Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 26th, Year of Our + Lord 2014
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
The Holiness of Human Life - 2nd Kings 5:1-19a, Matthew 8:1-13
Sanctity means holiness. When we sing the Sanctus, we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Holy in Latin being Sanctus, hence the name of the song. Sanctity means holiness.
The Christian Church in the United States of America has for some decades now observed Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on a Sunday close to the anniversary of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, which legalized abortion throughout the entirety of pregnancy, for any reason. In response, the Church celebrates the Sanctity, the Holiness of Human Life, which is holy, we declare, from conception to death, a gift from God, to be protected. We add our voice to this celebratory proclamation once again this morning.
But, is human life really holy? You might think differently.
For example, what is holy about the life of a marauding warrior, a violent enemy, who attacks God’s people, killing and robbing and enslaving his captives? If an armored strong man suddenly descended on your house and stole your child away from you, would you call him holy? Sanctified? Or would you hate him and consider him worthy of a painful death? If you learned that such a violent enemy was plagued with leprosy, that his skin constantly broke out in ugly, painful sores that made him both miserable and disgusting to everyone around him, how would you react? Wouldn’t you take grim satisfaction, thinking that he was, at least in part, getting what he deserves?
You and I might very well think such things. But not God. Now, it’s not that God isn’t angered by violence and murder and kidnapping and slavery. The Lord after all is the one who said: Do not murder, do not steal, do not covet your neighbors wife, or family, or servants. And yet, even though God hates sin and promises to avenge all sin, even still, God at the same time acts mercifully toward this violent enemy of God’s people, the Syrian general called Naaman. God acts toward Naaman in mercy and love. God sanctifies, cleanses, heals and makes holy this very unholy man.
We are free to defend ourselves and our loved ones when violent people attack us. And, we might understandably be tempted to reject forever those who act violently and evilly against us and our loved ones. But not God. Even from such as these, from wholly unholy people, that is, from completely unholy people, God chooses children for His kingdom. God does not reject the Syrian general Naaman, and even works through an Israelite in order to reach out to him. Through a little Israelite girl, who had been taken as a slave from her family, God chooses to begin His work of salvation in the life of Naaman. Where you and I might well expect this little girl to hate her master, God moves her to speak the truth in love, to tell of the Prophet in Israel, whom she knows can help Naaman with his leprosy.
As you heard in our Old Testament reading, God works a very great miracle, sanctifying this violent enemy of His people. God heals and converts Naaman, working through the muddy waters of the Jordan River and the seemingly offhand, and literally second hand words of the prophet Elisha, who doesn’t even go out and speak directly to the general. Through a messenger Elisha makes a ridiculous promise, that if Naaman goes and washes seven times in the river, he will be healed, made whole, cleansed. And, despite Naaman’s anger and unbelief, the washing of water and the word does its work. Naaman is cleansed. And much more importantly, Naaman is converted, now believing that the God of Israel, the God who spoke through Elisha, is the one, true God, who had healed him.
And so we begin to learn that according to God’s calculations, human life is holy indeed, and most worthy of our celebration and protection, no matter how small the life, or how seemingly evil the life, or how incapacitated and painful the life. God says human life is worthy of His loving care, and so also our loving care.
Jesus puts His seal on the conversion of Naaman in a number of places, including in the double healing we heard in today’s Gospel, Jesus cleansing a leper, and then turning around and healing the servant of a Roman Centurion, another foreign military officer serving a king that subjugated and mistreated God’s people. Naaman showed his faith by his concern for not being considered guilty of worshiping the false god Rimmon. The Centurion shows his faith by asking Jesus to merely say the word, for he know and believes the authority and power of Jesus’ Word. Naaman’s worldly duties force him to enter the house of a false God with his earthly master, and he seeks the Lord’s pardon. The Centurion knows his sins and his worldly duties make him unworthy for the Lord Jesus to enter his house, he simply seeks the Lord’s Word of promise and power. In each case, faith has been created, by the Word of God.
From the power of God’s Word we also begin to learn the how and why of the Sanctity of Human life. Human life is not holy, not sanctified, because of what you and I or any other mere human being does. No, we are all sinners. Perhaps our outward sins don’t seem so dastardly as those of Naaman. But God sees the outside and the inside, and is concerned that all our thoughts, words and deeds be holy. And they are not. So we cannot claim to generate our own holiness. But God by the power of His Word can bestow holiness. The “how” of human holiness is based in the fact that Jesus has suffered God’s vengeance, the complete just punishment for all our sins. The debt is paid. Our debt for sin, and the power this gives satan over us is gone, forever, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. The “how” of human holiness is God through His Word declaring the Good News that all sin is gone, and His Holiness is shared with humanity, in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. The “how” of human holiness is God declaring holy and righteous everyone who trusts in His Holy Son, crucified and resurrected for the sins of the whole world.
The “why” of human holiness is simple. Why are humans holy and precious and worthy of protection? Because God desires to have a holy people, to live with Him in joy and glory forever. God desires a holy people, and He will not be denied. God loves and has loved the people whom He created, even though we daily turn away and fall short of His standard. God has done and continues to do all that is required to make us holy, recreating us holy, in His Son.
We are right now, today, holy, holy by faith in Jesus, and we have the privilege of seeking to grow in holiness during our lives, looking forward to that day, in the life to come, when we will be free from sin forever. And so the Church lives from the forgiving Word of Jesus, which makes us holy and keeps us holy and prepares us for an eternity of holiness.
By your Baptism into Christ, you are justified and sanctified. You are made holy. By the power of God’s forgiving Word, you are sanctified, declared holy in the eyes of God, who looks at you and sees the holiness of Christ.
Your life is holy, and precious to God. But you may think differently. You may not feel like you are holy. Your sins shame you and make you doubt that the holy promises of God could be true. The devil points at your sins and sneers in your ear, “You aren’t holy, God would never accept you.” The world switches back and forth between denying holiness matters on one hand, and then turning around and denying that you could ever be holy. Your life in this sin soaked world may make you doubt the possibility of your holiness, and so make you doubt the value of your life.
But God says differently. God says that you are holy, by your connection to His Son. And so you are, period. Do not let anyone ever tell you your life is not valuable. Do not ever tell yourself that you are not worthy of God’s love, or anyone else’s. Because Jesus Christ has made your holiness and worthiness a reality.
So rejoice in the holiness that God has declared over you. Rejoice, and remember, that since Jesus came to wash away the sins of the whole world, it is correct to say that all human life, no matter how small, no matter how evil, no matter how weak or disabled, is holy in God’s sight, and not to be wantonly destroyed. God does provide for the restraint of evil. God does empower armies and governments to fight evil, and even to kill wicked people. But the Church, in her proclamation and in her action, always seeks to serve and protect life, because of all that Jesus has done to serve and protect our lives.
The Bible says you must be holy, for the Lord your God is holy. The Bible also declares that in and through Jesus Christ, you are already holy, sanctified, precious to God and beloved. Rejoice, Saints of God, and let your voices praise the Holy One, our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.