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Allocated a Share in Ministry
Rev. Jeff Crews
Sunday, 20 May 2012
– Seventh Sunday of Easter
Rev. Jeff Crews
Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 & John 17:6-19
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Today we will contemplate the Judas Problem. What happens when we are betrayed by one of our own? How do we respond? What do we say? And how do we move on? Our passages today have some extraordinary things to say about how Peter and the early church responded to Judas Iscariot, and by extension, how we are invited to respond when someone in our lives disappoints us or betrays us.
Will you pray with me? “God of everything, God even of disappointment, teach us to extend forgiveness, even when it seems impossibly hard. Amen.”
Judas Iscariot. One of the twelve disciples chosen by Jesus to accompany him, learn from him, and carry the Good News of God’s unconditional love to the world. John’s Gospel says Judas was the trusted treasurer for the disciples. Although Judas is listed last in all of the Biblical lists of disciples, he was obviously close to Jesus because Jesus hands some bread dipped in wine to him at the last supper in John’s Gospel. To do this, Judas must have been close to the head of the table. Jesus leaned over and said, “Do what you have to do.” And then, Judas left to betray Jesus.
And when Judas betrays Jesus later that night, do you remember what Jesus said? “Judas, it is with a kiss that you betray me? ... Friend, do what you are here to do.”
Why would a chosen one, a disciple, the one trusted enough to have the money purse, why would that one betray Jesus? Was Judas jealous of Jesus because of his spreading fame and renown? Or, was Judas angry that Jesus was not a military warring messiah attacking the Temple and Rome, and tried to force Jesus into action? We will never know. Our curiosity gets even more piqued when Luke and Matthew tell different stories about what happened to Judas. Matthew says Judas committed suicide in Matthew 27: “When Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, Judas departed; and he went and hanged himself.” This is very different than Luke’s story in verses we skipped over in our passage in Acts today, which say: “(Now this man [Judas] acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hak-el-damah, that is, Field of Blood.)” It is very interesting to me that two Gospel writers tell two very different inconsistent stories about how Judas died. Maybe Judas’ death was just not that important originally?
But now, in Acts, Peter tells us about Judas. Peter’s comments are interesting for what he says, but far more interesting for what he does not say. Listen again, “In those days, Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” Instead of condemning Judas and railing about how bad Judas was, Peter says Judas was allotted “his share in ministry among us,” and Peter moves on to replace him. If someone betrayed your best friend and companion, would you have the grace and clarity to refer to them as “sharing your ministry,” and just leave it at that? Peter did. Peter is living grace here.
Peter is no stranger to betrayal. Throughout the Gospels, Peter constantly moves from understanding, to misunderstanding Jesus. Peter is the first disciple to declare Jesus as the Messiah in Matthew, but only verses later, he tells Jesus No, you cannot be killed and raised again! When Jesus is about to be betrayed, Peter tells Jesus he will never abandon him, but then, before the cock crowed, Peter denies Jesus three times. But afterward, the resurrected Jesus greets Peter in love, forgiving him and moving on, focusing not on punishment, but instead focusing on Peter’s ministry to the new church. Peter’s talk about Judas indicates to me that Peter learned about forgiveness through Jesus’ forgiveness. Peter forgives Judas in love saying only they shared in ministry together.
What do you think would happen in our church and world if we said of people who disappointed and betrayed us only that they shared goodness and ministry with us? Many Christians revile Judas, saying he betrayed the blessed Jesus and so he can never gain the Kingdom of Heaven. But Peter—one who knew Judas in the flesh and who watched Judas betray Jesus—Peter says only that Judas shared ministry among the disciples. [pause] Peter forgave Judas. [pause]
On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution-style with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.”
Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.
The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.
The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.
Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Kha-leej Times in the United Arab Emirates to Australian TV, international media were talking about Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, “Amish forgiveness” had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.
Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.
But all religions teach forgiveness. Why were all of us so surprised when the Amish actually offered it? How could they forgive so quickly?
Maybe Archbishop Desmond Tutu can help us understand Amish forgiveness and Peter’s forgiveness of Judas. Listen to what Tutu said in 1996: "There are different kinds of justice [in the world]. Retributive justice [where we must pay for our sins or crimes with punishment] is largely [a] Western [idea]. The African understanding [of justice] is far more restorative- not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew." This the heart of African Ubuntu—“I am what I am because of who we all are.” This vision perhaps begins to restore the balance of love in the Realm of God. Peter didn’t need to punish or blame Judas to get even. But much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions of Archbishop Tutu, or the Amish forgiveness, Peter was interested in the truth and restoring balance in God’s Realm. So rather than rail about Judas, of whom we do not even have consistent death stories, Peter instead moves to restore balance, and moves to fill the twelfth apostle position. Our ministry together made us the twelve, Peter says. Judas left, so now we are eleven, let us select a twelfth. Balance. Grace. Ubuntu. Forgiveness.
Our western cultural focus on retributive justice where wrongs must be countered with punishment rather than forgiveness, blocks modern western Christians from recognizing what the Realm of God might look like. Peter has no axe to grind with Judas. The grieving Amish families claimed the promise of God’s love for everyone and forgave their children’s murderer. Peter had no need to make sure Judas was reviled, punished, blamed or scapegoated. But many in the Christian tradition have not been so compassionate as the Amish to their children’s killer and Peter to Judas. If Jesus could greet betraying Judas with a kiss, and Peter could say of Judas that they “shared ministry together,” might we also forgive those who betray us, or think differently than we do? Forgiveness restores balance. Have you forgiven Judas? Jesus and Peter have.
In this community of Christ, on this day of our annual meeting, let us honor all voices, listen to all hearts, and be present to one another in compassion, forgiveness and love. Let us honor all who are allocated a share in ministry with us. And then, to God be the glory. Amen.