Miscarriage

Do Not Hinder Them

Pastor Mark Surburg, in his sermon preached on March 24th of this year at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Marion, Illinois, draws from the wisdom of Martin Chemnitz in applying Jesus’ admonition of His disciples (Mark 10:13-16) as comfort for Christians grieving a miscarriage.

Pastor Surburg graciously granted us permission to reproduce a portion of his sermon here. You can read the sermon in its entirety on his blog.


iu[T]he loss of a baby in miscarriage is a source of profound grief. The joyful expectation of knowing this little one abruptly ends, and we are left with nothing but sonogram images. Where a miscarriage occurs in the setting of ongoing fertility problems, it can be particularly crushing.

Yet it is not just the grief of a life lost. Our knowledge from God’s Word about the nature of man since the Fall also means that miscarriage presents us with troubling questions. Our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” We know from Scripture that sinful, fallen man produces sinful, fallen man. It matters not how cute that sinful, fallen man is. 

For this very reason Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Our Lord has given us Holy Baptism as the means by which babies receive a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, and become saints forgiven because of Christ. What then are we to say about these babies who were never born alive, and so never could receive rebirth in Holy Baptism?

Our text from Mark chapter ten provides encouragement to think about these things on the basis of our Lord’s word. It does not provide an exact answer. But it sends us to Christ in faith and hope. Mark begins by telling us, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.”

Presumably parents were bringing their children – and the term used here includes very young children – so that Jesus could touch them. Now in Mark’s Gospel, every other time that Jesus touches someone it is order to provide healing. The saving power of the kingdom of God – the reign of God – was present in Jesus. People recognized this. On three different occasions in the gospel, Mark tells us that people in need of healing hoped to touch Jesus, or even just to touch his clothes.

Why did these parents want Jesus to touch their children?  They did because Jesus came proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” They did because Jesus healed the sick, the blind and lepers with his touch. They did because the demons cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God,” before he cast them out. They wanted Jesus to touch their children because Jesus and his touch brought God’s saving reign.

However, we learn that when this happened “the disciples rebuked them.” Since the text never actually mentions who brought the children, I think we have to assume that the “them” refers to the children themselves. This fits with an important piece of cultural background that we need to understand. 

In our world children are revered. They are viewed as pure and untainted sources of wisdom. “Listen to the children” we are told. However, in the ancient world children were viewed as inferior because they were helpless and not able to work like adults; they were physically weak; they were likely to get sick and die; they were not guided by reason. They were looked down upon and were not held up as role models for adults to imitate.

But in response, the Lord Jesus was indignant about what the disciples were doing. He commanded them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And then Jesus took children in his arms – he embraced them – and blessed the children, laying his hands on them.

Jesus says in our text that the kingdom of God – the saving reign of God – was meant for those children. It was his will for them to receive it. He did not want them hindered from being brought to him. In the experience of miscarriage these words give us comfort and hope. Jesus wants these children in the womb to receive the reign of God. When Christian parents are prevented by miscarriage from bringing a child to baptism, we take comfort in the knowledge that our Lord does not want children to be hindered from receiving his saving reign.

Jesus Christ was so intent on bringing the reign of God that he suffered and died on the cross for you; for me; for every child we have lost in miscarriage. It is in this same chapter that our Lord says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ offered himself up in the suffering of the cross as the sacrifice for our sin.

But God’s reign in Christ could not be defeated by death.  Instead, Jesus passed through death in order to defeat it.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In his resurrection Christ has conquered death – even the death of infants in the womb. He has begun the resurrection of the Last Day that he will bring to completion for us when he returns in glory.

We entrust the little ones we have lost to the crucified and risen Lord. He has said that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. He has said that he does not want them hindered from being brought to God’s reign. We know that he has bound us to the Means of Grace. But as God he knows no limitations. Indeed, it is immediately after our text that in response to the disciples shocked question, “Then who can be saved?”, that our Lord says: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” We know the kind of Lord that Jesus has revealed himself to be in his death and resurrection, and so in hope and faith we entrust these little ones to him. They rest in his hands. That is all we need to know, because we know him.

And because we know him, we find comfort in the midst of our grief. In our text Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Our Lord declares that the kingdom of God – the reign of God – belongs to children. It belongs to those who were considered weak and helpless – those who had nothing to offer.

