Gotcha!

Lk. 20:27-38
11/11/07

T’is the season of “gotcha.” It is the political season and the various parties are seeking to hold accountable the candidates of the opposite party. “Mr. Smith. How can you be pro-life and support the war in Iraq?” “Mrs. Jones, do you not care that a terrorist could ride a bicycle down 42nd Street and kill thousands of innocent children and expectant mothers, not to mention those who are single, on welfare or married?”

Playing “gotcha” is probably as old as mankind. Even animals seem to do it, in a seemingly endless round of surprise, tag and challenge.

After Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he met increasing opposition from the Jewish leaders. That opposition foreshadowed His crucifixion at the hands of the Roman and Jewish leaders. There were two main parties in Jerusalem, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were sort of like some Republicans: ultra conservative fundamentalists. They were wealthy, aristocratic, supported the Romans and included many of the priests. They believed that scriptures meant what they said and were to be interpreted as little as possible. Moreover they gave credence to only the first five books of the Old Testament. These first five books are called the Books of Moses. The Sadducees did not give the prophetic books much credence or weight in their deliberations. Any thought of an afterlife, or of eternal life was rejected on the grounds that it was not substantiated in the first five books of the Bible.

The Pharisees were sort of the liberal Democrats, included many rabbis and were seen as “revisionists.” They included in their teachings not only the Books of Moses but also the works of the prophets. Their main goal was to make relevant the teachings in the Bible, the Torah. They dealt with the problem of helping people live out their faith in the context and confines of their lives. For example, can’t go out and feed the livestock on a Sabbath? Well tie a rope to yourself and wherever you go you will still be attached to the house, and will not have “really” left home. The Pharisees believed in an afterlife and in eternal life, at least collectively but not as individually and personally as Christians do.

Now the Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to play “gotcha.” They wanted to place Him in the midst of the controversy that they had with the Pharisees. Was Jesus going to side with the Sadducees or the Pharisees? (Either way would spell trouble.) So the Sadducees posed the question regarding the marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law following the death of her husband. The law of Moses (Scripture) proscribes that a widow must marry her brother-in-law if she has not had children and if her husband has died. The Sadducees play “what if.” What if husbands number two, three, four, five, six and seven die and then the widow dies? To whom will she be married in the resurrection, in heaven or in the afterlife? The Sadducees thought they had Jesus caught in a big “gotcha.”

Jesus comes down on the side of the Pharisees. He affirms eternal life. At the same time He points out that Moses spoke of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hence they still lived and implied that there is an afterlife. (The Sadducees are hoisted on their own petard, a tiny “gotcha”). Jesus goes on to say that in eternity there is no marriage, but rather we are with God and like angels and children of God. Jesus concludes with the statement, “Now he is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Jesus’ focus here is on eternal life.

The ultimate irony is that the crucifixion of Jesus - His suffering and sacrifice - is the ultimate, cosmic “gotcha.” For the crucifixion convicts the naysayers by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and judgment on the venality, sinfulness and just plain pig-headedness of the world. Jesus’ atonement on the cross shows God’s love for the world and is a slap in the face to the forces of evil and death. By His rising, Jesus witnesses to life after death and to eternal life. Jesus refutes His opponents on every level.

It is tempting to read this passage in Luke as simply a debate between Jesus and his adversaries. But it is more than that. Jesus in effect throws on the table the issue of eternal life and of our relationship to God. How one lives and what one believes affects how they will live in eternity. If one stands on the sidelines and keeps his/her distance from a meaningful relationship with God in Christ, then in the afterlife that will be part of his/her eternal life.

You and I live in the big “gotcha.” The time you and I have left upon this mortal earth is all the time we got. It is all the time we got in order to respond to a loving God who cares for the salvation of our souls. How you and I live, how we treat one another, how we create a meaningful devotional life and how we practice the stewardship of our lives from now on help shape our eternal life with God.

I have done seven funerals in this last month. Each of them was poignant and touching. At each funeral there was a sense of lost hopes and dreams, of regret over things done and left undone and a yearning that things could have been better. Where there was strong faith, attitudes and relationships were better. But always there was a big sense of finality. It is over. There is no more. Second chances have run out.

In today’s passage Jesus puts the issue of eternal life on the table and says that our God is the God of the living and not of the dead. Therefore, brothers and sisters, choose life. In the midst of the big “gotcha,” the reality that we have only a finite amount of time left, the reality that you and I are and will be ultimately called to account, Jesus Christ wants us to choose life.

I have a coffee cup in my office that says, “Carpe Diem,” or “seize the day.” That is a somewhat pagan thought that can easily be baptized into Christian theology. You and I are called to choose life - to align ourselves with those things that are creative, recreative, positive, life affirming and uplifting. Obviously there are medical issues for many of us of depression and deterioration. But over and over I see that the healthiest sick people are those who have a strong faith, a strong piety and allow others and God to help them. Too often we allow those who are negative, the naysayers, to drag us down.

To choose life is to accept our accountability, take charge of our own lives (through Christ) and to be engaged in seeking the resolution or amelioration of those things about which we can do something. We have two pledge drives going on right now. One is for the annual stewardship pledge, which pays our yearly operating costs. The other is our Capital Fund drive, which will help us renovate our deteriorating physical plant. Be involved in both campaigns and exhibit the generosity, which you know you have within you.

To choose life is to participate on the civil level in demanding reforms and corrections to imbalances in the fields of education, housing and the plight of those who live below the poverty level. There are simple answers, but the solutions are very difficult. Participate as you can in addressing those problems.

To choose life is to mend and repair broken relationships with families. Believe me, if you want to study family dysfunction, the Petri dish is a funeral. What wears me out in dealing with death and dying is the pain which the participants feel. It is grief not only over the deceased but also over themselves and one another. Please. Choose life. Work on your relationships with those in your families and those whom you love. Get professional help if you need it, but do it.

To choose life is to observe the lilies of the field, the little children, the hills of Jerusalem or Connecticut, the waters of the oceans or the Sound, the breezes and the breath of God. To choose life is to love life, not exploit it. It is to take the time to pray at the beach, in the park, on the train or on the parking lots called the Merritt and I-95.

You and I live in the big “gotcha,” the interim time before our deaths and eternity. Jesus Christ calls us, saying, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11:28). You and I live today and tomorrow with real accountability. Jesus Christ offers to help us as we respond in humility, charity and faith. At the last days you and I are assured that “Christ will open the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in his Name, saying, Come, O blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” BCP p. 483. Brothers and sisters, on this beautiful November day, and every day, choose life! — Amen- Fr. Gage.