Preacher: Jeff Davidson Scripture: Matthew 25:31-40
January 31, 2021
The images that words convey to us change over time. There’s a movie from 1941 called “The Gay Falcon.” I’ve seen it on TCM a couple of times, and I like it. It stars George Sanders as Gay Laurence, a debonair and carefree amatuer detective. In 1943 one of the non-fiction best sellers of the year was “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. It’s the story of their fun and high-spirited adventures on a trip through Europe after college.
Those titles would have a very different meaning today. The primary meaning of the word “gay” has changed for us since the 1940’s. Then the first definition in the dictionary was probably about exuberance, being lively, being care free. Now those are secondary definitions, and the primary
definition in Webster’s is related to a sexual or romantic attraction to people of one’s own sex.
You wouldn’t have to look at a dictionary to know how the use of the word “gay” has changed in the culture, though. You’d just have to look at books and movies. Compare “The Gay Falcon” with Gay Laurence to the 2000 movie “Meet the Parents” where the resolution of the movie revolves
around Greg Focker trying to keep people from knowing that his first name is really Gaylord, which is of course shortened to Gay.
A couple of days ago the March for Life happened in DC, as it has every January since 1974. A lot of people missed it, because it wasn’t the usual mass gathering that it often is. There were still some people in from out of town, but because of COVID and the security restrictions in place right now it was much more a virtual event than it has been previously. During one of my interviews for a pastoral position a member of the search committee asked me if I was pro-life. I know what she probably meant; she was asking where I stood on abortion. I said that I supported the Church of the Brethren position, which is that “Human life is a gracious gift from God who loves us. The Church of the Brethren opposes abortion because the rejection of unborn children violates the love by which God creates and nurtures human life.” (1984 Church of the Brethren Statement of
That wasn’t enough, though. Being pro-life isn’t just about abortion. I thought of that when I read the Washington Post’s report of Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s words at the March for Life this year: Today we find ourselves hopelessly mired in defective excuses that now extend to other acts of brutality against the terminally ill and aging, the immigrant seeking a better life, against prisoners who may have committed heinous crimes but are still human beings… We tell ourselves that capital
punishment prevents crimes and that some horrible criminals deserve to die even as we continue to learn that too many convicted persons have been sentenced to death and later exonerated by DNA tests or whose very trials have been judged to be unfair or biased. The child. The elderly. The sick. The immigrant. The prisoner. Does any of that sound familiar? That’s the Bible. It goes beyond the verse we read earlier, but clearly that’s the Bible. Among others, those are the people who Jesus tells us to take care of. No, it’s not a surprise that a Roman Catholic archbishop is saying things that remind you of the Bible, but it is a reminder of how those two words, “pro-life” have taken on a different connotation over the years.
When you read a reference to the pro-life movement, how many of you think of that kind of a holistic approach to life? How many of you think of poor people, or sick people, or immigrants, or prisoners? I confess that I usually don’t. I should, but I don’t.
I should think of all of those categories of people because that’s what the Church of the Brethren teaches. That same Church of the Brethren statement I quoted earlier says: We recognize that our society contributes to unwanted pregnancies in many ways and gives too little care to those who must bear the consequences.
We recognize also our responsibility to work for a caring society that undergirds women who choose to carry pregnancies to full term, a caring society that treasures and nurtures all children, even the unborn, the unwanted, the unloved, a caring society that protects integrity of
conscience in decision-making in relation to pregnancy and child bearing while also acting to protect the unborn.
It says later:
We hold in love and will support those who choose to give birth to children, and the children themselves, as well as those who believe conscientiously they must terminate pregnancy. We acknowledge our lack of compassion, our judgmentalism, and other sinful attitudes that separate us from the love by which God calls and redeems us.
Over the years the words “pro-life” have taken on a different meaning than they used to have. Now they are used primarily to refer to abortion or abortion rights and access. They are sometimes used as shorthand for a particular kind of voter, for someone who’s very conservative socially and opposes not just abortion rights and access, but a broad range of rights for immigrants, for LGBTQ people, for Muslims or other religious minorities, and for others. That’s the shorthand. It’s probably too late culturally and politically to get away from that shorthand. It’s important to recognize, though, that for a Christian that’s not what being pro-life means. For a Christian, it means being “pro-lives.” Not just lives of the unborn, but the lives of those who have been born as well. Not just babies’ lives, but the lives of the elderly, the sick, the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant. Not just the lives of people in the United States, but the lives of people around the world.
Being pro-lives is about renouncing war and the tools of war. It’s about generosity and caring. It’s about recognizing our lack of compassion, our judgmentalism, and our sin. Our sin, not someone else’s.
A big piece of that for me is about judgmentalism. Judgmentalism, not just about people with whom I might otherwise agree, or people I might otherwise want to minister to, but towards those who strongly disagree with me. My judgmentalism towards people who have been radicalized by QAnon, or towards dictatorial and authoritarian regimes in other nations. My judgmentalism towards the wealthy who could do so much more to alleviate poverty and sickness but choose not to do so. My judgmentalism towards those who take advantage of peaceful protests for racial justice to riot, loot, and burn. My judgmentalism is not pro-life, and it is not pro-lives. Being pro-lives is at the core of what it means to live as a Christian, to do the things that Jesus wants us to do.
I like to wind up my sermons with some great rousing call to action, with some inspiring paragraph or line or something that fires you up and sends you on your way filled with energy. That’s not how this sermon ends, though. This sermon ends with me asking you to join me in considering what it means to be pro-life, what it means to be pro-lives, and what it means to follow Jesus. Those are the key questions in our lives today. Those are the key questions in a Christian’s life every day.