St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 23, 2022
“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
WHAT MAKES US DO IT? Why do we delve into things that, in the end, only make us feel bad, soiled, despicable, ruined, unforgivable and unworthy? And we knew it even as the suggestion hit us and beguiled us. It’s what overcame Eve and led her to do exactly what God had told her and Adam never to do, or she would die. And knowing the consequences of all evil deeds in our history, why would we continue to make the same mistakes, or invent worse ones?
Being good, doing right, steering clear of darkness, denying ourselves the things we could get away with, could justify, could rationalize but for the rules – God’s commandments – walking in purity: why does it sound wimpy, cowardly? The serpent goaded Eve, “Oh, you think you’ll die or something? Did God really say that? He didn’t mean it. He’s just worried that you’ll find out what it’s like to be your own God.”
Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s dual decisions, perhaps the only decision you know by name: Roe v Wade; and its companion piece, Doe v Bolton. Together, with language about trimesters and minor restrictions, they caused all states in the country to abandon any laws limiting the practice of abortion. Although Roe limits third trimester abortion to cases of medical necessity, the Doe decision defines such necessity even to be emotional crisis, as defined by a single doctor. That doctor is always selling abortions, legally, to minor children.
Abortion is killing a baby in the womb of his or her mother. Its several methods always end in a death. While there have always been legal therapeutic procedures done to save mothers’ lives, when there is no way to save the baby, Roe made all procedures legal for all causes, including lifestyle choices. Proponents believe a supreme right to privacy protects a woman’s choice, and that this only concerns her body, thus no moral issues arise.
You will not die. God knows if you eat it, you will become wise as gods, knowing good and evil yourselves. A woman gets pregnant in complete disregard of how that happens – with no thought, no self-care – and abrogates the human duty to protect the young by running to Planned Parenthood and making a fateful appointment. She is told comforting lies, believes them because she must, pays hundreds of dollars or applies for state funds that are unlimited for this service. I have watched hundreds of these girls go into that clinic, some grimly determined, some fearful, some weeping. In a few hours they all leave: broken, heartsick, stumbling, guilt-ridden.
The sexual revolution in America has hissed its version of the serpent’s song, why not? Who said that? Why can’t you? You don’t know how wonderful it is to leave that Puritanism behind and be free! We’ve had nothing but horror following the Playboy philosophy, Liberations, same-sex marriage, and now transsexuality. Pandora’s box had a warning on it, but we took no time to read it. Just popped it open and a world of iniquity sprang out. How we get that all back in the box, I don’t know.
Bernard Nathanson, a Jewish OB-GYN from New York, was an early abortionist with a clinic where he oversaw 60,000 abortions, some before its legalization. He sat with the founders of the Choice movement, and when they considered what obstacles they’d face in legalizing abortion, the greatest one was the Church. They knew there would be a fight. The Church had scruples, and moral certainty, and a large part of America would listen. But they found a ploy. They knew the loudest opponents would be the Roman Catholics. And they knew that Protestants hated Catholics. So, they framed the argument that this was a Catholic Church issue. The Pope can say what he wants, but the rest of us don’t need that. It worked. Mainline Christians, Episcopalians among them, led the charge for a woman’ right to kill her offspring.
Nathanson even aborted his own child. But on one fateful day, he thought to use the new ultrasound imaging to observe an abortion he was performing. A silhouette of a perfectly formed baby came on the viewer and his curette entered his sight. Then, as the life was being taken, before his eyes, the doctor saw the baby’s face in profile open its mouth and scream. That silent scream shattered his soul. He quit the business of death, told his story, even made a film called the Silent Scream, and testified how NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, had manipulated public opinion and lied about the life of the unborn child. He eventually was baptized a Catholic Christian before his death. But the lives of 60,000 were a lot to confess before the God who gave them all life.
