Let Us Follow Him Who Is Life - Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Mark 1:14-20
January 24, 2021

The Gospel reading for today relates the episode in Jesus’s life where He called Simon, his brother Andrew, and James and John to follow Him. One day Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee. He saw Simon, whom He would later rename Peter, and Andrew casting their nets into the Sea. They must not have been very far from shore. He called out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of human beings” (Mark 1:17). Jesus then walked on a little farther. He saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in their boat with their father, mending their nets. He called them also to follow Him.

The response? They left everything and followed Jesus.

We could talk a lot about the response, but there is one thing basic that we must say. There was no response without the call. Without the call, the response would not exist. The response depends entirely upon the call, upon the One who calls. It is the power and authority of this One who calls that generates the response. Thus, the call does not wait for any vindication, verification, or ratification from the world or any human wisdom for its legitimacy. The One who calls answers to no one. The followers answer to Him. But this is manifest and exercised not by imposition of shear force or physical power, but by truth and mercy, and hearts, and wills, and minds captured by the goodness, truth, and mercy of the One who calls.

Now since the response is nothing without the One who calls, let’s talk about the One who calls. Let’s talk about this today taking into account a combination of Epiphany, the revelation of the Son of God to the world, and life Sunday. And in connection to life Sunday, I an going to offer some thinking about abortion.

It is estimated that there have been 1.7 billion abortions worldwide since 1973. That is more than 20% of the current population of the world. There have been upwards of 63 million abortions in the United States. That is truly staggering. It is also a significant fact of history that abortion was first legalized by a government in modern history by the Bolsheviks in 1920 after they had seized power in Russia pursuant to their Marxist revolution.

As we are in the early weeks of Epiphany, Christmas was not that long ago, Christmas being the celebration of the birth of God’s Son in human flesh. Today we hear how the man, Jesus, stood on the beach and called Simon, Andrew, James, and John. This man Jesus had a history. This history included the process of human birth, including conception and development in the womb. Conception was a part of His history as much as the day of His birth, the day of His circumcision (Luke 2:21), the day He was the 12 year old boy in the temple (Luke 2:41 ff), the day He was the full grown man embarking on His mission as the Savior.

If conception had not been part of his history, then nothing else that was part of His history would have been either. If another event had intervened between the day of conception and the day of His birth to terminate His life in the womb, then His history would have also been terminated. There would have been no man on the beach calling. There would have been no Redeemer taking the wrath of God away from us in His redeeming sacrifice on the cross. There would have been no Savior taking the victory in His hands on the third day in Resurrection. There would be no easter. The loss would have been incalculable.

But that is what abortion is. It is a termination of life. It is a denial of human history; it is a profound negation. It is a denying of its victims the opportunity to live their history, the history God intends. It is a denial of the opportunity to its victim to live a history of contribution to the human story, as God intends. Abortion is incalculable.

Certain political ideology argues that abortion must be defended as a fundamental human right. But it, in fact, violates the most fundamental human right of all: the opportunity to live. And with the denial of this opportunity, it brings incalculable loss to humanity, and to the human beings involved in it. The right to live must precede politics.

But it is amazing how strong political ideology can be. How could rational people, purportedly defending human rights, think such a thing; that the right to terminate life is a fundamental right; that a right to a negation of life can be a good?

We need healing of reason today so that it is used for life, for humanization, not to justify death of the innocent for some lesser good; a good of less value than the innocent life terminated to obtain it. We need the healing of reason to humanize, not to dehumanize.  Abortion dehumanizes.

Back to Jesus’s life. I have been thinking about a verse in Luke’s Gospel that comes immediately after the end of the Christmas story. At the end of the Christmas story we read: “And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God because of all the things they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” (Luke 2:20). In the very next verse, we read this: “And when the eight days were fulfilled for [the baby Jesus] to be circumcised, He was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). He was named by God before He was conceived in the womb.

Naming involves personhood. It does so because the name identifies a human being specifically. As you are named, you are not some indeterminate something or other. You are not some vague, generic, indeterminate flesh. You are you, the specific human being you are. You are a person.

We see this with Jesus. But the thing to see here is that He had a name at conception. He was a person at conception. And as the Son of God became flesh, He identifies with us, so we can identify with Him. So too every human being has personhood in God’s sight at the time of conception. God knows each one of us as who each one of us is, even before our conception. And He uses our conception to make us in the womb, as God’s word says: “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

Can it be any wonder, therefore, that abortion as a fundamental political right goes hand in hand with the removal of God from a functioning worldview. It goes hand in hand with secularization. Jesus was a person before conception, because He was known by God as the specific person He was. When God is gone from view, from basic human faith, then the innocent lose a most basic protection. Real basic human rights become subject to politics and political ideology.

A right to death cannot be a human right. It may be a political right, but it is not a human right. Political rights cannot establish human rights. Thinking that political rights can establish human rights is a reversal of the way it must be if we really want human rights. Human dignity comes first, and it is given by God. Political rights are meant to recognize that human dignity and defend it. Death of the innocent, as a right, cannot bring the good and sustain civil society. This is true at the beginning of life. This is also true at the end of life. Abortion as a fundamental right is self-defeating, for the aborted baby girl is deprived of that right. Abortion is a contradiction.

We come back to the One who calls us to follow. The One who calls is Life. He created human life. He sustains human life. He creates human life through conception and the development in the womb. He has given to woman this supremely high calling. He was Himself conceived and developed in the womb and was born. He has redeemed human life. He is the resurrection and the life. Death imposed on the innocent as a human right is contrary to His being and His mission; it is also inconsistent for His people, who are shaped by Him as the One who calls.

Having said all that, we must also says this. The One who calls also went to a cross. He paid there the penalty for all transgression, including even the deeds done under the delusion of a political ideology of death, even for the deed of abortion. For the woman caught in the terror of conscience over this, there is complete forgiveness in the One who calls us to follow. His love and compassion bring calming and soothing salve and medicine to the pain. Part of being a sinner in this world can involve being under the spell of strong political ideology that is present in the world, in human society, and acting accordingly, being under this spell until one’s eyes are opened.

To be rescued from this unto life, we are redeemed by the One who is life, who entered into the death our wickedness deserves, to put that death to death, and to arise out of it with life that conquers death. He arises out of it with the message of pardon and peace, complete forgiveness, and the sure hope of life arising victorious over death. He calls, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This call to make fishers of men is going the way of life. His call says, “Leave it all behind, and trust me to make it right in the end. I will do it.” And hearing His call, we leave all and follow Him. Let us follow Him who is life. Let us follow Him in His forgiveness, peace, and strength. Amen.


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