The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
Kia Ora from New Zealand :-)
s157g10 Fifth Sunday in Lent 21/3/2010
'Judas .. one of his disciples' John 12.4
Judas was one of Jesus' disciples. Lazarus ('whom he had raised from the dead'), Martha (still in her serving role) and Mary were present, but they are not called 'disciples', but Judas is. How strange! A hierarchy had already emerged. No doubt not voted on, but acknowledged by all and sundry, without words, without thought, without consent; but real nevertheless.
Like Satan in the wilderness, Judas pretends to have some concern for the poor, but he is more put out that Jesus should be accepting the offering of someone other than himself.
In the account in Mark, Judas leaves to betray Jesus straight after the anointing and it was the production Jesus Christ Superstar, a very long time ago, that alerted me to the probability that Judas was a rival for Mary Magdalene's affections.
It is clear that those who are disciples of Jesus can get it completely wrong. Peter had some journeying on the road of faith to take even after his witnessing Jesus' death and resurrection. He had to learn that that death and resurrection encompassed others. Paul, for all his devotion to God also had some journeying in faith as he set out on that road to Damascus, that Jesus' death and resurrection meant that he was persecuting the Lord when he persecuted others who didn't believe like him, didn't worship like him, didn't live like him.
It is clear that even being a disciple, doesn't make everything all right. We are not forgiven, accepted and called simply because we call Jesus 'Lord'. It is clear that disciples can do precisely the opposite to what Jesus would have us do. Our following, our discipleship has to involve doing what Jesus did. And what Jesus did was to accept the offering that someone (else) made. Judas questioned the propriety of the offering that someone else made.
In my experience of the church, the Anglo-Catholics question the acceptability of the offering of Evangelicals, and the Evangelicals question the acceptability of the Anglo-Catholics. The Charismatics do likewise and likewise is done to them. Every congregation I have been in prides themselves at how welcoming they are, yet don't ask them to go to a service in a neighbouring parish, to a fifth Sunday combined service in the 'other' church within the same parish, or even a fifth Sunday combined service with the earlier or later congregation using the same building! And we haven't even begun to consider anyone outside the Anglican 'Communion' which I sometimes think would be more accurately titled the Anglican Aloofness, from congregation level to globally.
And I would draw attention to the fact that Judas was male, Peter (who denied his Lord) was male, and Paul (who persecuted others) was male. The other males mostly disappeared into obscurity. But the women mostly got it right, and Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary (if not here the Magdalene) have gone down in history as not needing to be pulled up in their tracks.
We betray Jesus when we question the propriety of the offerings of others. We are no different to Judas. Indeed we kill Jesus, for we who (supposedly) embody the risen Christ deny him to others and thus render him impotent.
Yesterday, I was privileged to hear the Archbishop of York speak to the assembled clergy and laity in the Diocese of Christchurch. One of the most telling of his statements was for me that we have to trust the church to our children. I hope I am not misinterpreting him, but I thought he was saying that we need to let go of our conception and construct of the church and let young people construct a church of their own conception. It will be quite, quite different. He spoke of the church built not of concrete, but one built on very transient things: word and water and bread. I took him to mean that the real church was the one our children are building, not the one we bequeath to them, that we want them so desperately to maintain.
And the other thing that strikes me about Judas is that he knew the value of the perfume. He could put a dollar value on things. But despite being quick to put a monetary value on the offering, what he really would have valued was that intimate relationship with Jesus. And this takes us back to my text, it was he that was called a disciple. He already had that intimate relationship with Jesus. He had what he craved all along but didn't realise it.
Again this is something about realised eschatology. We have the kingdom, yet we do not perceive it, and in not perceiving it we exclude ourselves (and others) from the very thing for which we yearn.
It is certain that terrible things happen in this world. One has only to recall the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. I can't provide an answer to the reasons for these. But there are things we can do to make life easier for others. And it starts with an acceptance of others, an unconditional acceptance of others, all others. It comes from an appreciation that God accepts the offerings of others besides ourselves and a realisation that it is entirely understandable and right that 'unbelievers' reject the discriminating 'god' set so solidly in stone that we have fabricated and proclaimed to all and sundry as necessary to everyone's eternal salvation.
Jesus answer to Judas is not to dismiss the propriety or necessity of charity to the poor; it is saying to Judas if you are concerned about the poor, give something to them yourself, don't ask someone else to do it for you. We will not get into heaven (if this what the Christian life is actually about) by getting others to be something different from what they are. More moral; more generous; more devout; more orthodox; more 'christian'. These words call us to make sure that our offerings to God are our own and not actually someone else's. I often recall the story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David with his sin and the story of the rich man who took the sole lamb of his poor neighbour's flock to prepare for his guest. Even King David recognised the wrong, but to his chagrin found that it was his own actions that he was condemning.
God has a habit of turning hierarchies upside down, and we see this happening in our own day as God calls women and gay and lesbian persons to positions of ministry in place of male disciples who have wanted to keep it all to themselves.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"