Facing Tough Issues – Abortion

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Easter 6
SCRIPTURE: John 5: 1-9 and Revelation 21: 10,22 and 22:5
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Revelation 21: 3-4 (NIV)

INTRODUCTION

Today, are going to tackle one of the tough subjects in our society. The issue of abortion has reared its head again in the US in a very dramatic way. Every time you turn on the news there is another state passing restrictive abortion laws. Every time you access social media, there’s a meme or a story. Right now it’s all over the place. But how do we, as Christians respond to this debate? How do faithfully and lovingly consider the topic of abortion or any other hot button issue? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. What I hope to do is provide you with a framework for thinking about abortion and also provide you with some of the information that is not be shared in the news media.

There are a few things I want to do this morning. The first I want to say something about why abortion is such a divisive and emotional issue. Second, I want to talk about why this debate still rages on in North America in ways that it does not in other areas of the world. And third, I want to talk about the role of the faith and the church in dealing with this very sensitive issue.

There is, however, one thing that I am not going to do. I am not going to tell you how to think which means that I am not going to outline the one definitive position that all Christians should take. My hunch is that there are people in this congregation, faithful Christians all, who have very different opinions on abortion. I am not going to try to change your mind. What I hope to do is provide a language and a framework for talking about this and how to honour each other despite the differences that we may have.

A DIVISIVE & EMOTIONAL ISSUE

So why is it such a divisive and emotional issue? It has a lot to do with the society in which we now live. The latter part of the 20th century has been characterized by the term postmodern. Postmodernism is a philosophy that basically says that there are no absolutes. There are no absolute ideologies, values or morality. Everything is relative and conditioned by the social and historical contexts that surround us. No absolute definition of right and wrong can be universally applied. Just to be clear, I don’t agree with that. I think there are eternal rights and wrong and I believe that they are shared in the Bible.

But just as an example, a postmodern thought about morality would be “You do your thing and I’ll do my thing and as long as no one gets hurt than we’re all good.” From a religions standpoint, you might hear people say things like, “I have my God, you have your God but basically we all believe in the same God. Religions are just different paths to the one God… that is. if there is a God.” If we were to use one word to characterize postmodernism, it would be the word tolerant. People need to be tolerant of each other and their beliefs. You’re quite free to believe what you believe, just don’t push it down my throat. That’s postmodernism.

I was at a conference the other week and we were privileged to have as our guest speaker Dr. John Stackhouse. Dr. Stackhouse is a well-respected professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University. You’ll often see articles written by him in the Toronto Star or National Post or any number of other publications.

He said something at the conference that really struck a chord for a lot of us. He suggested that we no longer live in postmodern society. In fact, we live in a post-postmodern society. In the past when people disagreed, they would come together to have a rational debate about things with each side presenting their best arguments. In that type of a forum, people were encouraged to think deeply about things and make rational decisions. It was not uncommon for people to actually change their minds when provided with compelling evidence. Again, that’s where tolerance comes in.

But, in many ways, we no longer do that. It is far more common in the post-postmodern world to have set attitudes and beliefs. I think this and if you don’t agree with me than you’re wrong. And it doesn’t matter how much evidence you show me that may refute what I believe, I’m not going to change my mind because I know that I’m right. I can feel it.

If you’re not sure about that, just try to have a discussion with someone about vaccinations or human induced climate change or immigration or Donald Trump or any number of LGBT issues. As far as many people in the world go, there is only one correct response to these issues and we all know what that is. And even to question the prevailing wisdom will put you squarely in the cross hairs of social media and the main stream media. And note that I haven’t said a thing about where I stand on any of these issues. Just raising the question is enough to make people uncomfortable. Maybe you’re feeling uncomfortable right now.

Unlike postmodernism which was characterized by tolerance, post-postmodernism is characterized by affirmation. It’s no longer good enough to simply tolerate views that may be different than yours. Now you are expected to affirm them. And if you don’t affirm them then you’re wrong and not only are you wrong, you are probably also evil.

What this means is that it’s very difficult to have a respectful and rational debate with someone these days on many important issues because the two sides have already made up their minds and they aren’t really interested in hearing what the other side has to say, let alone changing their minds. So what we often end up with is not a debate but a confrontation. And those positions that people take, by the way, are often not based on any rational evidence. Rather they are based on emotions, on what feels right. That’s why rational arguments are not effective in a post-postmodern world. It’s very difficult to counter an emotional position with rational evidence. And let’s face it, abortion is one of those very emotional topics which makes it ripe for controversy.

That’s the first thing we need to understand about society in general. We live in a world which is characterized not by tolerance but by affirmation. And just to be clear, affirmation is anything but tolerant. In fact, when you think about it, it’s just about as far away from tolerance as you can get because it says that you’re not allowed to disagree with me.

