Faking Your Death

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Romans 6:1b-11

Matthew 10:24-39

John and Anne Darwin had acquired a huge debt equivalent to tens of thousands of dollars. John and Anne had no hope of paying off their debts by traditional means and so they came up with a very non-traditional plan to do so. John Darwin faked his own death and his “surviving” wife collected his life insurance money. John went out for a trip in his canoe one early morning and never returned. He failed to report to work later that day and was reported missing. The next day, a rescue team recovered the remains of his wrecked canoe. John Darwin’s body was never found on that lake. John went into hiding for the next year until he was officially pronounced dead. Anne Darwin, his wife, then collected the life insurance money. Using this substantial sum of money, Anne Darwin settled on the massive debt she and her husband had owed and she found that she still had quite a lot of money left over.

 

The couple spent several years figuring out how to invest their new money. After first traveling to Cyprus and Spain, they decided to build a hotel in Panama. John, however, soon realized that his fake passport would not pass the scrutiny of applying for an “investor’s visa” to build the hotel. So he decided to return to his home country, fake amnesia, and apply for the investor’s visa under his real name. To make a long one short, things unraveled rather quickly after that as the police did not believe John’s story, and John and Anne were arrested for insurance fraud.

John Darwin sought to eliminate his debt and start a new life by convincing the world that he was dead.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that we who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection are dead to sin and alive with Christ. We are dead to sin. The power of Sin and Death are convinced that we are already dead. You can’t kill someone who is already dead and you can’t harm the life of one who is already dead. When your enemies think you are dead, you are free to live without fear.

When my grandfather was just a baby, he became very sick. His parents were unsure if he would survive the next day or two. My grandfather’s family lived in a small shtetl or town, and there were not many advanced medical facilities that they had access to. They called a rabbi who was a practicing mekubbal or a teacher of Kaballah. Kaballah is a form of Jewish mysticism. This mekubbal agreed to see my infant grandfather. When he arrived, he said some prayers and then gave my grandfather a new name. He was no longer “Henry Eisenberg” but now “Henry Alter Eisenberg.” Alter is a Hebrew word meaning “old.” The idea is that the angel of death who is searching for particular people who will die soon, won’t be able to find the appropriate person because they have a new name. The angel of death will be looking for Henry Eisenberg, but will find only a Henry Alter Eisenberg. Someone can then say to the angel, “You must have the wrong guy or maybe you already got him. Goodbye!” My zayde ended up recovering from that illness, grew up, survived the Holocaust in Poland, and is now 95 years old. I don’t know if our family really tricked the angel of death and all of that, but he certainly has lived into his changed name.

John and Anne Darwin had a massive financial debt that they had to eliminate. My grandfather had a deadly illness he needed to be rid of. We too experience the power of sin and death. We need to be rid of selfishness, greed, pride, shame, fear, and oppression. In Christ, we have died to sin and are alive with him. In Christ, death and sin think we are dead, but Christ knows us to be alive. In baptism we have been buried with Jesus and also raised with him, so that we might walk in newness of life.

What would you do if you faked your own death and you were free from all negative consequences? What would you do if you had the freedom to start a completely new life? No more debt, no more enemies to bother you. Just the unbounded freedom of someone who knows they are alive. Would you go to Panama to open up a hotel like John and Anne Darwin? Would you live a life of appreciation for your family and loved ones (who would be in on the secret that you are alive) like my zayde did when his family “tricked” the angel of death? If you found that this worked well for you, would you try to help others “die” so they can be free from debt, enemies, and illness?

Or would you stop by and say hello to your debtors and enemies? Would you send a “Wish You Were Here” postcard to the angel of death using your real name? No! Of course not! If you did that, the ruse would be over. That was John Darwin’s downfall. He thought he could backtrack a bit and reveal that he was alive but pretend to have amnesia. John Darwin tried to step back into his old life again and it became his undoing.

In baptism we have been buried with Jesus and we were also raised with him so that we might walk in newness of life. So that we might walk in newness of life, not think or even believe in newness of life, but walk. We have participated in Christ’s death and resurrection- dead to sin and alive with Christ- not just so that we might know that this is true, but it has been done so that we might live it out as well. It has been done so we might live as though we truly are free.

We believe that death has lost its sting, that we are no longer bound to the power of sin, and that life eternal and abundant has been given freely to us. If we believe that to be true, why would we live our lives as though that were not the case? We do forget though. We forget that we are dead to sin and alive with Christ. Paul is writing these words to remind us of who we are- who we truly are. These words were written so that we might remember who thinks that we are dead and who knows that we are alive. We may forget and convince ourselves that we belong under the power of sin, but the Good News comes to us to remind us that the only one to whom we belong is Jesus Christ whose life and power belong to us.

We are dead to the belief that the violence and murders in our city are just a part of our reality in Trenton to be quietly accepted. We are alive with Christ who promises God’s Kingdom here and now and where violence and death are no more.

We are dead to the sin of racism that has taken the lives of so many women and men through fear and ignorance held by those in power. We are alive with Christ in whom there is no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male and female.

We are dead to selfishness that alienates and destroys ourselves and others. We are alive with Christ who calls us his sisters and brothers, who calls us to lay down our lives for the sake of others, and who draws all to himself.

We are dead to the shame we carry for past sins, for the inappropriate, imposed stigma of mental illness, for whatever else we know to be true about ourselves but derided by others. We are alive with Christ who heals all brokenness, who speaks truth, and who knows the deepest reaches of our hearts.

We are dead to sin and alive with Christ. As far as sin and death are concerned, you are dead and buried- sin and death have no hold over you anymore- not really. And as far as Christ is concerned, you are alive with him. We are dead to sin and alive with Christ. Praise be to God!

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