Epiphany 3 2017
January 22, 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Psalm 27:1-9, Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-25
In high school I really wanted to go to the Coast Guard Academy after graduation. I had gone up to visit; I had done all their applications and medical testing. I told people that is where I am going to go. Then a letter arrives from the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. It began…I regret to inform you…blah, blah, blah…you didn’t make the cut.
When I was looking for a new job once I applied to work at a large sales company selling computers to people who called in from advertisements. I had done a couple of interviews and was confident I would get the job as I thought I was pretty overqualified. Then I got the email. I didn’t get the job. I didn’t make the cut.
Have you ever had the experience of being told that you didn’t make the cut? You applied for a position but didn’t get the job. Maybe you were trying out for a play and you thought you had done a really good job on the audition, but when they posted the cast list your name wasn’t on it. What a terrible feeling to know you didn’t make the cut.
Or perhaps you tried out for a sports team and you gave it your best effort, but you got cut from the team because you were not big enough or fast enough. You hadn’t developed enough. You didn’t make the cut.
Not big enough, not fast enough, cannot sing or act well enough. Or maybe you didn’t make the cut because the director or coach just doesn’t like your kind of people. Maybe you came from the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe you weren’t part of the right group. Sometimes you don’t even know why you weren’t accepted, but you know that you just didn’t make the cut.
In life there are a lot of people who are weak and vulnerable; people who need extra care and protection. There are people who are susceptible due to poverty, to illness, to mental or physical disabilities, to addictions, to age, to size; so many people who are fragile and defenseless.
It is far too easy to look at weak and vulnerable people and declare that they do not make the cut. They are not good enough; strong enough; productive enough; valuable enough. There is a growing movement in the world and in this nation to promote assisted suicide for people who are weak and vulnerable. There are now six states in the U.S. and many countries around the world that allow doctor assisted suicide. In Belgium this can be applied to children as young as 12. And in the Netherlands a man was killed by assisted suicide due to his alcohol addiction.
And it begins by being called “death with dignity.” But death is not our choice. It is not given to us to take a life; even our own. Only the government has the right to take a life and then only in restraint of evil. And while it may start out being called “death with dignity” it soon will become a duty to die; an implied obligation to die because you no longer make the cut. You have become a burden on others. You are costing too much money. Your life has become a “life unworthy of life.” In German this is Lebensunwertes Leben. And in Nazi Germany it meant it was a good thing to kill you because you did not make the cut. You were handicapped. You were not good enough; strong enough; fast enough. You didn’t believe the right things, you were out of the norm, your racial heritage was not approved of. Your life was deemed Lebensunwertes Leben , “Life unworthy of life.” And you could be put to death because you didn’t make the cut.
Now Nazi Germany it would seem is an extreme example as they deemed more than 10 million people to be “life unworthy of life”. It may seem extreme, but not when you look at what is happening in our own nation. We must be on guard against the danger of operating under the same principle that there is some life unworthy of life. State after state is voting to legalize assisted suicide. Forty four years ago today, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that it was a constitutionally protected right to decide that some life is “Life unworthy of life.” The Supreme Court declared that people have a constitutional right to end the life of their unborn child if that life is decided to be “life unworthy of life.” Since that fateful decision in 1973 not 10 Million, not 20 million, but over 55 million babies have been declared to be “life unworthy of life.” That number is mind boggling.
Too often pregnancies are terminated because the child doesn’t make the cut. It might be that the child has medical issues, or it has the wrong number of chromosomes, or it has come at a bad time, or even that the child is not the sex the parents’ desire. Because of any number of reasons the child is determined to be “life unworthy of life” and is terminated. People will make excuses as to why it is okay. It is small, it is undeveloped, it is inside another person, it is dependent on others. So they declare the child to be “life unworthy of life.” This is the same principle that made Nazi Germany the despicable place that it became; the principle that some people don’t make the cut for life.
This is the same principle that made Nazi Germany the despicable place that it became; the principle that some people don’t make the cut for life.
This is a great darkness in our land and in our world. What a tremendous darkness that instead of protecting the weakest and most vulnerable we deem them unworthy and kill them. We can get so focused on the rich and powerful and beautiful and thin and productive people that we start to believe that others just don’t make the cut. We can start to believe that we are worthy, but these others are unworthy.
What do we learn from Jesus about who makes the cut? In our Gospel reading today we find Jesus beginning His ministry after being baptized and then tempted in the wilderness. How does Jesus’ ministry begin? Is it with a big parade of victory into the great city of Jerusalem? No. It begins with the prophet announcing Jesus’ arrival being arrested and thrown into the dungeon at Herod’s castle. Jesus does not go to the great Jewish city of Jerusalem, but rather to the sketchy, border region of Galilee in the land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Jesus goes to the outlying regions where the people intermarried and Jewish bloodlines are tainted. Jesus, the King of the Jews, takes up residence in the rough and tumble city of Capernaum. Jesus goes to the land of darkness and in the land of darkness the light has dawned.
And Jesus continues to preach the message first brought by John the Baptist. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand. Indeed it is. Jesus is the king who has come to rule over his people. The reign of heaven is right here in the person of Jesus; the Lord; the Messiah.
Jesus is king and yet Jesus does not act like a king. Jesus begins to assemble a group of followers and who does he go to? What kind of people does Jesus choose? Does Jesus choose the rich, the powerful, the beautiful, the best and the brightest? No. Jesus chooses fishermen. He calls them and they follow him.
And Jesus teaches and proclaims the gospel of the kingdom and he heals people. Jesus goes the weak and vulnerable and brings them healing. What kind of people does Jesus hang out with? The sick; those afflicted with various diseases and pains; those oppressed by demons, epileptics and paralytics. Jesus welcomes the people that don’t make the cut in the world.
Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners and eats with them. Jesus welcomes those who don’t make the cut.
Jesus welcomes sinners and what great Good News this is for you and me. You are a sinner who does not make the cut in the quest for holiness and perfection. You are indeed a poor, miserable sinner. You are indeed, by nature, sinful and unclean. You are weak and vulnerable because of your sin. Jesus welcomes you. Jesus heals you from sin and guilt.
The Church; the Body of Christ on earth, is in the business of bringing the healing touch of Jesus to a world made weak and vulnerable by sin. Now sometimes we can think that there are some sins Jesus will forgive and some sins that are so bad that those folks don’t make the cut. But Jesus forgives all sins. The gift of forgiveness is for all people. All people are called on to be followers of Jesus. Jesus forgives all your sins even those you are so ashamed of; even the sin of declaring another “life unworthy of life” and ending a pregnancy or participating with another in terminating a pregnancy.
With Jesus there is no one who doesn’t make the cut. With Jesus there is no letter that starts with, “I regret to inform you…” With Jesus there is no rejection email. No team roster without your name on it. With Jesus all people are called to repent and follow Him and be His disciple. With Jesus everyone makes the cut. With Jesus there is no one whose life is unworthy of life. Not even those whom we may want to marginalize. Jesus comes for unexpectedly lowly people. He comes for the hurting; for the weak and vulnerable; for you and me. He calls you to love and serve each other; especially the weak and vulnerable.
With Jesus you make the cut because He gave His life for you. In your baptism Jesus made you worthy of eternal life in the reign of heaven right now and for eternity.