The second point I want to make is that we see this in the abortion debate in the language that each side uses to talk about the other. When pro-choice people talk about the other side, they usually refer to them not as pro-life but as anti-abortion. On the other hand when pro-life people talk about the other side, they often call them pro-abortion rather than pro-choice. Both of these are problematic because when you actually sit down and talk to the two sides you usually discover that pro-live people are not anti-abortion and that pro-choice are not pro-abortion. I will explain that in a few minutes. The terms pro-abortion and anti-abortion are both intended to be terms of derision, to characterize the other side in extreme ways that are usually unfair to what those people actually believe.

How do we get around that? We get around it by calling people what they call themselves. So I will call pro-choice people pro-choice and I will call pro-life people pro-life. I use the terms that they use to describe themselves because that is really the only honest and respectful things to do. In general, by the way, that’s always true. Always call people what they call themselves within reason of course, even if you think it’s a little weird sometimes. Never put titles on people that are intended to cause derision.

THE DEBATE RAGES ON

So there are some points of context and language to keep in mind. So the next question is why this debate keeps on raging in North America in a way that it does not in the rest of the world?

With the abortion issue there are two extreme views. The one extreme is that abortions should never be available and other extreme is that abortion on demand should always be available. I think we can all agree that these are the extremes in that these are as far as we can go on both sides.

What I have discovered – and statistics in the US bear this out – is that most people are not at the extremes. Most people, in fact, are somewhere in the middle although most people tend to categorize themselves as one of the other.

I want you to look at this graph. It’s a historical trend of how people categorize themselves. What it shows us is that in the last twenty years about half of Americans classify themselves as pro-life and the other half as pro-choice. In fact, in 2018 it was a dead heat with both sides claiming 48%. So the split historically is pretty even.

Now I want to show you another graph that breaks things down in more detail. What we discover is that historically, slightly less than 20% of people believe that abortion should be illegal under any circumstance and that slightly more than 20% of people believe that they should be legal under any circumstance. Where are most people? Between 50% and 60% of people believe that abortions should be legal only under certain circumstances.

What does this tell us? It tells us that most people are somewhere in the middle. A large number of people who think of themselves as pro-life and a large number of people who think of themselves as pro-choice agree that this is not a black and white issue. There are times when abortions should be legal and there are times when abortions should be restricted.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean by that. Let’s go, first of all, to the pro-life side. Most pro-lifers will agree that a woman should be able to have an abortion if her life is in danger. On the other hand most pro-choicers but when pressed will admit that there are probably times when abortion should be restricted. Common examples are late term pregnancies when the baby is actually viable outside the womb or when a woman wants an abortion because of the gender of the baby which, in many cultures, is because it is female and they’d rather have a boy.

What that means is that most people are not at the extremes. They are somewhere in the middle. The difference, really, is not about being pro-life or pro-choice. The difference is where we draw that middle line.

So why do we keep on having this debate in North America? I think it’s because right now legislation in the US at the extreme end of the spectrum. Since Roe vs. Wade in 1973 woman in the US and really in Canada have had the right to abortion on demand in at any stage of pregnancy. I say that because all of the state laws that have been passed to limit abortion will go the Supreme Court so we don’t know if any of them will hold up.. In fact, I’d suggest that most of them won’t.

Now I want to contrast that to the situation in Europe. In Europe, the abortion debate has taken a very different turn. In almost all European countries, abortion is legal but it is also restricted. Women have free access to abortion until a certain time in the pregnancy ranging from ten to twenty-four weeks. But laws vary between countries. In the UK and Finland, women require medical permission before proceeding with an abortion. In Germany and the Netherlands, there is a waiting period of a few days before abortions can take place which is seen as a cooling off period. Ireland and Cyprus were the most recent countries to adopt similar measures. Until 2018 abortions were basically illegal unless the mother’s life was in danger or there were severe fetal abnormalities. That changed just last year when both countries allowed abortions but with similar restrictions as in the rest of Europe. Poland and Malta are now the only European countries that are on the extreme end. Abortions in Poland are extremely restricted except for the usual conditions such as the mother’s life being in danger. Malta is the only country in Europe that totally bans abortions. Any woman, in fact, who has an abortion can go to jail and so can the person who performed it. Note that there are no countries in Europe where abortions are available on demand at any stage of pregnancy. There are, to my knowledge, only four countries in the world where that is the case. They are the US, Canada, China and North Korea.

The interesting thing is that in every country where legislation has moved away from the extremes the abortion debate has very much quieted down. Does it exist? Yes it does because there are still people who wish to go to the extremes either for or against abortion.

