Peet DickinsonThis Sunday I will be preaching from our Old Testament lectionary text appointed for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, which is Jeremiah 1:4-10. This text, which is the call of Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry, describes what must have been a terribly devastating and yet magnificently empowering moment in his life. As so many of us do, Jeremiah had his doubts about his calling and his capacity to succeed in fulfilling that calling. He was born into a very troubled time in the history of Judah. Commentator Derek Kidner describes the forty years covered in the opening three verses of Jeremiah as “one of those tempestuous periods when the world at large goes into convulsion. . .” There were empires warring and falling and rising. The kings of Judah named in verses 2 and 3 are all characters of the extreme at various ends of the spiritual spectrum. All kinds of forces were at war with Jeremiah as he hears the call of the Lord. And what does God say to him in the midst of a maelstrom of uncertainty?

           “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

            and before you were born I consecrated you;

            I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Now, as I said before, these words must have been so empowering for Jeremiah, but really, they are words that speak more about God than they actually do about Jeremiah. These words tell Jeremiah that his life is sanctified, not because of what he is about to do, but because God had Jeremiah in mind long before he was ever conceived in his mother’s womb. Jeremiah’s life is sanctified because his Creator formed him with particular purpose. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139, Jeremiah and all of us are “knit together in our mother’s womb.” Human beings are not pressed out on a conveyor belt. No, the Creator imagines us, consecrates us, appoints us, all before he very carefully hand crafts us in the womb, and we know from Genesis 1:27 that the handmade man or woman is created in God’s image. We believe in the sanctity of life because each man, woman, or child is fearfully and wonderfully handmade Imago Dei.

Equally important is our recognition as Christians that death is the enemy. Who can forget the scene at Bethany in John 11, when Jesus comes to the grave of his friend Lazarus? We read that he was “deeply moved” and that he “wept” over the death of his friend. We also read that he was “greatly troubled.” That Greek word means he was disturbed and agitated, you might say infuriated at the death of Lazarus. All of these reactions of Jesus ultimately led to his action. He moved to the grave and raised Lazarus from the dead showing his power over his enemy and even foreshadowing the greater action he would take to destroy death on the cross. Life is sacred and death is an abomination that should greatly trouble us and move us to action just as it greatly troubled our Lord and moved him to action.

Recently, I was contacted by two different organizations whose missions were both focused on the sanctity of life. One was a movement of Christians from over 1300 different congregations from all different denominations across the state called “Stand Up Sunday.” The other organization was Anglicans for Life, a movement within our own denomination whose mission is to be “the global Anglican ministry that educates, equips, and engages the Anglican Church in fulfilling Scripture’s mandate to protect the vulnerable, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow.”

Stand Up Sunday was organized in the wake of the Emmanuel AME tragedy as a way to honor those 9 brothers and sisters who lost their life in that horrible shooting. In the words of those who have organized Stand Up Sunday,

On Stand-Up Sunday, January 31st, we’ll honor the Emanuel AME 9 by attuning our hearts and voices to address the epidemic . . . and by calling for moral, nonpartisan solutions that don’t threaten the 2nd Amendment right to lawfully own guns.

Stand-Up Sunday — endorsed by the SC Christian Action Council and supported by the bishops and leaders of nearly every denomination — is when we all stand up for the 9:

  • The 9 killed by a gun purchased without a completed background check at Emanuel AME.
  • The 9 citizens of our state killed by guns every 5 days.
  • The 9 out of 10 South Carolinians who want background checks on all gun purchases (Public Policy Polling, 2015), along with 85% of gun owners nationally.

It seemed to me that both of these movements, which many might put on opposite ends of the political spectrum in our country, are actually centered on the very same issue, and that’s the sanctity of human life. I am always reluctant to mix politics and the pulpit, but in this case, the sanctity of life is really not a political issue as much as it is a Biblical and Theological issue. And when deaths in such great number are before us, we as the Body of Christ cannot sit by idly. Rather, we must move, move to the grave and act.

So, I, along with the Cathedral staff and Vestry, have decided our action will be that this Sunday, January 31st will be Sanctity of Life Sunday. This means we will proclaim that all human lives are sacred because even before we were formed in the womb, God knew us and had a purpose for us, because every human life is knit together in the womb fearfully and wonderfully by God’s hand and in His image, and because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was greatly troubled and deeply moved in the face of death and gave his life as a sacrifice for us in order that he might defeat that great enemy. All of our loose offerings this Sunday will be donated to Anglicans for Life, and we will give everyone who chooses to do so an opportunity to Stand Up in honor of the Emmanuel 9 by signing letters to our state legislators asking them to pass legislation for thorough and completed background checks on all gun purchases — including those that occur online and at gun shows.

I am fully aware that these issues make many of us very uncomfortable and perhaps evoke painful memories. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. None of us are without sin. That’s why we all need the grace of our Lord to save us from eternal death, and that grace will abound in all these actions. My prayer is that we will approach these issues at the theological and Biblical level, which is the only way we as Christians are to operate as salt and light in the world.

May Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honored and glorified in all that we think, say, and do, this Sunday and always.

Peace in Christ Jesus,