Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent, non-lectionary - Point of View: Mary, Mary, Mary


Sermon 3/18/12
Luke 7:36-50, 8:1-3, Luke 10:38-42, John 12:1-7, Matthew 27:45-50, 55-61, 28:1

Mary, Mary, Mary


What do we really know about Mary Magdalene? As usual, not much. But in Mary's case, we probably think we know more than we do. We assume an awful lot about poor, misunderstood Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned only rarely in the gospels; in fact, mentioned only one time outside of accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In one passage in Luke, there is mention of the fact that Mary Magdalene had been cured from possession by demons by Jesus, and that she was traveling with him along with some other women and the Twelve as he was teaching and preaching. Other than that, Mary Magdalene is only mentioned in the context of being at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, helping the women with burial rites, and then, of course, most significantly, at Jesus’ resurrection, as the first witness, the first teller of the news. She’s mentioned nowhere else, despite popular beliefs. Even now you are probably wondering, but what about this passage, what about that passage? But we have to set the record straight. Mary Magdalene is not the woman caught in adultery. She is not labeled a sinner. She is not a prostitute. She is not the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. She is not the Mary who is sister to Martha and Lazarus, not the Mary who is praised for simply sitting at Jesus’ feet. All we know for sure is that she was following Jesus, that she witnessed his crucifixion along with other women who were followers.
I’m not exactly sure how or why these several separate women in the scriptures become merged into one. It happened very early in church history, that these several stories began to be folded into one in the Christian narrative. We see evidence that Jesus was inclusive of women in his ministry – radically inclusive for his day – he has women who follow along with the rest of the disciples, he speaks to women in circumstances that were normally considered inappropriate, and he heals women along with men, commending them for their great faith. But after the church was born, when the disciples were leading and growing congregations, women’s roles in the movement began to be suppressed and minimized. By the 6th century, the Pope, Gregory the First, preached a sermon merging the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, together as one person – three women, as one woman. And it was not until 1969 that the Catholic Church officially stated that the sinful woman, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene were actually three separate women. That’s well over a thousand years of assuming Mary Magdalene to be not only a sinful woman, but more particularly, a prostitute, when the scriptures simply tell us no such thing! Centuries of paintings show Mary Magdalene with bright red hair, worn long, rather than covered as would have been appropriate. Films and musicals, even my own beloved Superstar, have portrayed Mary as a prostitute. Mary Magdalene has been seen as the example of a life redeemed, a forgiven woman who turned things around. A nice story, just not based on the truth!
But then, in the last several years, the tide seemed to turn – people started to get interested in Mary Magdalene again. And if I had to point to what sparked the interest, I’d point to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code that was so popular, now almost a decade ago. The book suggested that through DaVinci’s artwork, you could discover the hidden secret – that Jesus really married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her, and that Mary was really the most devoted disciple, whose image had been smeared by those who were jealous of her and her power and bent on telling a certain version of Jesus’ story. Interest in Mary Magdalene exploded, even though Brown’s book was a work of fiction, and people started reading some of the Gnostic Gospels, writings that were not included in our scriptures, which also pictured Mary Magdalene as a prominent disciple, though never as Jesus’ wife.
So who is Mary Magdalene, really? Personally, though I’ve read and enjoyed both The DaVinci Code, and the Gnostic Gospels, I like to focus on what the biblical scriptures tell us, with what is really in the text before us, and understanding that, before adding other sources. So who are these Marys, exactly, and really, who end up so blurred together? Let’s look at what the scriptures actually say.
First, Mary Magdalene. We see her at the tomb on Easter morning. But we’re not ready for Easter yet. The only other place Mary is mentioned is in the other text we read today: “Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” This is the only mention of Mary Magdalene other than at the cross, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. From these few verses though, we know that Mary and some other women went with Jesus and the twelve on his preaching and teaching tour. For women in his day, that is a huge and risky commitment. We know that Mary was healed by Jesus, even though we might not understand what it means to be possessed by demons. And we know that these women provided for Jesus and disciples, which suggests that they were women with some wealth and resources at their disposal to use to support Jesus’ ministry. And that is simply all the scriptures say about Mary Magdalene.