So what does that have to do with us? I think that we are probably headed into a more European style of legislation. The reason I think that is because, as the graphs that I showed you earlier on indicate, that’s where most people are. Most people want to respect a woman’s right to choose but most people also think that that right needs to have some reasonable restrictions.

I actually did something a bit dangerous this week. When I was getting my hair styled, coloured and cut, I decided to test my theory. As you can guess, I was the only man in the salon. I think I now know what Daniel felt like in the lions’ den. The reason I say that it was a dangerous move was because half of the women in the room with me had scissors in their hands. But I decided to talk about abortion anyway because I really wanted to know what they thought. And what I thought ended up being pretty accurate. There seemed to be an agreement that a woman’s right to abortion should have some reasonable restrictions. And I am happy to say that I survived.

 A FAITHFUL RESPONSE

So that’s enough of the background. What do we do with this as Christians? The first place I want to turn is to the passage from John 5 that John read for us this morning. In this story there is a man sitting beside a pool near one of the gates to the city of Jerusalem. It seems that he has been an invalid for thirty-eight years. That was really bad back then because there was no social assistance or disability pensions. The only means of support available to him would be the good graces and generousity of his family.

You might ask why he was sitting beside this pool. It seems that this pool periodically stirred. We don’t know exactly what that means. Maybe subterranean gases bubbled up to the surface every now and then. Maybe a strong with would cause ripples. We don’t know but we do know that local folklore said that the first person into the pool after it was stirred would be healed of whatever problem they had. That’s why the invalid is at the pool, to see if he can be the first one in and be healed.

But Jesus sees him there and does two interesting things. The first thing he does when he sees him lying there is stop. In doing this, Jesus is recognizing this man’s humanity. He is illustrating by his actions that this man, an invalid though he might be, is an important child of God, worthy of Jesus time, his respect and dignity. Understand that hundreds of people passed by this man every day. The vast majority of them simply ignored him. But Jesus stops. That’s the first thing.

The second thing that Jesus does is honestly listen to what he has to say. Jesus asks him what he is doing and in John 5:7 (NIV) the man says, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Jesus stops and Jesus listens. And then Jesus does what Jesus does best. He heals him and sends him home well and whole.

Abortion is very emotional and divisive issue. To get past that, to find resolution, maybe we need to think about what Jesus did. First he stopped and recognized the man’s humanity and then he genuinely listened to what he had to say. Only after stopping and listening did healing happen.

We will never get resolution in the abortion debate if we insist that I’m right and you’re wrong and no matter what you say, I refuse to listen because, living in this post-postmodern world, I have absolutely no intention of changing my mind. So there is really no need to listen to anything you have to say.

But Jesus stopped and Jesus listened. Here’s the reality that we face. What pro-choice people have to say about at woman’s right to choose is important to hear. Pro-lifers need to hear it. At the same time, what the pro-life people have to say about the sanctity of life is also important and pro-choicers need to hear it too. So what I’m saying is that if we ever want resolution to this issue we are going to have to stop and listen to what each other has to say. We need to understand that abortion is a multi-faceted issue and all perspectives need to be considered. And even if we don’t agree with them they need to be heard and respected. We need to take them seriously and we need to genuinely try to understand why the other side is so passionate about what they believe. If we do that, then there is a chance to heal the divisions in our society. If we don’t, we run the risk of continuing to be divided and confrontational. That’s what we can glean from the story in John 5.

The last scripture I want to turn to is Revelation 22. The last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about Revelation and how the New Jerusalem that Jesus promised at the end of time descended to create a new heaven and a new earth.

Revelation 22 continues this story and I think that it is one of the most beautiful passages in all of the Bible because it talks about the restoration of creation. Revelation 22:1-2 (NIV) says this: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

I just love these verses because of the hope they bring. The angel showed me the river of the water of life. This passage references life in the strongest possible ways because this river is flowing from God who is the author and creator of life and it flows from the Lamb who is Jesus who is the saviour of life. Life is all over these verses. We couldn’t miss it if we tried.

It also talks about healing. The leaves of the tree of life will be for the healing of the nations. We need healing when it comes to the issue of abortion. But before that happens, people need to stop and listen. It won’t happen if we don’t do that.

But then it goes on to say this in Revelation 22:3-5 (NIV): “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

I just want to highlight a couple of key phrases in these verses. No longer will there be any curse. There will be no curse because healing has happened. Sin is gone. Blame is gone. There will be no more hatred and the divisions between us will come to an end because the curse is gone.

And then it says that all the faithful will see the face of Jesus and his name will be on their foreheads. That’s interesting. If a name is on your forehead, it can be seen by everyone except one person. That person is you. But this is not a literal name on the forehead. What it means it that people will recognize the followers of Jesus not because they announce it or wear a name tag but because of what they do.

