Issues Surrounding Abortion
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
As Christians we have at the heart of our faith and our belief system a core of written material, the Bible, which we hold to be sacred. It was written by human beings but it is also considered by the church, that is Christians collectively, to be more than just human thoughts. It is held to be special truth which has been handed down through generations which helps form what we do and we do not believe. It is understood and interpreted to each generation by the Holy Spirit using God given reason and understanding. We should not just pull bits out and make them fit in with our own pre-conceived ideas, but nevertheless it holds timeless qualities which help us to remain true to the faith handed down to us.
Since Christmas we have heard about how Jesus was found in the Temple as a child discussing the very same Old Testament which we use today. Jesus was brought up on it. Today we hear how he went to the Synagogue and read the scriptures and how he saw them fulfilled in him. So this scripture isn't just a book like any other book. We do not sit in judgement upon it. It sits over and above us and we must treat it with respect being careful how we use it. This scripture has very important teachings and very challenging things to say. It has done so to every society which has ever lived and it does so to ours today.
Firstly I would like us to think for a few moments about the passage from Jeremiah this morning. Specifically the very 'difficult' words about Jeremiah. He was known from his mother's womb. You might want to decide that this was poetic phraseology, not literal - in the same way that we might decide that the episode involving Noah does not necessitate that we believe the whole world was covered in water by a flood. But this is understanding that we have about Jeremiah is not an isolated piece of poetic phraseology. It is clear from the progressive revelation throughout scripture that God values life and that God creates life and that whilst we are involved in that process, life is not ours but God's. Your life is a gift from God it is not 'yours' it is God's by right and we should all recognise this and treat our lives accordingly.
This was a concept which Paul tried to make clear in the opening chapters of Romans 1:20
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because life is not our's but God's we have to respect God when we make decision in relation to life. It is not our right to prolong life at whatever cost simply because we fear death. The medical invasion of our lives needs to be understood by Christians within the context of God given life, what right have we to prolong suffering and keep people alive simply because the professionals cannot comprehend a faith which does not see death as failure but a transition into the presence of God?
But that is not the issue of the moment perhaps this week as I read my newspapers, it is rather the start of life which is beginning to arouse most concern. The words of Jeremiah concerning the formation of life in the womb should raise alarm bells for us as a Christian church when we hear of the sale of babies over the internet and the sale of the morning after pill over the internet, indeed we are promised speedy delivery of the morning after pill to the door for anybody living inside the M25 motorway around London.
Perhaps I could put it like this 'Human life is not human, it is sacred, it is divine, it is not just yours and mine.' We cannot decide what we want to do with life on our own. This means that we should not procreate irresponsibly and that means that we have to teach our children by our words and deeds that sexual relationships are not to be entered into lightly.
When the 1967 Abortion Act was passed many felt it was necessary, if sad, to deal with a minority of women in desperate situations. The Act has, however, led virtually to abortion on demand by allowing abortions to be performed on certain grounds. Amendments under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 brought in a new upper time limit allowing most abortions to take place up to 24 weeks, but also allowing certain exceptions with no upper limit set, thus permitting legal abortions up to birth. In 1968 there was a total of 23,641 abortions performed in England and Wales. By 1978 this had increased to 141,558 and in 1988 to 183,798. In 1998 the total number of abortions was 187,402. (Abortion Statistics 1998, Series AB No.25, Office for National Statistics, England and Wales,1999). Up to 31 March 1997 nearly 4.7 million abortions had been performed in England and Wales in the thirty years since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed. (Written answer to a Parliamentary question, Hansard, 30 October 1997, col252)
Can it really be true that so many couples desire children and will adopt, but there are so few babies who are available for adoption that couples end up having to engage in all sorts of activities to try and adopt? But there are of course implications which challenge so much of what we have been reading this week. The wishes of the churches expressed by leaders from many faiths were ignored last week in the debate about using embryos for experimentation. If life is a gift of God then it is not ours to use created life irresponsibly, even if it is for the benefit of other created life.
This is only a difference in degree between the Nazi doctors who used human for experiments with complete disregard for their life. The scientist who is without faith, must not be allowed to proceed unchecked or unchallenged by Christians who are too apathetic to cry out on behalf of those without a voice. This sanctity of human life challenged medical ethics in all sorts of areas and we must support our religious leaders as they seek to try and restore respect, respect not for 'human dignity' but for 'divine dignity.'
There is a word which is significant in the story about Jeremiah and about Jesus today. This word was one which was used by others when speaking about Jeremiah and about Jesus. It is word which probably would be used by some people when they speak of foetuses. The word is 'ONLY.' Jeremiah is dismissive of himself saying 'I am only a youth' The crowd is dismissive of Jesus saying 'He is only.' None of us dare be so disparaging towards human life. Your life and my life is not ours it is God's. You may be living your life as though it was your own, but it is not, to do so is a recipe for disaster. So we must all face the choices and decisions ethical, practical - whatever they may be, conscious of doing not our own thing, but God's thing. Amen.
A group of medical students were discussing the various tests that can be made on the foetus in the womb to discover if there are handicaps. The lecturer said to all the students: "About the termination of a pregnancy, I would like your opinion. The father had syphilis; the mother had tuberculosis. Of the four children born, the first was blind, the second died, the third was deaf and dumb, the fourth child had tuberculosis. The mother is pregnant with a fifth child. Given the conditions of the other children, should the mother terminate that pregnancy?"
A vote was taken, and an overwhelming number said that she should have an abortion.
The lecturer replied: "If abortion had been available in those days, and your advice was taken, you would have aborted the great composer, Beethoven."
Let us pray:
God our Father, inspire us with a great respect for all human life from the time of the child growing in the womb to the point of death. May that respect lead us to grow in a sense of responsibility for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world, knowing that, where one person suffers and is degraded, all of humanity is belittled and abused. May we grow in a sense of love and care for those less fortunate than ourselves, and lead us to do something about the difficulties in our world. Amen.
"Termination of a pregnancy" is another term for abortion. In 1996 there were 177,225 abortions in England and Wales. In 1997 social workers in India discovered that for every aborted male there were 1000 aborted females