Monday, January 21, 2013

Sanctity of Life - In the Grip of Grace


Sanctity of Life Sunday
Epiphany 3
Jan 20, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart
 

In the Grip of Grace
(Audio Sermon click here)
 

This morning is the national observance of Sanctity of Life and this weekend is the 40th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision that opened the way for this national destruction of innocent life.  I only want to quote one statistic this morning and to think on it a bit.  Since 1973, it is estimated that upwards of 55 million babies have been killed in this national holocaust.

The reason that I use the word ‘holocaust’ is that the number of abortions in 40 years is almost 10 times the number of deaths in Hitler’s camps.  And this is perpetrated against our own children and grandchildren.  How can God NOT judge us as a nation? 

This morning I want to tell another “right to life” story.  Some of you have heard it in various forms, because its my own story.

 

I’ve titled this sermon, “In the Grip of Grace.”

I was born to a 16 year old mom and a 17 year old dad in mid-1954.  In those days instead of abortion clinics run by Planned Parenthood, there were Unwed Mother’s Homes run by the church.  Interestingly the one I was born out of was here in Denver and it was run by the Episcopal Church.  It was called the Florence Crittendon home.  It still is in existence today here in Denver, as a High school for teen moms. Their mission statement is “educating, preparing, and empowering teen mothers.”

What was a home for pregnant teens in the 50’s and long before, has morphed into a program of education for teen moms and dads.  The services find their roots back before Colorado statehood in Family and Children’s services with the establishment of the Home in 1893, 120 years ago.  58 years ago, I was born out of that home.

My mom gave me to the state for adoption and I was adopted by a farm family from Burlington, Colorado, on the eastern plains.  In September of 1954 I was the “birthday present” for my mom.  I lived in one house and went to one set of schools until the year that Roe V. Wade happened, 1973.

For a lot of adoptees, the story kind of ends like that.  Adoptees grow up to live normal, productive lives in our society and are virtually indistinguishable from those who grew up in their families of origin.  And that is probably what would have happened with me, except I got a call one night in 1987. 

My parents in Burlington had been told that I was adopted because my parents had been killed in an accident, or that is what I remember being told.  It virtually closed the door on any curiosity I had around any of that in my life and it just became a non issue.  Until the call.

Val and I had been married for 10 years, pushing through undergrad and graduate school, I had served in churches for a few years, and had worked outside the church for a few years.  Now we were here in Colorado and waiting on God to point the way for a new pathway into ministry.  We felt directed here, back to a place that we loved, and where, I was to discover, I had deep roots. 

In that waiting period, I got the call.  Just a few months after moving to Denver and a few months before doors opened up for ministry, I got a call.  One night later than usual, about 10:30 the phone rang.   I was already in bed, but Val was up – duh!  She answered the phone and a lady’s voice on the other end asked for me.  She explained that I was in bed and with some insistence the lady pressed, so she got me up and I took the call in my home office. 

This is Phil.
Philip … Eberhart?
Yes.
And you were born May xx, 1954?
um… yes.
She paused. 
“Are you sitting down?”
(you know its rarely good when someone asks that question)
“You might want to sit down.”
Ma’am, what’s this about?
“I’m your birth mother.”
(I sat down.)  long pause

I really don’t remember much of the conversation past that point.  She did most of the talking, introducing herself, and beginning the almost year long process of moving toward establishing a relationship with a son she had given up for adoption 33 years before.

I met Sharron, my birth mom in August of 1988 and Val and I then were invited and went to Albuquerque, to her home for Labor Day at the end of that same month.  There I met my 4 half sisters and my birth father, as well.  I was a momentous time.

As we drove back to Denver the words of a Hebrew poem rang through my head that has become my closely held, heart-felt statement of who I am and whose I am.

Psalm 139
For the choir director: A psalm of David.

O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I'm far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
 
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous--how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!

These lines capture for me a truth that God has riveted down into the depths of my soul, because of the experience of that time and subsequent times as we have now been a part of a new family for 25 years!

I struggled early on with whose I was now that I had this knowledge and this new family.  My adoptive family in Burlington saw that struggle and struggled with me.  I’ll never forget my father sitting on the couch across from me, a rugged eastern Colorado farmer, looking at me with tears in his eyes and calling me his “little poopsie.”

I was 34 at the time!

After we had the girls, we struggled with how to refer to these “families.”  Until I presided at my birth-grandmother’s funeral and the family was gathered.  The girls were about three, so we had been in this relationship for about 5 years or so.

