June 26, 2022 – Third Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 7:1-2, 11-20 and Luke 9:51-62
Rev. TJ Mack – Union Congregational Church of Hancock
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. 15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the mighty waters,
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to prepare for his arrival, 53 but they did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This morning some of you may be uncomfortable with my topic. I will be talking about reproductive freedoms, reproductive rights, reproductive justice, which includes but is not limited to abortion. I encourage you to stay and listen, here in the sanctuary or online. If abortion is a trigger issue for you, I can assure you that there will be no condemnation for past decisions to have a child or to not have a child. I can assure you that I approach this topic with sensitivity. I can assure you that I understand that we do not all think alike on this issue or any other issue. I can assure you that I do not intend to tell you what to think or what to believe. What I do intend to do is relate the current reproductive rights and freedoms and justice issues to our scriptures and to my understanding of the question, “What would Jesus do?”. If you are unable to stay and listen now, I encourage you to find a time when you feel safe and watch the recording, read the printed text, or invite me into a conversation with you. Whatever you choose to do, the decision is yours, and I respect it.
Please pray with me… Holy and Loving God, be present with us now and throughout the days and weeks ahead. Open our hearts and minds to you – and to one another. Amen
Let’s view the issue of reproductive rights through the lens of our two scriptures that we heard this morning.
We began with a Psalm from our Hebrew Scriptures. When these scriptures were written, thousands of years ago, science had not yet informed our understanding of the Universe.
Our Psalmist cries out to be heard by God. Our Psalmist exclaims with awe the greatness of God and acknowledges the myriad mysteries of the Universe. Many of us still do that today. What many of us do not believe is that we are at the mercy of an all-powerful deity that smites us with bolts of lightning or catastrophic floods when we stray from a righteous path. Some of us understand the scriptures of old as etymologic explanations (the origin and historical development of words and their meanings) for that which was not then understood. Some of us believe in a more literal understanding of the scriptures. Again, it is never my intent to tell you what to believe. As your pastor it is my responsibility to encourage you to grow in your faith, to instill hope, to walk beside you, wherever you are on life’s journey.
Our Luke text this morning speaks to the urgency of the moment. The moment that Jesus was living in, the moment that his followers were living in, the moment that we are living in.
What is urgent is that we be in step with God on our journeys. And we are all on a journey, both together and as individuals.
What is urgent is that we partner with Jesus, and partner with those who do not have enough. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The “Homeless Jesus” on the cover of our bulletin is not to glorify or encourage homelessness or sacrifice, but to remind us to be in solidarity with all those who lack basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, health care and bodily autonomy.
“When asked to summarize the whole of scripture, Jesus famously zeroed in on two verses, one from Deuteronomy, and one from Leviticus: “Love God with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” For Jesus, those are the verses – and the general themes – that are most important. Like eyeglasses, these are the lenses through which we need to read the rest of scripture, and indeed the whole world.” (saltproject.org)
Our Luke passage that we heard this morning emphasizes urgency. It emphasizes prioritizing living righteously with God, now. It does not leave room for excuses or avoidance or procrastination.
If the Supreme Court Of The United States decision to reverse Roe v. Wade is not on your mind and in your heart, I contend that you may not be taking seriously the charge to love your neighbor as yourself, urgently, right now. Even, and especially if you do not believe this decision affects you.
Who is our neighbor? Our neighbors are female, our neighbors are male, our neighbors are non-binary. Our neighbors are young and old, from all socio-economic backgrounds, all creeds and colors.
Jesus pushes us to think and act consistent with the belief that all people are created equally, that all people are loved by God unconditionally, and that all people deserve our love and care and respect as well. Unconditionally.
The Supreme Court Of The United States decision to end the right to abortion affects everyone. Everyone. Taking rights away from 50% of the population is no way to love our neighbors.
There is a nautical metaphor that has become prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all experiencing the same flood, but we are not all in the same boat. Some are aboard luxury yachts, some are in cabin cruisers, some in sailboats or fishing boats or a dinghy. And some have no boat at all and are treading water, or drowning.
This recent decision to take bodily autonomy rights and freedoms away from half of the American population obviously affects some more than others. People with wombs more than people without wombs. People without economic security more than people with economic security. People who live “there” more than people that live here in Maine.
I will state unequivocally my belief that the only people, the only person, qualified to make a choice about whether to bring a child into this world is the one faced with the immediate decision. That moral decision is based on the mental health, physical health, financial status, life goals, and myriad other factors that are unique to each situation.
I encourage us to re-think our approach to reproductive rights and freedoms. The debate, in my lifetime, has centered on a woman’s need to justify her decision to not continue a pregnancy. The better debate may be centered on when it is good and appropriate to continue a pregnancy. The better debate may include how to provide health care for all that includes sexuality education for all ages and abilities, and that includes free reproductive health care options for all. The better debate may include how to care for those already born who live without enough food, who live in abusive situations, who like Jesus have nowhere to lay their heads.
I implore you to be open to the evolving conversation of reproductive rights and freedoms and justice. I implore you to ask yourself why you believe what you believe… about sexuality, about marriage, about family, about parenting roles and responsibilities of the different sexes. How much is biblically based belief? How much is moral or ethical belief? When did you form your opinion? Did you do the work of ethical discernment or adopt the beliefs or opinions of your parents, your church community, a teacher? How long ago was that? What has changed since then?
I also encourage you to be consistent in how you frame the questions that are presented to us in this time and place that we live. Challenge yourself to think about how these issues affect not only yourself, but all others.
Lastly, I encourage us all to look at who is being limited and who is being granted autonomy. Historically, and today, it is still the case that limits are more frequently placed on girls and women and freedoms are more frequently provided to boys and men. It is important to apply our standards of ethical inquiry fairly and equally to all situations, to all humans, regardless of gender.
Taking reproductive health decision making away from the individual and placing it in the jurisdiction of the government serves only to protect the status quo. We are not protecting women and children; we are protecting the outdated systems of male privilege, mostly white male privilege. We are protecting the notion that men are uniquely qualified to make decisions for their households and by extension for all women. We are protecting that which most of us no longer believe, if we ever did.
You may be surprised to learn that throughout most of the past 3000 years the matter of reproduction; pregnancies, births, and birth control, were the sole responsibility of women, those giving birth and those trained as midwives.
What would Jesus do? Jesus would treat each individual with compassion. Jesus would not judge. Jesus would continue to desire that all people live in harmony with God and one another. Jesus remains beside us in times of plenty and times of want. Jesus remains beside us in times of joy and times of sorrow. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves his neighbors. Jesus loves you.
Rev. TJ Mack – June 26, 2022