Sermon: Betrayed

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God. Why?

The_Flagellation_of_Christ_-_Rubens_-_1607
The Flagellation of Christ (Rubens, 1607)

There is a whole lot of betrayal going on in this morning’s dramatic reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s count the ways…

First is Judas, The Betrayer, who sells Jesus out to the Chief Priests for 30 pieces of silver. And then there are Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, who fail to stay awake while Jesus is praying; and then all the disciples desert him and flee. Caiaphas and the Council stage a trial, using false witnesses and evidence to condemn him to death. And, Peter betrays Jesus again – three more times, before the Cock crows; just as Jesus foretold.

And then, Pilate ignores the plea of his wife, betraying her. And, the Chief Priests betray Jesus again, inciting the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas. – Which means all the people (and our pamphlet reading makes it clear we are among those people) betrayed Jesus, too, Matthew has us saying “let his Blood be upon us and on our children…!” They knew what they were doing. Even the bandits hanging on crosses on either side of Jesus taunted him.

And finally, Jesus calls out “Eli Eli Lema sabachthani!” meaning “My God My God, why have you betrayed me!?”

In the end, everyone betrays Jesus the Son of God, even God.

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Sermon: Bede’s Sparrow

Let us be clear: there is no magic wand that will make everything in this life better. God is not going to come down and make it as if we – meaning all of us – never made all of the mistakes (and good decisions) we’ve made that have gotten us to this point. We cannot escape responsibility for what we’ve done to each other, or to God’s Creation.

The command to “Love our Neighbor” means acknowledging this, and so embracing compassion for ourselves and others as a way of life. It means conscientiously making room for “The Other” – for those who are different from us. We can begin by opening our minds and our hearts to what they have to say.

“Bede’s Sparrow” by Carrie Wild

This past Friday evening, George Takei was preparing for a performance of his musical which opened on Broadway a few days ago, a very personal story of the terrible price George and his family paid for being of Japanese ancestry and living in America during World War II.

On hearing of the attacks in Paris, Mr. Takei wrote: “…I’m writing this backstage at Allegiance, my heart heavy with the news from Paris, aching for the victims and their families and friends.

Aziz Abu Sarah
Aziz Abu Sarah, Peace Activist

My friend Aziz Abu Sarah, who, like George, spends his life urging peace and building bridges to span the gaps separating people around the world, and whose family has also paid a very heavy price through years of terror and oppression, had this to say: “Two days of ongoing terrible news… From Beirut to Paris, bombs, murder and dozens of victims. Its another heartbreaking day.”

My lifelong “older brother” in spirit, Ahmed, said this in his email to my parents yesterday morning: “We are all distressed as Paris has become our home .… I am flying there on Friday unless the borders are closed. France has been openly at war with Islamists for a number of years and terrorist attacks were expected. But they can never be predicted or controlled. I expect life in France will change following the latest carnage.”

Ahmed’s wife, Lena, who is in Paris at the moment, posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Tears this morning. With a very heavy heart I start the day.”

All of these people have labored their whole lives to bring peace and justice into this world. They’ve all worked diligently against poverty, oppression, despair and injustice. They have all taken firm and often costly stands against the dehumanization of “The Other” that lies at the heart of these attacks. Some of them are hurt and despairing, as you heard. But I think I can give voice to what lies in all of their hearts by quoting this from Mr. Takei’s message:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

Now. let’s skip back 1400 years, to a time when England was a collection of little Kingdoms, almost 300 years before they would be united under King Alfred the Great and his heirs.

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A Light in the Darkest of Times

We all go through dark times in our lives, times when our own prayers; and even the assurances, encouragements and prayers of others; seem futile and useless. If anything, such attempts are painful and bitter proof that human effort is always futile in the end. And yet, the darkness we see all around us is not really the issue. It is the darkness within us that we are really battling…

rays-of-light-shining-throug-dark-cloudsThese short and gloomy days and long dark nights of winter are a hard time, often made harder and darker by the challenges we face.

We all go through dark times in our lives, times when our own prayers; and even the assurances, encouragements and prayers of others; seem futile and useless. If anything, such attempts are painful and bitter proof that human effort is always futile in the end.

In such times all we see is darkness ahead of us, behind us, and all around us. We are convinced the end is near and inescapable. We know that all we are, all we do, and all we aspire to be, is nothing in the face of the insurmountable challenges confronting us. We have no hope. No one can change the darkness that is inexorably consuming us.

And yet, the darkness we see all around us is not really the issue. It is the darkness within us that we are really battling: it feeds on the loss of hope within our spirits; and on our endless self-castigation for missed opportunities, for past sins, and for our separation from those whom we love.

One of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday is from Psalm 62, which repeats the following sentence twice: “[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” It is a Psalm written by someone just like us. All they had left was God, and their faith. And yet in such times of darkness, even our faith seems insufficient to dispel the darkness we see all around us.

Darkness blinds us to our God who, in the first chapter of Genesis, CREATED the light – a point emphasized in the first few verses of the Gospel of John as well: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

We cannot overcome the darkness on our own; but no matter how dark it is around us, God is there. No matter how dark it is within us, God is there. The Holy Spirit is the “light of all people” – a light within us. It shines no matter how dark things may seem, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So, in these darkest of times, be certain that God is there, because God is Lord of Darkness, not just the Lord of Light; and God is the Creator of Light. God is the source of all light, light that is there even in the midst of the greatest darkness of all.

God is always with us, a light that shines no matter how hopeless, empty, and futile our personal darkness may seem. God’s Hope for us lies within God, it is not something that we can lose or forsake on our own; because it is under God’s control, and scripture assures us that God will never forget us or forsake us.

We can trust in God at all times, because God is with us for ALL time. God is our Rock and our Salvation: a refuge that will never fail.

Amen.

Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

An Advent Prayer

534100_445597948860210_865607878_nLord, Advent and Christmas are a dark time for many, a time when the pain of past and present injuries and losses become almost unbearable.  A time we’d rather not face all over again.

And yet, the purpose of Advent is to remind us of our brokenness and sin, of our need for the grace and healing touch of a God who loves us fiercely and compassionately. Further, Christmas teaches us that God knows our pain because God has lived it: walking among us as one of us, as a human being.  Jesus experienced birth, the love of a devoted mother, the pain of losing those dear to him.  He knew rejection, hunger, despair and fear.  He was betrayed by those he loved, and he experienced a painful and humiliating death.  God knows what it means to be human.  God knows our deepest, greatest, most deeply hidden fears, failures and weaknesses.

And so, our faith tells us, Jesus is Emmanuel – the God who walks with us.  God and the Kingdom of Heaven are near us at the hardest of moments, and for every moment of our lives, including now.

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