One of my half-sisters introduced herself to my girls as their aunt.  We had always called my birth mom, Aunt Sharron, with the girls up to that point, to avoid grandma-confusion.  So Valerie took the girls downstairs and told them the story of the adoption in kid terms.  After she finished, Aly’s face brightened with the light of knowledge and she said, “Sooo, Sharon is daddy’s mommy, but Grandma is daddy’s forever-mommy.”

Yep --- case closed!  That was the end of my ambiguity, at the hands of a three-year-old.



Just one more story, and then I’ll close.

After that initial call of introduction, Sharron sent us a card for Christmas, I think it was.  She sent us, not a picture of herself, but a picture of my father when he was in his late twenties or early thirties.  Val opened the card and took out the picture, held it up beside me and said, “Well I don’t know who Sharron is but this guy is definitely related to you.”

In another phone conversation, after several such conversations that winter, Val said, “I can see references and hear them, that lead me to believe you might be a Christian.”  Sharon acknowledged that she was.  “Well it might be interesting to you to know that we are as well, and in fact, that your son is a preacher.”  Long silence and tears followed.  “I’ve been praying for him for 33 years.”

The weekend that we met this “birth family” we ended our time on Sunday with a church service at my birth-mom’s church.  Val and I took our instruments and played “On Eagle’s Wings” as a special for that evening service.  I’ve since officiated at weddings and funerals for the family and have visited many times in their homes.

 

But I want to come back to Ps 139 for a moment with just one more story.

Some of you were present when I was ordained as a Priest in 1994 in December at Good
Shepherd, just up the road here, on Dry Creek.

My birth father was not a religious man.  But that weekend in 1988 set he and I in a relationship that is unlike anything I’ve ever known and the same for him.  It’s not buddy-buddy or even father-son, really,  but there is a quiet and deep connection that I cannot explain.

When it came time for my ordination, as we were planning it, I got another call.  This time from Corky, my birth father.  “So, do you think I might be able to drive up and come to this?”  I was stunned!  The question rocked me.  I thought of my parents, my “folks” as I now call them, from Burlington … what would they think?
 
How would this effect them on one of the biggest days of my life?

So I called and asked.  I put the priority on that forever relationship, but wanted to honor Corky’s request, because of this connection that had developed over now 6 years.  And my parents gave their consent.  Just Corky came, no other members of my birth-family.

So the day, I became “Father Phil” – Dec 17, 1994 – in the pew behind me sat my wife, my mom and dad, and my birth father, invited to sit with the family and be a part, fully, of this blessing and beginning.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!

I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
 
On this Sanctity of Life Sunday, I want you to know how much God knows, understands and cares about you.  It’s total.

God knows you totally.  Every thought, motive, movement and meaning.

God understands you totally.  Not ambiguity for him.  It’s all crystal clear.

God cares for you totally.  He loves you with an everlasting love.  The OT calls it                     Unfailing Love.  The NT calls it AGAPE – unconditional love.

Paul tells us in Romans 5 that while we were still strangers and enemies, God loved us.  While we were weak and powerless, God loved us.  And not only that, it was then that He gave Himself to the cross for us – before we did anything.

This is the core of my being.  Sanctity of Life isn’t just a Sunday, it is the settled knowledge of whose we all are as His creation.  The whole world, born and unborn is in His view.  And as we come to faith, we become His children again – as He gives us the right to become, as we’ve talked about in the weeks prior to this. 

I thank God and my birth-mom that she did not seek abortion.  Granted it wasn’t as easy then, and perhaps that’s the point of this day of remembrance. 

We must take up the call that Ps 139 presents as a mandate from God to do all we can to end the tide of abortion in our land.  It is not a political thing for me.  It is a personal thing for me.  And I believe it needs to be a personal thing for all of us.

God makes every life, no matter the circumstances of their birth, good, bad or indifferent!  And God wants us to honor life, from our everyday choices to the choices of our politics and our policies.  So let us set our faces together, again today, to stand for God’s love and for the individual dignity and rights guaranteed by our constitution and the God of our republic, in whom we say we trust:  The rights to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness, in that trust.  May God help us and have mercy upon us in this nation.

Amen.

 

Let us pray,

O God, the author of life and giver of mercy and grace;  Assist us with your Spirit to set a course in our lives and in our land to honor the value of every human life, from conception to natural death, as coming from your hand.  Lead us to actions that restore to our communities the values of family, faith and freedom.  And give us, we pray, an awareness of your great love for each one of us and all who we meet, that we might be your ambassadors, extending your kingdom of love and peace to all; by the power of your loving sacrifice, Lord Jesus, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reigns in glory, One God, now and forever.

Amen.

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