Sunday, June 3, 2018

to save life or to kill?


May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A few nights ago there was great excitement in the Rectory – a bat had made its way into one of the bedrooms and was circling the room endlessly trying to find a way out. We opened the windows as fully as possible, thinking that its echo location would then allow it to find the exit. But no, for some reason it still couldn’t get out. So my son Jeremiah went and got a shrimping net and managed to gently scoop it out of the air and then take it to the window where, to the delight of us all, it flew off into the night.

We spent around 10 or 15 minutes trying to get the little creature safely out of the house. Some might say – why bother? It’s only a bat. And true, it was only a small wild animal and it would have been easier and quicker to take a tennis racket, smash it out of the air, and throw its broken body out the window for the cats to feed upon. Some might regard that as the most sensible option. Others, I think, would be horrified at the idea. Some because bats are a protected species and it is illegal to kill them or do them harm. Others because even the smallest creatures are precious; their lives come from God and to take the life of one needlessly, for the sake of convenience, is wrong.

The latter, I would suggest, is the correct view. As our Lord told us, even a sparrow does not fall to the ground unheeded by God. And of course how much more sacred is the life of a human being. As we hear in our Psalm: ‘You yourself created my inmost parts; •  you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ This is why we hear Jesus say in our Gospel: ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ His question is, of course, rhetorical. Human life is sacred; and when it comes to protecting it things like custom, or convenience, or even cost must be set aside. This is why he then stretches out his hand and heals the man. The Sabbath is important; indeed it is sacred for we are commanded from God that it be a day of rest and worship. But that sacredness can not be used as an excuse not to help others; and so when something touching on the sacredness of human life arises, such as helping the sick or saving a life, then even the Sabbath rest must set aside temporarily.

Yes, our lives are precious. Yet even that must be in seen in the proper context. For we have not been given our lives so that we spend our time upon the earth in ease and comfort. The wise fool thought that way – eat, drink, and be merry, he said. And how great was his downfall, for that very night his soul was required of him … and rich though he was upon this earth he had neglected to lay up any treasure in heaven. And our Lord, in the telling of that parable, leaves us in no doubt that the result was the loss of his eternal reward in heaven.

Yes, God gave us our lives and they are precious – but, as it says in the advertisements, terms and conditions apply. And we, if we are not to be like the rich fool, must always remember that we are to keep God’s commandments in this life if we are to be with him in the next. And how foolish we would be to think that God is not watching or God does not care. The story we have of the prophet Eli from the Old Testament today is a good illustration of this. Old Eli was a good man, indeed a holy man, for the most part. But his sons did great evil. They blasphemed God with their lives and with their lips. And Eli knew all that they did; and he did not act to stop them. I am sure all here can feel for his difficulty. It is hard to challenge those close to us in their in their sins. But Eli had a duty to so; as their father, as a prophet in the land, and simply as another human being. And God held him to account for his inaction.

The fate of Eli should serve to remind us of the dangers of a similar inaction on our own parts. Sometimes we see evil in the world; and we say and do nothing. We think that it is none of our business, it is their right to do as they please. And they do indeed have free will – they may choose to sin if they wish. But we have a duty to name what they do as sin and not make ourselves accomplices in their sins by letting them think we approve by our silence. Worse, sometimes we let our emotions take control of us and we fall prey to the sad stories people tell. They tearfully tell us how hard it would be for them to obey God’s law in this matter or the other … and tell us how they are sure that they can, in good conscience, act as they do for they know that God is forgiving … and so our hearts are moved and we say, in a parody of what our Lord said to the woman taken in adultery, go and sin some more.
Compassion is good; it is a noble virtue. But when in the name of compassion we put our arms around someone and say that God does not see, or if he does he does not care that his laws are broken, then it is a false compassion. Christ nowhere tells us in scripture that sin is not sin provided we are faced with a difficult situation and so neither must we. For God, we must remember, held both Eli and his sons to account. Both the sinners and the one who did nothing to stop them continuing in their sins were judged by God and found wanting.

It is good and pleasing to God to show kindness to the smallest and most vulnerable members of his creation. And given the sacredness of every human life, each one created by God, it is even more pleasing to him to help those in need, particularly when it comes to healing the sick and acting to protect all those whose lives may be in danger. But trying to do our very best to ensure that all we meet love God and show that love by obeying his commandments – that above all is what is pleasing to God. For it in that way that souls will be saved; something that we know is the dearest thing to the heart of God … for it is for that reason that he made us … and for that reason that he sent his Son into the world … so that all might be saved. And, of course, in helping others in this way we also help work out our own salvation in fear and trembling so that one day we may, with God’s grace, be welcomed into his eternal kingdom … something that I pray will be granted to all here: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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