That is what we are.  We are weak and helpless. We are not in control. The loss of a child in miscarriage unmasks all of these realities. But Jesus Christ came to bring God’s saving reign to just such people. He came to bring forgiveness and life. He came to bring comfort. He came to bring hope. Sin, sorrow and death do not get the last word. They do not because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

Written by Pastor Mark Surburg + Sermon for Life Service + March 24, 2019

Contest Details

Andy Bates and Sarah Gulseth of KFUO Radio’s “The Coffee Hour” chatted with us last week about our Lenten writing contest.

Listen here for details on what we’re looking for in your submission on the prompt, “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

Remember, this contest is for anyone who breathes, has chromosomes, and reads the Bible.

Submit your entries to katie@katieschuermann.com by noon on March 25th to be considered for the grand prize: a museum-quality giclée print (14.7″ x 18″) of artist Edward Riojas’ cover art for the second edition of He Remembers the Barren.

Happy pondering and writing!

BARREN giclee image

Jewelry Box

iurHe snuck up to my table when no one else was there.

“I know a bit of what you talk about.”

He paused, so I waited. I wasn’t quite certain what part of my presentation had resounded with him, and I didn’t want to assume.

“My only daughter was stillborn.”

Ah.

Something happens in my cheeks whenever someone tells me this. I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but from the inside, it feels as if my skin releases from my muscles, as if my cheeks — in dutiful obedience to the speaker’s command — move into proper riverbed formation to direct the flow of any incoming tears.

“What was — is — your daughter’s name?”

“Sarah. She was born in 19 _ _.”

My breath caught in my throat. We looked at each other, and I debated whether or not to say it. What if I made things worse?

“That’s the year I was born. I am the age of your Sarah.”

He smiled and wiped a lone tear from one of his own riverbeds.

Then he told me stories. Stories about his work, about the many miscarriages his wife suffered after Sarah, about the way the children in his church would come up and start talking to him — “It hasn’t all been bad,” he assured. — about his love of working with wood, about how he made his wife’s casket when she died.

“She was the jewel of my life,” he said, “so I made a jewelry box to hold her.”

I don’t know how that gentleman felt when he eventually walked away from me, but I felt thankful that Sarah had — has — a father such as him to remember her and miss her and love her still.

 

All Kinds of Barrenness

IMG_0211Special thanks to Katy Cloninger for today’s guest post. Her words of empathy, compassion, and truth are a welcome start to the day.


What does it mean to be barren? Merriam-Webster coldly and bleakly defines it as “incapable of producing offspring,” or “not yet or not recently pregnant.” But on a personal level, there are as many kinds of barrenness as there are barren women.

Some women fall into what may be called the classic category: they have never been able to get pregnant, no matter how much they try to “take charge of their fertility.” Others have been able to conceive but not to carry a child to term. Yet others have carried a pregnancy to term, but the baby was stillborn. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Other women suffer from secondary infertility. They have had one or more children, but for whatever reason, or no apparent reason at all, they cannot have any more. Such cases are made even sadder when the one child a woman has is taken from her by SIDS or some other tragic circumstance. Lord, have mercy on us all.

There are women who have had abortions before they knew the value of life, or knew it but were coerced, and the procedure took away not only the child they had but the ability to have children later on. Or perhaps some other surgery, necessary to preserve their own life, robbed them of the ability to bring more life into the world. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Then there are those women who never found a suitable husband, though their greatest desire was to be a loving wife and mother. Others have found husbands, but their husbands have turned out not to want children, or there are difficulties consummating the marriage, or their husbands have abandoned them, terminating all dreams of a happy home full of children. Perhaps the husband is the sterile spouse. Or perhaps the husband met an untimely death, leaving his young and hopeful wife a widow in her prime childbearing years. Lord, have mercy on us all.

No doubt there are many more kinds of barrenness than I have named. And for every person touched by barrenness, the individual details and complications add layer upon layer of sorrow and grief. Often we feel completely unique and alone in our pain.

But that feeling is a satanic lie, for the Bible tells us so.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah prophesies of Jesus, “yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4). This Jesus, the Son of the Virgin, indeed “grew up before [the LORD] like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground” (v. 2), for the very purpose that He would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (v. 3)—for us and for our salvation. Though our suffering is unique in some ways, it is common in that we all suffer the effects of sin; we all suffer the death-in-life of existing in a fallen world. We need a Savior to come and suffer for us the true forsaking of God so that we can be assured that God will never forsake us (Heb 13:5).

But because we are in Christ, our suffering leads ultimately to glorification. St. Peter instructs that “those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19), and to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (v. 13). St. Paul picks up on the same theme. He reminds us that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17). Paul later adds that “those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29)—an image that is first cruciform, and only later glorified.