The Roe decision has been challenged in previous Supreme Court cases. Today such a case stands before the Court again. Roe was legislation from the bench as it never should have been. It won’t go away. It’s never set well, and it may just meet its end this year. It’s something to pray for. If Roe is set aside, that will not end abortion in most states, but will leave it to states’ control. Though it’s come to wear political colors, it has no political party. It’s not red or blue. It’s wrong. The argument that Blackmun gave in his decision was emanations from the penumbra of a woman’s right to privacy between her and her doctor. That’s legal sophistry. And 49 years later, we know so much more about the life of the unborn. We see it in color, 3-dimensional imagery, neo-natal care far advanced from that of the 70s. It’s time to end it.
But why do we do it? This one evil or any of them? What has been called “the mystery of iniquity” is a power that moves us, unseen, like an undertow, whispering nonsense into our souls, finding fault, sowing discord, breaking truces, undermining trust, calling it our nature, inevitable, and making excuses, and when that fails, outright lying. How does that feel? Too familiar.
A mistake we make is thinking ourselves ruined by it. We see ourselves once innocent, but now ruined by our chosen evil acts. Not really. We came broken, in the box, flawed from the foundry, cracked here, and there too. One of the mysteries, therefore, is solved. We didn’t come up with the paths we’ve crossed. They were there. A resonance was already in us, Adam’s seed, the fallen state. What makes mankind guilty was in mankind before we came to this weird time. It is a weird time, I agree. I really never dreamed of the twisted ethic now accepted as nature. But nothing is new. That mystery is solved. We never invented this. It was here, and we were born into it.
Like a cut crystal vase, clear and beautiful, casting rainbows of color in the light, we’ve believed ourselves to once have been perfect, flawless, valuable – until that day we tiptoed to the edge of the shelf and, tumbling over and over in the air, crashed on the stone floor, shattering ourselves into a million fragments, sharp, dangerous, ugly and destroyed. Sin accuses you of having done that. What was a perfect you now made into a horror.
That’s a lie. Oh, certainly the crash did happen, and it was catastrophic like you experienced it, even worse perhaps. We forget. But two things we should know in order to correct our misapprehension. We were not ever, in fact, perfect. We came flawed. From that flaw flowed out more misdeeds, evil ways, chosen paths that led nowhere, or worse. True. Confess it. God sees. He knows. And He’s provided for it. The second fact is that we are going toward perfection, a perfection we never had. What we shall become in God’s final Kingdom, and what we can become even in this life, is beyond compare a wonder and a blessing to ourselves and to others. And that, my friends, is the mystery of godliness. And that speaks to us of the power of God.
Before the enemy sowed tares in our field of wheat, before he offered us a taste of forbidden food, as he rested in the comfortable knowledge that the human race belonged to him and his minions, God was already at work, His Son, the Lamb slain before the world, setting the trap, God was baiting it with a baby conceived in a virgin, born in a barn, found in the Temple, rushed at night out of Bethlehem, was miles south when the babies there were killed by a raging king. God’s Son on earth, given for us and for our redemption. Redemption doesn’t just move us back to earlier perfection, erase our record, expunge our convictions – no. Redemption bought by Christ’s blood converts the raw human elements of our fallen race into new men and women, a new humanity, that crystal vase now shining brightly in its light, casting rainbows, moving ever toward our perfect state of eternal life. Perfection is before us, not behind.
The Gospel is called good news. Is this the best news you’ve ever heard? That your earlier darkness is now met with a promise of unconditional forgiveness and love? That your sins are washed away, never to confront you again with guilt or shame or sorrow except in the knowledge of all you’ve been forgiven, with joy and relief and apprehension of what the mystery of iniquity really is. The knowledge of good and evil is real, and we have it now. In the bright light of truth there is nothing out there to entice us, to draw us in, give us something denied by God. Evil is ugly. Goodness is fascinating. Its mystery is far more important. It’s how we overcome evil. With Good.
The seed of Adam was once us. But now the seed of the woman, Mary, God’s second Eve, has come. He has taken all the iniquity in all of us with Him to the Cross and there its sting was taken from it. In dying, and rising again, He crushed the head of that snake. There is no true power in evil, or truth in its offers. Satan’s a liar. We are now born from above, indwelt with the Spirit of God, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, and made new. And we look for better things to come.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.