What do we so when it comes to abortion so that people will know that we are followers of Jesus? Here are some suggestions. First, let’s support women regardless of the decisions that they make regarding abortion. Let them know that they will not be judged by us for having an abortion but that the church will offer a place to find support and healing. Let them know that whether or not we agree or disagree with their decision that they are loved and that that love is totally unconditional. And neither should we judge those women who have unexpected pregnancies, perhaps outside of marriage, who choose to go through with the having the baby. For those women, too, we need to offer our support and unconditional love as they walk the journey toward being a mother.

What else can we do? We can support agencies that encourage women to have their babies such as the Sunparlour Pregnancy and Resource Centre in Leamington and the Melo Pregnancy and Resource Centre in Windsor. Also we have people in this congregation who are familiar with how the adoption system works. Could they be a resource for expectant mothers?

And here’s something radical. Why not teach our children in the church about sex, birth control and contraception. Why do we leave that to the schools and health care professionals? I’m not saying that they don’t do a good job on that but why are we silent on these topics when a faith has so much to say about them? There are so many things that we could do. Some of these things we already do but we could do them better.

And there will be no more night because night is scarey and night is dangerous and the New Jerusalem will be a safe place for all people. And they will not need a lamp or the sun or the moon to give light because Jesus will be all the light that we need. And he will reign forever and we will reign with him in a kingdom that will have no end.

That is what we should strive for. We should strive to be Christians who are known by our love.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Holy God, your Spirit floats over the earth and soars above the mountain tops. Your breath gives us life and calls us into a holy relationship with you. How great and awesome you are! How wonderful and marvellous are the works of your hand, created in your wisdom and love. We come to you with thankful hearts asking that you would open our minds to the leading of your Spirit in our lives. Keep us alert to your calling as we seek to do your ministry and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We pray for our society rocked once again by the abortion debates. We pray God for open years and open hearts that we may be able to genuinely listen to all sides in an effort to come to a place of lasting peace and justice when it comes to this issue.

We also pray for those dealing with the forest fires in Alberta and for the farmers in our area. Both need good weather to do what they need to do. So we pray, O God, for weather that will advance to goodness of creation.

Bless the Canadian soldiers who are serving in various parts of the world. Keep them from harms way and surround them with the wings of your angels that their good work may blossom in peace and security for so many people who are embroiled in war and conflict.

We also keep in prayer, those people who are struggling with health issues, physical, emotional and spiritual. We pray for Sharon, Mary and Herb Grant them your Healing Spirit and grant them your peace.

God of Grace and Glory, our world is full of strife and struggle which can produce weariness and stress. Remind us that yielding to the leadership of your Spirit produces peace. When spiritual weariness sets in, help us to identify and properly deal with the situation that has produced it. Keep us open to learn how to place our lives in your hands and to follow the guidance of your Spirit.

Enable us to live every day according to the new life which we have in the power and love of your Holy Spirit. We lift our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

May 26, 2019 / Easter 6

SCRIPTURE

Psalm 67; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9; Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10 & 22-22:5

CALL TO WORSHIP

God has been gracious to us and God has blessed us;

God’s light has shone upon us in glory and love.

Come, let us worship our Judge and Redeemer;

The Lord of Life is worthy of praise.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Heavenly Father, your praise in our on lips and your love is in our hearts. You fill us with good things. We rejoice in your presence and your amazing capacity for compassion and caring. It is our desire to be open and honest in our relationships and interactions with others. We need your guidance to show us the way when the road is rough and unfamiliar. In our time of worship, give us a fresh infilling of your Holy Spirit that we may always walk in your way and to your glory.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Grace and Compassion, you call us to be consistent and single minded in our motives, thoughts, decisions, and purposes. We need to stand firm in the plans that you have placed before us for your wisdom is holy and your ways are righteous. Forgive our wandering hearts. Forgive us when other things in life take precedence over your plans and purposes. Forgive our foolishness, O God, and lead us back into your path of light.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Praise be to God whose grace is beyond our understanding and whose compassion no one can fathom. The sadness of the cross is defeated by the joy of the resurrection. Death is ruined. Life is victorious. In Jesus Christ, our sins are truly forgiven.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

Your gifts are freely given, O God, for you are the Maker of all things. As we give thanks for our wealth and prosperity, we ask for your holy wisdom to use all of our gifts for your glory and purpose that the hungry be fed, the lonely soothed and the outcast welcomed.

COMMISSIONING

God’s calling is a holy one. One thing we do not know is what the week will bring to us. One thing we do know is that God’s presence is with us. Of that, we can have absolute assurance by the power of faith. Go and share that faith with those who need to hear. There is no better news in all of creation.

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