13th May 2018, Revd Tim Calow's sermon

OUR DEEP SECRETS – THEY CAN BE TRANSFORMED

13/05/18  EMBSAY 

John 17:6-19 & Acts 1:15-17 & 21-end

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord.

Do you carry deep secrets from your past? – things that you would never want to be disclosed – tales of hurt and pain. I have such secrets – there are people who hurt me deeply. Even more painful are the memories of some of the things that I have done to others. I hasten to say that I am not about to confess. This is not the time or place. But the memories are there, deep within.

In today’s sermon – after Jesus’ ascension to heaven – and as we wait for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, I would like to reflect upon the example of Judas – who we heard something of in our reading from Acts. I would like to ask, Do we try to forget the things of which we are ashamed? Do we condemn them? Alternatively might we be able to transform our stories into something new? Might we even find forgiveness?

The way our reading from Acts was presented – in our Anglican lectionary - seems to me to be an example of forgetting and moving on. We have a brief mention of Judas “who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus” and we move rapidly on to appoint a replacement. This strikes me as unhealthy – for unless we acknowledge and come to terms with our mistakes – we will make the same mistakes again, both individually and as Church.

What did our Church have us forget then? Peter was telling how Judas was one of the disciples – then the writer of Acts explains....

“Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood. “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’”

Perhaps it is not surprising that the early church “had issues” with Judas and condemned him – he was after all the man who had betrayed their saviour. By human standards this man had acted in the most appalling fashion. On top of this – the disciples would have been feeling guilt themselves as they had deserted Jesus. But should we be judging someone by human standards? – in one sense we have no choice. However the gospel reading offers a rather different perspective. 

This reading occurs just before Jesus is betrayed – he is praying with and for his close friends, preparing them for the difficult times which they are facing. “I have made your name known to these whom you gave me from the world”. He has protected them – but will be leaving them. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world”

Jesus – and God have very different standards. Jesus is warning his friends that they are likely to be at odds with the world around them. The same kind of thinking had struck Pete Rollins who wrote the following short tale – imagining what lay behind Judas’ betrayal.

“EARLY ONE EVENING, WHILE THE OTHER DISCIPLES WERE BUSY PREPARING FOR THE UPCOMING FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, Judas fell into a deep and troubled sleep. While he lay motionless on the hard ground, he received a terrifying vision. In this vision, Judas found himself around a table with the other disciples, sharing an intimate Passover meal with Jesus. At this meal, Jesus spoke solemnly about broken flesh and sacrificial blood while breaking bread and pouring wine. Judas was then transported to the local Jewish temple, where he promised to identify Jesus with a kiss so that the religious authorities could arrest him. In the blink of an eye, he found himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, embracing Jesus and tenderly kissing him on the cheek. This was followed swiftly by the arrest, trial, torture, and death of his Lord. Yet the dream did not end there; instead Judas went on to experience his own sorrow and remorse at this act of betrayal and see firsthand his own harrowing suicide. 

As if this were not enough, he then found himself in a courtroom with disciples through the ages condemning his actions and pouring out insults. Yet in this vision he went on to witness the Resurrection and the Ascension of his Beloved. He saw the spread of Jesus’ message across the entire world, its victory over the forces of Rome and the way in which it would transform the lives of countless millions. When Judas awoke in a cold sweat from this nightmare, he recalled a teaching that had recently been given by Jesus. Only yesterday Jesus had addressed his disciples, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23–25). 

As Judas reflected again on these words he felt a profound sadness well up within his heart, for he finally knew why he had been called. He knew what needed to be done. He understood now what his destiny was.” 

So in this story a fictitious scenario is created that casts the betrayal of Judas in an entirely different light. Here we are led to conceive of Judas as one of the most courageous figures in the Bible, as one who betrayed Christ, not because of a love for money or because he had been overpowered by some demonic influence, but rather because he knew what would result from that betrayal. While this is a fictitious narrative, the idea of playing with the story in this way is encouraged by the biblical text itself. The various conflicting references to Judas invite us to imagine and explore different motives for his behaviour. 

The various accounts found in the Gospels cause us to ask whether Judas betrayed Jesus (handing him over for money), whether Jesus betrayed Judas (employing him as a disposable pawn in a divine strategy), or whether Judas and Jesus worked together (planning in advance what was to take place). 

There is certainly a resonance between Pete Rollins’ account and the gospel reading that we have read today “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world”

Perhaps as we remember and reflect on our own lives we may be able to find a different and much more hopeful story buried in those dark places.  

How do we look on Judas and on our own lives?

 

I have just been reading a book by Peter Stanford “Judas: the troubling history of the renegade apostle”. The book goes through a long and troubled history – in which those whom we have fallen out with - are often identified as ‘Judas’.

But, at the end of the book Peter Stanford visits the church of St. Nicholas in Moreton, Dorset. During the Second World War it was hit by a stray German bomb. All the stained glass windows were destroyed. 

When the church was restored a series of engraved glass windows were installed. Eventually, after a twenty year delay because of objections, a thirteenth window – of Judas Iscariot, was included. It can only be seen from outside the church (not from the pews). In it is depicted the scene that our lectionary reading omitted. Judas is hung by a rope from a gnarled branch. His back is to us – we don’t see the guts. In his right hand he clings to the moneybag. But “From his left hand, open with fingers splayed, fall the thirty pieces of silver down towards the ground where, on contact, they turn into flowers. No longer a bleak field of blood, Judas’ death place is transformed into a spring meadow, a symbol of regeneration, rebirth and redemption….and onto Judas, as he dies, light streams down from the heavens. 

So it can be for us.

Do you carry deep secrets from your past? – things that you would never want to be disclosed – tales of hurt and pain. I have such secrets – there are people who hurt me deeply. Even more painful are the memories of some of the things that I have done to others. I hasten to say that I am not about to confess. This is not the time or place. But the memories are there, deep within.

However the very worst that we and others do - it can be transformed in the light of God. Let us remember, re-imagine and let us allow forgiveness to shine upon us.

AMEN