Then, there’s Mary of Bethany. We know she’s not Mary Magdalene primarily because Magdala and Bethany are two different places! Mary of Bethany is the sister of Lazarus and Martha. We see her in three significant scenes: We see her sitting and listening at Jesus’ feet while he was at her home, and while Martha prepared a meal. Martha was upset with Mary, but Jesus tells her she’s chosen the better part by listening to him. We see Mary upset with Jesus when Lazarus dies because Jesus did not arrive quickly enough to heal him. This time it is Martha who shines in her understanding of resurrection, and Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. And finally, we see Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and Judas, or in other gospels, all the disciples, being upset over her wastefulness. But Jesus commends her for her act of extravagant love.
And finally, the other woman who is often confused with these two Marys is the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. She and Mary of Bethany both anoint Jesus’ feet, and so the two have often been mistaken for one another, but anointing of feet was not a particularly unusual act. It probably happened to Jesus many times that aren’t even recorded. And thinking of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute also probably comes from this passage about an unnamed woman. This unnamed woman is never called a prostitute, just a sinner, but wearing her hair down, and the way Simon speaks of her being known as a sinner suggest that she may have been a prostitute. But there’s no conclusive proof. So this sinful woman anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment and her own tears. Simon is critical of Jesus for letting such a woman perform this act of devotion, but Jesus, with a parable, says that her sins are forgiven, and because her sins are so completely forgiven, the woman reacts with deeply loving behavior.
These are the three woman who have been rolled into one, but their stories are really quite unique. And there are even other Marys in the Bible – a few actually – but just mentioned by their very common name. So with their identities untangled, we then have to ask what we learn for ourselves. I think restoring Mary Magdalene’s reputation is a worthy endeavor on its own – she deserves to be remembered for what the gospels tell us she was – a follower of Jesus and the first witness of the resurrection. But what do we learn from her? As I’ve said, we’re looking, this Lent, at who we say Jesus is, and what that says about us. So who does Mary Magdalene say that he is? And who does Mary of Bethany say that he is? And who, even, does the sinful woman who anointed his feet say that he is? For each, in different ways, Jesus was quite literally their savior. Mary Magdalene is healed from something described as demon-possession. Seven demons, actually. Whatever this meant, it would have made her ritually unclean and shunned from society. Jesus saves her. Jesus forgives the sins of the unnamed woman, and takes a burden of guilt from her, and she responds with such love, such relief, such thankfulness. Mary of Bethany has her brother returned to life, and finds Jesus’ affirming her choices of discipleship in more than one situation. Jesus has saved these women. Who do they say he is? Their savior. And because they see him this way, their lives change dramatically. Their lives after meeting Jesus are almost unrecognizable from the lives they led before they met, knew, and followed him.
Last week, we talked about Pontius Pilate, and his apathy. He recognized Jesus as someone important, but it didn’t matter to him more than his own power and status. Who Pilate was was more important to him than who Jesus was. He isn’t changed by who Jesus is. When we look at Mary Magdalene and these other women, the questions are the same, and Mary, like Pilate, recognizes Jesus. But the difference, the critical difference, is in the response. Who Jesus is changes Mary Magdalene, and the others, because who Jesus is changes how they see themselves. Mary of Bethany is singled out by Jesus more than once for her sincere discipleship, and we hear more about her than most of the twelve, which tells us how significant she was. The ‘sinful’ woman has her sins forgiven and shows Jesus an act of love, ignoring the insults of a prominent Pharisee. Mary Magdalene packs up and literally follows Jesus, even supporting Jesus and the twelve financially, which would enable them to preach and teach without worrying about their resources. They know who Jesus is to them, and because of it, their lives have changed.
The question is still the same for us this week: Who do you say that Jesus is? How does who he is to you change you? Does knowing Jesus change you? Are you changeable? We’re well into our Lenten journey now, a time of preparation for Easter. I believe that Lent is a time to prepare ourselves to be more changeable on Easter morning. On Easter morning, we’ll see Mary Magdalene in her most significant role yet – the very first witness to the resurrection. And on Easter morning, we’ll have to ask ourselves once and for all who Jesus is, and how it changes us.
