Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 15, 2017)

December 27, 2016 | by Ignacio Castuera

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Isaiah 49:1-7 Psalm 40:1-11 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42


It is uncanny how often Lectionary texts that have been selected months and even years before fit well the circumstances when the text is being used. A week from this Sunday will be the anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States and here we have the only text in the Bible which rabid opponents of women’s rights have used to justify religious opposition to abortion. The Isaiah text mentions that God knows Isaiah, and by extension all of us, from the time we are in our mother’s womb. But it is an incredible jump from acknowledging this single fact to stir opposition to abortion.

After almost 50 years of fighting against a procedure that has saved millions of women’s lives most religious anti abortion crusaders really feel that there is a time proven reason to continue that struggle. Truth is the opposition to abortion was not started by religious concerns but by the American Medical Association and their antagonism to midwifery. Education of our parishioners on this volatile subject is one of the best uses of the pulpit, especially when it is followed by more study and inter-faith action. There will be in many communities observances commemorating the Roe v Wade decision. Churches need to be in the middle of these events and even host them. This is consistent with the general theme of Epiphany, to take the light of Christ to the darkest corners of our world and that should include ideas that darken conditions.

One of the issues that is intimately connected with reproductive choice is that of reducing the population growth. Studies indicate that by 2050 more arable land will be needed to feed the projected population. Efforts to keep that growth down should be supported by Earthist Christians, remember that the defense of the earth and the vulnerable species, of which humanity is part, is the way to frame the commitment of Christians in this century. (John Cobb is the one who suggests that task as central for Christians today.)

One of the ways in which people of faith can help bring together people on both sides of the issue is by establishing creative dialogue with those who disagree but are willing to cooperate in some tasks. Only extremists on the anti-abortion side go as far as working against all forms of birth control. However, by attacking organizations that provide abortion services often weaken these agencies in their efforts to provide reproductive health means and this affects very vulnerable women and their families.

In contrast, evangelical groups that oppose abortion but not reproductive services are finding ways to support women who find themselves with an unanticipated pregnancy. One such group is “Adopt a Stork.” A group of evangelicals who were sad to see some people use their faith to attack medical facilities that provide reproductive services came up with the idea of providing counseling that was not guilt producing and that offered the option of adoption. Many vans with the Adopt A Stork logo go outside abortion clinics, talk to medical personnel and work cooperatively with them. One doctor in San Diego has spoken in most positive terms about these efforts. Pastors should not assume that congregants in “liberal” churches would object to dialogue with evangelicals like those working with Adopt A Stork and might even cooperate with their efforts.

For more than four decades demonization of the other side has gone on. It is time to reverse the trend and to expose our churches to the true history of opposition to abortion as well as to the more positive side of those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, disagree with us but are willing to seek creative solutions.

As we get closer and closer to the inauguration of a “pro-life” president who has stated his desire to appoint extremely conservative judges to the Supreme Court Christians of all types need to find ways of working together in order that the days of danger for pregnant women do not return.

The Gospel lesson is about recruiting followers. We can use that idea of recruiting disciples for the task of defending earth and its vulnerable dwellers. That is truly in the spirit of Epiphany, the task of taking the light of Christ into a dark, dark world. Recruited disciples need to be made aware of the need to be present in the struggles of the vulnerable. One needs to challenge ideas implicit in slogans that are blindly repeated. One such slogan is “abortions stop a heart beat.” This has inspired wrong headed legislation like the one passed by the Ohio State legislature forbidding abortions after a heart beat is detected in a fetus. What one needs to point out is that illegal abortions very often stopped two hearts from beating; the heart of the fetus and the heart of the mother. Statistics are incontrovertible. The number of abortions in the United States has remained pretty much steady for the last 50 years. The main difference is that before Roe v Wade the number of women dying from botched abortions was unacceptable. That scenario will return to Ohio, Texas, Mississippi and to the whole country if the new Supreme Court votes Roe v Wade out of existence because desperate poor women will look for desperate solutions. The well heeled need not worry, they will go back to the days when young pregnant women went on “vacations” to Japan or Europe and returned having solved their “problem.” This is an option that was never available to the poor women before and will not be available to them now. Pastors need to present opportunities for creative involvement in this are to church members. On January 21 there will be marches for Women’s Lives all around the country to show the new administration that people do not want to go back to the times when women’s lives were in so much danger (more info:

God does indeed know each of us from the time we were in our mother’s wombs and just as God appointed Isaiah for a special task God calls each of us to be agents of love and justice. These days will call for the best in each of us to speak truth to power in love. We can do it best if we show willingness to cooperate with our open evangelical friends and if we equip ourselves with the knowledge that the church and our faith are not the source of the historical opposition to abortion. No matter how much one digs into the Scriptures or the history of the church the opposition to abortion will never appear in the guise it has taken the last fifty or so years in this country. We need to speak this truth boldly.