexually impure and said, “We must help the weak,” and the prostitute anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears became virginal again.
The Father sent His Son to the corrupt and said, “We must help the weak,” and Zacchaeus restored what he had defrauded and gave away his treasure.
The Father sent His Son to the rebels and said, “We must help the weak,” and to the penitent thief Paradise was opened.
On this festival of St Titus, the Lord again says to us, “We must help the weak,” and we weak men say, “This we desire, help us, as we cling to Your Word of grace.” +INJ+
Preached at Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA on the Feast of St. Titus, January 26, 2014.