I have shared with you before a question I have heard churches should ask themselves: “if your church disappeared today, who, besides its members, would miss it? Who would notice it was gone?” Who would miss this church, besides us, if it was gone, because of the difference we make? We can ask the same question on a personal level: How would your discipleship be missed if you weren’t around? Would your life be any different than it is now if you weren’t a follower of Jesus, or would it be basically the same? In other words, what changes are visible in your life because of who you say Jesus is and what that means you are called to do? Are you changeable? Are we changeable?
Jesus saved them. And it changed their lives. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent (non-lectionary) - Point of View: Pontius Pilate


Sermon 3/11/12

Point of View: Pontius Pilate

I think it’s strange that while the twelve disciples spent three years of their lives with Jesus, we know so very little about them, while Pontius Pilate, our point-of-view focus this morning, spent just a short time with Jesus on one day, and yet we hear more from Pilate than we do half the disciples. As seems usual for these biblical figures, we don’t know a lot about Pilate’s background – there are some conflicting stories over where he was born and what family he was part of – and we don’t know much about his life before he appears in the gospels. But we know that he was a prefect in Judea, and that prefects had certain duties – mostly military oversight and collecting taxes, but also judicial responsibility in some local affairs. During big religious festivals like the Passover, Pilate would be expected to be in Jerusalem, to make sure things were kept under control. And we know that he served as prefect in Judea from 26-36 AD, recalled to Rome perhaps just a year or two after Jesus’ trial. It seems that Pilate frequently found himself in conflict with the people he governed, and his superiors were not happy with his performance. (1)
In the gospels, Pontius Pilate appears only in the trial of Jesus and surrounding events. His name is occasionally mentioned in Acts and in the writings of Paul, but only in reference to Jesus being tried before him. And in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, we get the same general story – we see a Pilate who seems to be struggling between a feeling that Jesus is innocent of the crimes he’s accused of, and a Pilate who is concerned about the crowds and potential mob rule, wanting to please the people to keep them under control. Jesus has been arrested, and already been interviewed by the chief priests. But Pilate had authority over certain matters – in fact, even the high priest was named by the Roman government (1) – and the religious leaders wanted Pilate to condemn Jesus. In Matthew’s account, on which we focus today, Pilate interviews Jesus, asking him if he is the King of the Jews, a claim with political overtones that would threaten both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities. But Jesus keeps silent, despite the questioning.
Pilate then offers to release a prisoner – Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus “who is called the Messiah.” At this point, we read some commentary from Matthew: Pilate thinks Jesus has been handed over to him because the religious leaders are jealous of Jesus' authority and popularity with the people, and also, his wife warned him to have nothing to do with “that innocent man” Jesus, because of a nightmare she had about him. Pilate seems to want to find a way to set Jesus free without having to actually come out and make the decision. The crowds shout for the release of Barabbas and begin to chant for Jesus’ death – “Let him be crucified! Let him be crucified!” We read that Pilate was overwhelmed by the crowd’s response, feeling he had no choice but to give in: “So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’” Then Pilate releases Barabbas, as the people requested, has Jesus flogged – we’re not even sure why – and hands him over to be crucified.
As with Judas, I have a lot of questions about Pilate. What do we make of Pilate and his actions? Did he just get caught up in something that was out of his control? Is it true what he thought? If he hadn’t allowed Jesus to be put to death, would there really have been a riot that the Roman soldiers could not control? Would Jesus have just been put to death another way by the angry crowds? Can you just decide to wash your hands of a situation and really be free from responsibility? Can Pilate simply declare himself innocent? Who, ultimately, is responsible for Jesus’ death? Could Pilate have taken a stronger stand? Wasn’t he in charge?
We are focusing this Lent on points of view: who people say that Jesus is, and how who they say Jesus is changes who they are themselves, or how who they are changes who they say Jesus is! So if we take these somewhat jumbled questions, and apply them to Pilate, what do we come out with? Who does Pilate say that Jesus is? Surely, we don’t have a lot to go on. But we start to gather a sense even from this scene in Matthew that Pilate catches a glimpse of who Jesus is. He has a feeling that Jesus is something different. He can see that the religious leaders are jealous of Jesus. He knows that his wife has had a strange dream about Jesus and pronounced him innocent. He sees that Jesus is unwilling to argue with him over accusations and frantically defend himself. He is reluctant to condemn Jesus, and anxious not to be held responsible for what will happen to Jesus. When we take all these pieces, these clues, and put them together, it seems that Pilate, if not ready to call Jesus the Messiah exactly, knew that there was something about Jesus . . .