Nevertheless, Paul comforts us that our sufferings are brief and, with Peter, he encourages us to await the revelation of God’s glory in our now-broken selves: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Our glorification is so certain that Paul can speak of it in the past tense: “those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called he also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (v. 30). Even now, Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit is bringing forth fruit as we suffer; we can “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:3–5).

In our present vale of tears, we may not know why God sends us this cross or that one. But we are assured that somehow, it is for our good: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Our crosses, whatever they be, are always hard to bear—would be impossible to bear without God’s constant and mighty aid. But even if we are not bearing fruit in our wombs, the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in us. So we wait with patience, trusting that the God who opens and closes our wombs knows best, and knowing that the glorification of our fallen world—and our fallen bodies—is at hand.


Katy Cloninger is a freelance copyeditor and the divorced mother of one. She has a BA in English from Newberry College and is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, SC. She loves reading, writing, hearing, teaching, and singing about her Savior Jesus Christ and the marvelous truths of God’s Word.

He Restores My Soul

Emmanuel Press and I have been working hard on a little project the last few months. It brings me great pleasure to share with you — Finally! — that we are collaborating with a host of experienced female writers to bring you a new book, He Restores My Soul, set to release in October of 2018.

He Restores My Soul is primarily a book of empathy and encouragement for the cross-bearing Christian woman. Utilizing the timeless, rich comfort permeating Psalm 23, each chapter applies the theology of the cross to a particular kind of suffering, pointing the reader to a firm faith in God’s promises and a resounding joy in His mysterious work of conforming us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

Various topics addressed within the pages of He Restores My Soul include living the Christian faith in the public arena, carrying a child in the womb who is not expected to live, mothering while working, regretting an abortion, struggling against same-sex attraction, caring for aging parents, children leaving the faith, living with mental illness, suffering from depression and chronic diseases, and raising children apart from one’s own upbringing.

Who are the other writers, you ask? Follow Emmanuel Press and me on Facebook in the months ahead to learn more.


About Emmanuel Press

Established by Rev. Michael and Janet Frese in 2004, Emmanuel Press is a publishing house dedicated to producing works essential to confessional Lutheran theology, including theological books, liturgical and catechetical resources, and ecclesiastical greeting cards. Emmanuel Press brings together treasures of Christian literature, exceptional artwork, and a clear confession of faith. Learn more at www.emmanuelpress.us or contact directly at emmanuelpress@gmail.com.

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Born for You

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My routine is identical every year.

I watch the last child leave the church — the first Christmas Eve service rehearsal officially in the books — then I drive home, unlock the front door, set my purse and music down on the front entryway bench, walk to the living room, lower myself onto the couch, and cry.

I usually cry for the entire afternoon.

It’s not that I am unhappy. It is that I am sad-happy.

So many hugs. So many songs. So many curious queries. So many eager entreaties for personal attention. So many little heads turned toward mine for affirmation. So many children, and none of them mine and all of them mine.

My barren heart overdoses on the sweet stimulation, and it comes out as salt water on my pillow. Grief is strange that way. It’s triggered by happiness. To be loved stirs up memories of loves lost. So many children, but none of them from my home. None of them in my home.

This year, the tears started long before any of us left the church.

“Christ the child was born for you!” the children sang into my face. The words entered my ear but landed in my heart. “Christ the child was born for you!”

The final chord faded, and the children — my children — stared openly at my red cheeks, my wet eyes. One of them giggled nervously.

“It’s okay,” I reassured, wiping at the river. I tried to think of anything but the present moment. It wasn’t time to commit to the annual cry. Not just yet. I took a deep breath. “Do you realize what you just sang to me? Those words are so comforting. Jesus was born for me! He is born for you! Thank you for comforting me with your song.”

The children simply watched, mystified.

“I will try not to cry when you sing on Christmas Eve,” I winked, still wiping, “but I might. This song comforts me, and I sometimes cry when I am happy.”

One boy scrunched up his nose. “People cry when they’re happy?”

“Adults do,” I said. “At least, some of them.”

“Why?”

No one was giggling anymore. Everyone was listening.

“I think,” I started, “it’s because adults have known a bit of sadness in their life, so when they hear something comforting, it relieves them of their sadness. Crying is a way of relieving sadness. It is a way of being happy.”

It could be explained better, I think, but the children took my answer in stride. They usually do.

We sang some more songs. We practiced some more notes. Before the children left, some of them waited in line at the piano to tell me some of their wishes, to confide in me some of their hopes, to cry onto my shoulder some of their own sadnesses, and to hug my heart close to theirs.

Such sweet stimulation. Such sad-happiness.

I cried the rest of the day.