Saturday, June 12, 2010


Gary Lutheran Church, Gary, MN

125th Anniversary Worship on June 13, 2010
2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:15; Luke 7:36-8:3

I love to do word-associations. You know: hear a word and then say the first thing that pops into your head.

If you hear “Gotcha,” what comes to mind first?

I think of the infamous “gotcha question.” You know—a question designed to trick you into saying something you don’t really want to say.

A classic “gotcha question” goes like this: Have you stopped beating your spouse yet? Just answer with a yes or a no, please!

The problem is that no matter how you answer that question, you’re going to look bad: GOTCHA!

News reporters just love to ask aspiring politicians “gotcha questions”--questions designed to take someone down a notch—questions calculated to generate a headline.

Gotcha questions…most of them, anyway….can really have a mean edge to them. Most “gotcha questions” tend to stunt growth and cut off conversation.

And yet….and yet there are “gotcha” questions that can actually help us, bring us to deeper insight into ourselves….and lead us to grow….

We hear a couple of these sorts of gotcha questions in our lessons for today. Interestingly, both times we hear gotcha questions in these texts, they arise from parables that are told—parables that illuminate what is going on in someone’s life, parables that invite their hearers to “dive deeper” into the dark side of human nature…all in service to hearing a new, fresh word of grace and forgiveness.

First there is the conclusion to the familiar story of David and Bathsheba, from II Samuel. We know the tawdry details that have brought us to this point….David’s decision to stay home rather than leaving town with his army….his voyeuristic “noticing” of his gorgeous neighbor, Bathsheba, taking an open air bath….and the subsequent acts of adultery, murder and coverup. The plotline of the story is as old as the hills and as fresh as the latest fare on HBO or the silver screen.

But the untangling of this sordid web of sin—the untangling is what we see in our First Lesson—a masterpiece of detective work that would make for a great episode of Law and Order (assuming, of course, that the prophet Nathan had first read David his Miranda Rights!).

The prophet comes to David, and instead of leading with an indictment, he spins a yarn about two men—one of them wealthy beyond measure, the other man poor as a church mouse. When the rich man has company come to visit, instead of slaughtering one of his many sheep, he abducts and dispatches the poor man’s lone little ewe lamb.

It’s such a gripping story that Nathan can’t even get to the ending of it; King David interrupts, in a fury, issuing his own verdict for such a weasel: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die….”

And that was all it took for Nathan to reply: “Gotcha! Take a good look in the mirror—you are the man.” What a piece of work that story is….and what a conviction Nathan won….as we see and hear every Ash Wednesday, with David’s confession, Psalm 51 on our lips!

Some “gotcha” questions are good for us, don’t you know? Some “gotcha” questions bring us up short, catch us in the act, convict us and cause us to see ourselves for who we really are.”

Something very similar happens in our Gospel lesson from Luke 7. Again, the scene is familiar—a great banquet in the home of a hospitable Pharisee, with Jesus the guest of honor. But then in the midst of the celebrating, a notorious woman lets herself in and makes a royal fuss over Jesus….sobbing and letting her tears fall on Jesus’ feet and wiping his feet with her hair and anointing him with precious oil.

Before the Pharisees can get a good grumble going, Jesus says that he has a story to tell—a story about two men who were “under water” in debt….one of them owing a month and a half’s worth of wages, the other owing ten times that amount.

Both men, astonishingly, have their debts completely written off by their creditor. “Now which of them will love him [the creditor] more?” Jesus asks….and you get the impression that Simon the Pharisee feels a noose tightening around his neck as he stammers out his answer: “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

And Jesus says: “You have judged rightly…” though he could just as soon have said: “Gotcha!” Because Simon didn’t just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He knew he was in Jesus’ crosshairs, set up by that question for an uncomfortable, but ultimately transformative comparison to the notorious unnamed woman….whose love far outstripped his own, love that flowed forth from a forgiveness that had freed the woman from a load of sin.

There are “gotcha” questions that aren’t just parlor games or weapons in verbal sparring matches. There are “gotcha” questions that can, indeed, signal the end of the old in our lives….paving the way for something new….as happened to David of old and as happened to Simon the Pharisee, shamed by a woman whom everyone knew though no one named.

But even these “meet, right and salutary” gotcha questions can only take us so far. When with David and Simon we are brought up short, our flaws laid bare, our guilt exposed….how do we find our way home from that? Where do we turn for the new life we know we need?

Gotcha questions—even good, well-intentioned ones—can’t “deliver the goods.” We need something more, something better, something completely different.

We need the “gotcha” promise of the only One who can take us home….the barrier-breaking, future-opening, grace-overflowing “Gotcha” that has not a question mark, but an exclamation mark attached to it.

“I gotcha,” God says to us. “I gotcha….I got your back…in fact I’ve got your everything—back, front, top, bottom and everything in-between. I’ve got your sins covered, your guilt neutralized, your shame removed, your future assured in Jesus Christ.”

There’s the “gotcha” we’ve been waiting for.

David, old scallywag that he was….miserable cheating, lying, conniving, power-abuser that he was….even David heard the “gotcha” promise of his long-suffering God. David who uttered his own death sentence, and deservedly so!---heard these sweet, completely undeserved words: “The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Gotcha, David!

And that unnamed woman in Luke 7, she too heard it, straight from Jesus own lips: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Gotcha, sister!

And—thank the Lord—you and I have heard that same gotcha promise in our lives, more than once. Indeed that’s what keeps us coming back again and again and again to places like this.

For 125 years Gary Lutheran Church, has been a place where God’s great “gotcha” promise in Jesus Christ has been uttered and grasped and believed and shared.

Think of it—for the last 6500 weeks, Sunday after Sunday, the faithful have gathered here to listen to God’s Word for the lost, a Word aimed right at sinners who need a Savior, doubters just dying to hear God’s “gotcha” promise.

Imagine it—picture the hundreds of baptisms that have splashed persons in this promise…count up the thousands of persons who have come to this altar to eat and drink in this promise, God’s “gotcha” forever, in Jesus Christ.

Ever since 1885…ever since that year when the Washington Monument was dedicated, when the first rabies vaccine was tested, when Grover Cleveland first became president….ever since 1885 this congregation has been one of God’s best “gotcha” places here in Norman County, Minnesota.

You have gathered here this morning to savor a host of memories about this church.

You’ve come together for a delicious time of remembering that giant cheering section of saints who have come and gone from this congregation.

All of that is good—very good!

But the greatest thing about this anniversary day…and the most wondrous thing about Gary Lutheran Church is that God has kept showing up here for 125 years….as your anniversary theme verse from Zephaniah 3 puts it: “The Lord, your God, is in your midst…” God’s gotcha and God’s not going to let you go, either.

Moreover, God intends to keep uttering his “gotcha” promise for years to come.

Gary Lutheran’s proud history is worth celebrating today, not least because it’s such a great launching pad for the next 125 years….during which time you and others who will follow you will continue to live, breathe and be sent into the world to proclaim this promise: “God’s gotcha…God’s got your back….God’s got a hold of us forever….The Lord, our God, is in our midst and that, finally, is all that matters.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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