But for Pilate, ultimately, who he is is much more important to him than who Jesus is. Pilate is a prefect of the Roman Empire. What Pilate wants most is to escape blame, from Rome, from the Jews, no matter who Jesus turns out to be. He wants to have no responsibility for the situation before him, which is ironic for someone who wants desperately to keep their role of responsibility and authority. Pilate might believe there’s something more to Jesus – but ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference to him, because who he is, what he wants – his power, his control, his position – all of that is more important to him.
As always, what we learn here, what we learn about Pilate is only meaningful if we can see ourselves in his place. So, I have to ask – are there things that you believe, but your believing doesn’t make a difference to you, make a difference in how you live your life? Let me give you some examples of what I mean. You know I am not a follower of sports, but I would have had to crawl under a rock to miss the story of Joe Paterno, Penn State Football Coach, and the scandal he faced late last year. Paterno was criticized not for abuse himself, but for knowing of abuse that was happening and failing to take sufficient action with what he knew. Many professionals, like teachers, medical personnel, doctors, and in many places, clergy, are mandated reporters, who are required, legally, to report suspected child abuse. The law mandates that with knowledge comes a responsibility to act.
Or think of the current election cycle. In the midst of the Republican primaries, one question I think voters have is: Do what candidates say and what they actually have done or will do in office match up? A common accusation is that candidates flip-flop on positions. Mitt Romney, for example, has been trying to appeal to more conservative Republicans, but has also been criticized then for distancing himself with previous actions and statements when he served as governor. Voters want to know: Is this what he really believes? Or is he just saying what he thinks I want to hear?
One more example. You have probably heard this famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, written in the wake of Nazism and the Holocaust. First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me. We say actions speak louder than words, and if that is true, then inaction is a deafening silence.  
What about our faith journeys? What about discipleship? What I want to know is this: What do you believe about Jesus? Who do you think that he is? And what difference has that made in the way that you live? Or, like Pontius Pilate, are there too many things about who we are and what we want for ourselves for us to actually let what we believe about Jesus change our lives?
One of my colleagues posed a question on his blog: “What is the most destructive force in a congregation?” He listed multiple-choice responses, including unresolved conflict, which had the most votes, followed by power struggles, narrow-mindedness, gossip, and keeping secrets. But I selected the ‘other’ option and added in my own response: apathy. The church is at risk when we don’t translate what we believe into how we live as individuals and as a congregation. To me, what is most destructive to churches is just this dilemma that we see in Pontius Pilate. We believe something, but what we believe doesn’t necessarily change anything. Consider what we believe as a congregation: I trust that generally, we believe in God, believe in Jesus, believe that Jesus set an example for us, believe that we’re meant to be disciples, believe that God loves us, and so on. We might come down differently on exactly what those beliefs mean in detail, but at the core, I think we’re on the same page. Where we need to ask ourselves the hard questions, where we need to do some soul-searching is when we ask ourselves: what difference does what we believe make?
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What is it we are taking up? Taking up the cross means taking a risk to follow Jesus, and what we must risk is different for each one of us. What is holding us back? What is it that you are afraid to risk? I’m guessing, that with a little introspection, it wouldn’t take you long to answer that question. In our discipleship, in our faith journey, we get into trouble when the cost of following Jesus is always more than we are willing to pay, and when what it costs us is always a bigger concern than acting on what we believe. When we believe, but still fail to act, that’s apathy. When we believe, but still fail to act, that’s of more concern than those who don’t know what they believe yet. For Pontius Pilate, the cost to himself was his primary concern. He knew Jesus shouldn’t be condemned to death. But the cost Pilate would bear was too much. What he was willing to risk, willing to ‘spend’ on what he believed was nothing. What are you willing to spend? What will you risk? What is that task to which God is calling you that nags at the back of your mind, the corners of your heart? What do you believe about God? And so what? How has it changed you? Who do you say that Jesus is? And how will your answer change your life?
