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Posts Tagged ‘centering life in God’

               

Gotcha is a slang term derived from the phrase “I got you”and usually refers to an unexpected capture or discovery of something. I learned about this term 51 years ago when I began working as a reporter for a small weekly in California. The editor wanted me to know that asking questions that will make someone look either foolish or guilty about something without having facts (you remember those) to support the question was a no-no. Usually, the gotcha question was something like asking a politician, “Sir, when did you stop beating your wife?”  Typically, this creates quite a stir and any quick answer will make the politician look either foolish or guilty or both.

Gotcha, however, is not a new game. It is the same game the Sadduccees were playing with Jesus when they asked him their long, convoluted question about levirate marriage. Whose wife, they asked, would a woman be in the resurrection after she had married a man with seven brothers. Essentially, levirate marriage is the tradition where a woman marries a man and if he dies then she marries his brother. When the brother dies, she marries another brother, and so on, one after another. So, they ask Jesus, “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?

Couple of things to remember about the Sadducees. First, the Sadducees came out of the priestly cast in ancient Israel and over time gained control over the rituals in the Jerusalem temple a position which also made them power brokers in affairs of state during the Roman rule of the ancient near east. From their perspective God was intricately tied to the Temple and the rituals and liturgies of the Temple and without the Temple the people could not worship God or be God’s people. Also, they did not rely on the oral tradition like the Pharisees did for their interpretation of scripture. Indeed, they considered only the five books of Torah-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy- the real scripture unlike the Pharisees who included the prophets and psalms as scripture. In addition, they rejected much of the Pharisees’ teaching, including the resurrection. The did not believe in resurrection. They thought resurrection was at best a lot of nonsense. That’s why, when they ask Jesus the question, they don’t care about his answer. All they wanted to do was to win the debate, embarrass, discredit, or destroy Jesus, so the crowds would stop following him. That’s the reason they ask this clincher question, “Whose wife will she be?”   with an unmistakable sneer just waiting to shout “gotcha!” For the Sadducees, gotcha is not a game, it is a weapon designed to destroy the opposition.

Jesus, of course, answers their question by simply pointing out the inappropriateness of the question, given the difference between life in this age and the age to come. In this age, the fact of death makes marriage and perpetuation of life essential. However, in the age to come there is no death and the earthbound nature of marriage will give way to the greater life promised to the children of the resurrection. Then, Jesus follows that with a wonderful example of midrash or interpretation, by adding testimony from Moses, who in the presence of the burning bush confessed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living, “to whom all of them are alive.”  This is who God is, Jesus says, the One in whom and for whom death has lost its sting forever. God is God of the living, now and in the resurrection.

This, of course left the Sadducees speechless. They clearly had lost the game of “gotcha.” But, they had lost more than this because what they failed to realize is they were playing this game with God. The Sadducees were so certain of their own perspective about God that they had become blind and had become overly focused on the small stuff of life that is unimportant, rather the big stuff of life that is important. Their blindness and focus on the small stuff led them to disregard the significance of the Temple as a place of worship. This wonderful building with massive stones and the appearance of stability and long lasting traditions was important for the Israelites because it was the symbol pointing the people of God beyond themselves, beyond the power structures of the world around them-the kings or emperors and the wealthy who benefited from power as well as beyond the peoples’ own limited vision of all God was doing in the world by pointing the people to the God, who takes an unformed mass of lifeless chaos then molds and shapes it to create life, creating a world capable of sustaining life through God’s ordered and intricate interconnections and interdependencies with a rhythm of work and rest, and by pointing to the God who commits God’s own being to an intimate relationship with a particular people as the way to demonstrate to all people how wondrous and marvelous God’s love is and how God’s intention is for all creation to have life in abundance within the tranquility of the wholeness of peace.

The Sadducees were so caught up in the small stuff of life they had forgotten why the Lord prompted the prophet Haggai to call the people to rebuild the Temple after they returned from exile in Babylon.  When the Israelites returned from Babylonian exile and met those who had never left Judah and they discovered they had to rebuild their community. The returnees had to build homes, rebuild social structures, and rebuild relationships. They also began to rebuild the Temple, but somewhere between planting and harvesting and trying to rebuild their economic life along with their community life, they focused on the small stuff and stopped rebuilding the Temple. Eighteen years later, the prophet Haggai calls the Israelites back to complete the rebuilding project.  After all, they had finished homes, shouldn’t God have a finished home?