Amen.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Sermon for Second Sunday in Lent (non-lectionary) - Point of View: Judas


Sermon 3/4/12
Matthew 26:6-50, 27:3-10

Point of View: Judas

            Can we see things from Judas's point of view? Or maybe, we are worried we can see from his point of view too easily? I remember, once in college, we were at a meeting of one of the faith groups I was part of on campus, and the chaplain noted that there were twelve of us, and he mentioned that we were like the twelve disciples. And I couldn’t help but wonder: then which one of us gets to be Judas? Who would want to claim to be Judas? Which disciple would you be willing to claim? Maybe one of the ones that barely gets a mention beyond their original call by Jesus?
            I told you last year a bit about my fascination with Judas. Of course, it started with Jesus Christ Superstar, and the actor I had a crush on, but it went beyond that, as I started to wonder about Judas and his role in the Passion story. I shared with you the nagging questions I had.  As we heard in our gospel reading today, Judas committed suicide, hung himself, out of guilt for his actions, for betraying Jesus and putting him into the hands of his enemies. I had been taught that suicide was a sin that condemned someone to hell. An unforgiveable sin. But it was the way Judas was portrayed in Superstar that made me start to wonder, because Judas was depicted almost as a hero in the story, misguided maybe, but still someone to root for. Right there, in our text today from Matthew, we read this: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented.” Judas repented. That word, the word used here – it’s the same word for repentance that Jesus and John the Baptist use when the first preach their message: Repent! If Judas repented, how could he be condemned to eternal punishment? And what’s more: In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about Judas’ betrayal being part of the plan. If Judas had to betray Jesus in order for Jesus to go through the suffering and death and resurrection, how can Judas be held accountable for his actions? Was he acting as part of his own free will, making his own choices, or was he predestined to betray Jesus? And if he was predestined, can he be judged for his actions?
            I presented all of these questions to my Sunday School teacher at the time. Her answer to me was simple: Judas committed suicide, so Judas went to hell. I was not satisfied with her answer. I was just sure there had to be more to it. So I wrote a letter to a publication that used to exist called Youth! Magazine. They had a column for questions like mine, and I hoped for an answer. My question never got printed, but the editor of the magazine wrote me back a long, wonderful letter, that I wish I could still find. In it, he said what I have come to believe is true – basically sharing with me a message from Romans 8 – nothing in life or in death can separate us from God’s love. He said God’s grace was so amazing that he was unwilling to put any kind of limits on God’s love, even for, or perhaps especially for – Judas. Needless to say, I found his letter very comforting. My Sunday School teacher, on the other hand, was not so excited to be so contradicted!
            When I was a senior in college, I had to write my capstone paper for my pre-theology major, and I decided to look at Jesus and Judas in literature. I discovered that sometimes Judas was portrayed as the worst person in all of history. Sometimes, like in Superstar, Judas was the misunderstood hero. But sometimes, Judas was portrayed as a mix of good impulses and bad decisions. Even though Superstar remained my favorite portrayal of Judas, I was particularly moved by these pieces of literature – a Judas who you could relate to. A Judas that made you wonder how you would have acted in his shoes.
           My questions haven’t changed much over the years: Who is Judas? Why did he do what he did? The truth is, like many of Jesus’ disciples, we really don’t know very much about Judas at all, even if we see him depicted often enough in fiction, firm, musicals. We don’t know his family background, we don’t know what he did, we don’t know where he came from. I’ve read many different theories, but of course, most are conjecture, imaginings, really, rather than fact-based theories. And since we know so little about Judas, we also don’t know very much about his motivations for betraying Jesus. Only the gospel of John mentions that Judas is treasurer for the group of disciples, and suggests that greed for the payment of silver is the motivation for betrayal. But the other gospels never mention anything like this at all. As in our gospel reading for today, Matthew, Mark, and Luke segue with new interlude into mentioning that Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. Things get confusing, for me, to understand logically. Why would the religious leaders even need Judas to betray Jesus? They knew where Jesus was, and showed up to hear him preach and teach all the time. It wasn’t as though Jesus was in hiding and Judas led them to a secret location. We can’t imagine that 30 coins alone would have tempted Judas to betray Jesus – even though it was a hefty sum, it wasn’t enough make him set for life, a year, or even half year actually. What motivates Judas? I wonder, very much. But what we know for sure is that almost every time Judas is mentioned in the scriptures, he is called, “Judas, who later betrayed him.” You never have to wonder how he will turn out. The scriptures say it over and over before the betrayal even unfolds. We know that from Mark, the earliest gospel, to John, the latest written, Judas is increasingly portrayed as villainous and evil. And I can tell you that while Judas was always known for his betrayal, it was a few centuries after the birth of the church that Judas began to be seen as the sole disciple responsible for Jesus’ death. In fact, over time, Judas began to be a symbol for all Jews who didn’t accept Christ, and was a figure used by anti-Semites in their hatred of Jews. Judas, who later betrayed him.
            Imagine if your whole life, you were called by a name that was based on one event, one action, even a bad one. Beth, you know, Beth who preached that awful sermon? Della, who messed up the offertory. Joe, who couldn’t hold down a job. Marge, who really screwed up her kids. Bob, who caused that car accident. What if, your whole life, you had to carry descriptors of your mistakes, even your worst ones, as part of your name? What if, in the telling of your life story, you had to stick with a label of your worst moment before even telling what happened. Judas, who later betrayed him.
What does it mean to betray someone? In the case of Judas, the definition of his actions which I found to best fit was this: "To prove faithless or treacherous to, as to a trust or one who trusts; to be false to; to deceive; as, to betray a person or a cause." (1) That fits, doesn’t it? Whatever Judas’ motives were, I think we can accurately say he proved faithless to Jesus. Why ever it was, whatever caused it, Judas ultimately did not have faith in Jesus.
What does it all mean for us? What difference does Judas’ betrayal mean for us? To me, in some ways, Judas is important in just the same way understanding every other text in the scriptures is important. We draw closer to God through understanding, and we understand by putting ourselves into the text, seeing ourselves in the story. Can we see ourselves in Judas, who later betrayed him? My biggest problem with how we’ve remembered Judas in Christian tradition is that by seeing him as so evil, we fail to see ourselves in him. Vilifying him makes us feel better. At least we’re not Judas, right? At least we’re better than Judas, the greedy traitor, Judas, who later betrayed him.  
And yet, if we think of the definition of betrayal again, we have some hard questions to answer. To betray is to prove faithless to. Have you ever proven yourselves faithless to Jesus? We may find it hard to believe that after spending three years as a disciple following Christ from place to place that we'd then turn Jesus over to men we knew were trying to kill him. On the other hand, we may not find it so hard to think of ways that we betray Jesus, perhaps even on a daily basis. If to betray means to prove faithless, then we are indeed very much like Judas. Judas, for whatever reason, did not have faith enough to believe in the path Jesus was following. Do we have enough faith? Maybe, sometimes, more often than we want to admit, we don't have faith enough to believe that God has called us for plans beyond our imagination. We don't have faith enough to invest ourselves, our money, our time, and our gifts into God's care. We don't have faith enough to believe that God gives us grace, a gift there for the taking, without our needing to do something to earn it. We don’t have enough faith to actually follow Jesus instead of following our own plans for ourselves. And our lack of faith betrays Jesus as surely as Judas did.
But if we can let Judas be redeemed, if we can let Judas be more than the one who later betrayed him, if we can believe, like that magazine editor did, that God’s unconditional love is truly unconditional, than perhaps we can help Judas move beyond, as we move beyond. If we can see ourselves in Judas, if we can admit that our actions often betray the Jesus we claim to follow, then we too, like Judas, can repent. But we can also move beyond. Judas couldn’t move beyond what he’d done and neither could those who would tell his story. I can’t imagine the grief and guilt he must have felt. And I wonder what might have happened, if Judas had chosen another path, if reconciliation might have been possible in his life on earth, as I believe it is always and everywhere possible with God. We are blessed always with the chance – the hope and promise really, that we can move beyond. We aren’t defined by our sins, but by God’s love and forgiveness. Beth, whose sermon made me think. Della, whose music touched my soul. Joe, whose life God changed. Marge, who is really wonderful with young people. Bob, who God loves. You, who proved yourself faithful to God’s love. Amen.