But, that’s not why God wanted them to rebuild the Temple. The Israelites need to rebuild the Temple because they have sowed much, but harvested little.  They move from work to home and back to work then back to home in a routine like a hamster running on a wheel, moving fast, but getting nowhere because they were centering their life on the small unimportant stuff of life and not on the big important stuff of life such as where their life is centered or on whom their life is centered.

Rebuilding the Temple will guide the people to once again center their lives in God and their relationship with God, the relationship that is foundational for the rebuilding of their community.

Yet, the Sadducees were also blind to really seeing God. God doesn’t need to live in a building nor will God somehow vanish if the building is destroyed. To suggest that any of that is true is absurd. God is present with us in the middle of lives as the psalmist in our reading this morning reminds us, but God also transcends creation. God is not caught within the creation God brought into existence, which is in part the reason God created humankind. We are supposed to represent God within creation by acting in the way God acts with compassion, patience, steadfast and self-giving love. Now, the Temple, like church buildings, is simply the place where the people of God gather together to acknowledge the big stuff of life, which is that God is the one who gives them life, God is the one who sustains life and it is God who can be counted upon to save life by transforming the circumstances of life in ways we may not always see or appreciate except in hindsight.

Unfortunately, as the centuries pass blindness and a focus on small stuff become hardened like concrete among some of God’s people and they no longer see the way God is at work in the world to change the world. All they see is a building and they mistake the building for God and they begin worshipping the building and the rituals conducted inside of it instead of worshipping God. Sort of like worshipping the organ, instead of using the organ as one more way of praising God through sung or instrumental prayer or worshipping the layout of the sanctuary instead of using it to creatively worship God.

It is the same when people instead of worshipping God, worship the rules of piety, particularly rules about who is ritually pure enough to be included in the community and those who are ritually impure and must be kept outside the community. Or, the way some folks will hide themselves away in a small, isolated community thinking they are the only “true people” of God. The result of all this is that those who are supposed to be God’s representatives and witnesses to the world actually separate themselves from God just the way Adam and Eve did in the garden. And, with the same result.

So much so that when God comes to be with us in Jesus, they ask foolish questions about the resurrection as if the God who creates life out of a lifeless mass of chaos cannot resurrect life from death, betraying both their foolishness and their disdain for God and for God’s people. Also, they fail to do what God calls his people to do – live here and now in the joy and the anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises of life by living today as the people God calls them to be and in the way God calls them to live.

This is Luke’s lesson for us who are gathered here this morning. It is an invitation to open wide our eyes and our ears, so we might not fall prey to the mistakes the Sadducees make nor be as, Calvin tells us, “foolish and rash by being focused on rearranging the furniture of heaven and taking the temperature of hell.” For when we do so, we focus on the small stuff and forget the big stuff, as the psalmist reminds us, that we are called to be the generation “that lauds the works of God to younger generations and declare God’s mighty acts and the glorious splendor of God’s majesty to the next generation, so all might sing aloud of God’s righteousness and abundant goodness.”

We forget that we do not need to worry about our future because our future and the world’s future is in the hands of God who in Jesus Christ has triumphed and will triumph over all the powers of suffering, sin, injustice, and death. We forget that God in Christ has freed us to live today in the joyful anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises of life as God’s servant church, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what Christ commissioned us to do- Go out into the world teaching everything that Christ has taught us.

As Julian Hartt reminds us, “We and the world have a great and desperate need for the gospel. The power of that word is not in utterance but in concrete life. The power of the word is that a real, transcendently righteous and creative love is within the God, who is comprehensively and decisively in charge of all life and God willing shares this righteous and creative love with all creation in its life now and with humankind in the resurrection life lived with God.

Hence, while the church has an utterance to make, sermons to preach, hymns to sing, and prayers to offer, above all it has a life-giving, life sustaining compassionate, abundant love to share, which is the big stuff of life lived from the inside out, as Richard Carlson writes, “Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple revelation that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present.”

May it be so for you and for me today and all days lived in the light of God’s presence where the fullness of joy and the tranquility of wholeness dwells.

 

 

 

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