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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Judas Experience

Excerpts from a Sermon for Lent V
John 12:1-8
March 25, 2007

(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

"With God on Our Side", Bob Dylan


It’s never about the money, you know?

That’s what Judas Isacriot says is bothering him. As he watches Mary take a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard to anoint the feet of Jesus, he grumbles, “Why was this perfume not sold . . . and the money given to the poor?

But, it’s not the money.

And it’s not about sexuality, you know. In antiquity as it is today, a woman’s hair was a sign of her sexuality. Here’s Mary, anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume – a decidedly sensual act – and then wiping his feet with the symbol of her sexuality.

But it’s not about sexuality.

And, it’s not about ministry. John’s gospel is careful to tell us that Judas didn't care for the poor. There’s a snarky editorial note by John – which may or may not have been true – who writes that Judas was a thief and used to steal from the common purse.

Money and sexuality and ministry are never the source of problems in the church.

Rather, the problems with money and sexuality and ministry are symptoms of a deeper problem. We've been seeing and reading and hearing a great deal of that in The Episcopal Church of late.

You've probably been hearing and reading about Mark Lawrence, a priest from Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, who was elected bishop – on the first ballot – in the Diocese of South Carolina.

In the Episcopal Church, we have the same system of checks and balances which was written into the Constitution and Canons of our church by the same people who were the architects of the Constitution of The United States of America.

The election of a bishop must receive the consent of a simple majority of bishops with jurisdiction and a simple majority of the Standing Committees.

We elect and ordain for the whole church – of the people, by the people – not just a church or a diocese. So, every Episcopal election must receive the consent of the people of our church.

Mark Lawrence was able to receive consents from a majority of bishops, but he failed to receive sufficient consents from the Standing Committees, so his election was declared ‘null and void’ by the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

It wasn't about money. It wasn't about sexuality. It wasn't about ministry.

Depending on your source of information, you may have also read or heard that The Episcopal Church is about to be ‘kicked off the Anglican island.’ Five days ago, our bishops took a bold stand to the demands and ultimatums made by a majority of Global South Primates last month in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa. They issued a lengthy statement that was bold and centered smack-dab in the middle of the Gospel.

In that statement they said, in part,

“We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace.

We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free.

We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.

We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church.

We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God.

The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject.

And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.”


You know what? I personally don’t think it's going to happen, but if the bishop's statement is what gets us ‘kicked off the Anglican Island’, I'm quite sure Jesus will be right there to welcome us with open arms. Of this, I have absolutely no doubt.

No, it's not about money. It's not about sexuality. It's not about ministry.

Here's something else: it's not about scriptural interpretation, either, or for that matter, theological principles or the doctrines of the church. Neither is it about cultural differences or post colonialism or the Enlightenment verses post modernism. The problem we see in the church today is the same problem we see in that embryonic image of the church in this morning’s gospel. It’s the same problem which has been with us since the beginning.

It is this: power.

Judas is as afraid of it as he is envious of it. It is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we are all God’s children, all made worthy in Christ to sit at table with him and each other and to stand before God.

Today's Gospel offers us an image of that worthiness: Mary and Martha of Bethany and their brother Lazarus, raised from the dead; Mary who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; the disciples, including Matthew the tax collector and men with intemperate natures like James and John, the Sons of Thunder, and even bumbling, stumbling Peter. All together. All at the same table. With Jesus.

Jesus transformed that common little house in Bethany to a holy place where all are welcome, and all are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an awesome power which, when harnessed, can transform even a house of Bishops in the Episcopal Church to do a bold thing like stand up to theological bullies in a vulgar, transparent and hostile take over of The Anglican Communion.

To put it another way, the problem with the church today which we see in this morning's gospel has to do with lack of faith.

Judas is afraid because he has misplaced his faith. Caroline Myss calls this “the Judas Experience.” She writes,

“The lesson of a Judas experience is that putting faith in human justice is an error and that we must shift our faith from human to Divine authority, It is to trust that our life is governed with “Divine justice,” even though we cannot see it. We must strive not to become bitter or cling to victimhood when we are betrayed or cannot attain what we want. We need to trust that we have not been victimized at all and that this painful experience is challenging us to evaluate where we have placed our faith.”

Judas saw himself as a victim of the power of the authority of Rome over the authority of God as made manifest in Christ Jesus. That was his mistake.

Our bishops have chosen the power of the Gospel to transform lives over the power of a few power-hungry, petulant Primates to realign the Anglican Communion away from Canterbury, England and to Lagos, Nigeria.

Our bishops will pay dearly for that choice. No doubt, we all will.

But, I must say, I have never been more proud to be a Christian who is an Episcopalian than I have in the five days since I read the Statement of the House of Bishops. Aren't you?

Faith is always costly. I once read that faith isn't faith unless it’s all you're holding onto. In my experience, I'd say that’s right.

It's important to remember that in the church as well as in your own lives of faith that the problems we often encounter are not about money. Neither are the problems about sexuality or the work of ministry. They are not about scriptural interpretation, or theological principles or the doctrines of the church or cultural differences or post colonialism or the Enlightenment verses post modernism.

The problems we face are about the struggle it is to place our faith in the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is Love Incarnate and Love Divine, and trusting that power over the seductive powers of the institution.

It is as much a struggle for us today as it was for Judas in his day. We risk the same betrayal. And, we place ourselves in danger of a similar fate.

In the words of Oscar Romero, martyred bishop of El Salvador, whose life we remembered yesterday (03.24.07) on the Calendar of Saints:

“Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.”

And let the church say, "Amen."

8 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I would be honored to have a rector who preaches sermons like this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Mimi, I hope it's enough to have a friend who preaches sermons like this.

taomikael said...

Nicely said, Ms. Elizabeth. Even though I no longer call myself Christian, Episcopal or Anglican, I found myself nodding my head in response to reading what the bishops said -- and your sermon as well. It's about time that someone said No to the power-seekers

Weiwen Ng said...

"Our bishops have chosen the power of the Gospel to transform lives over the power of a few power-hungry, petulant Primates to realign the Anglican Communion away from Canterbury, England and to Lagos, Nigeria."

If your analysis is correct, then the actions of the Primates you refer to is fuelled by a colonized-colonized dynamic. They are all from countries that were colonized, and in many ways still are. They are attempting to reassert power over those they perceive to be the oppressors. This makes their actions understandable, but it still doesn't make them justifiable - the Church of England and the Episcopal Church are not governments, for one.

Then again, I'm frankly not convinced that it's all about power. You could easily make the argument that this is about assertion of masculinity, which is perceived to be violated by the presence of (gasp!) women and (gasp!!) homosexuals as equals. Their presence is a violation of masculine norms, and the only way to correct that is to expel the violators. LGBTs have less institutional power, so they're the first target.

Both arguments will be hard to prove unless we can get Akinola and co in a room, get them to lie down a couch, and to spill the beans on their respective childhoods. So, it's really all educated guessing right now. Unless I can convince my political psychology professor to step in - he assesses political motives by people's writings. all very interesting, if very complicated.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

taomikael, There has to be an important story behind your leaving Christianity. If you ever need to talk . . .

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Weiwen Ng,

I would say that an insistence or "assertion of masculinity" is a form of power.

Whatever lable you want to put on it, it's all about power.

Bill said...

I was there. This was an absolutely wonderful sermon. People were nodding as Elizabeth listed the salient points of the Bishops announcement. You just had to be there. On another note, I guess I never realized just how tight John and Judas were. This goes way, way beyond "snarky".

Lauren Gough said...

We must strive not to become bitter or cling to victimhood when we are betrayed or cannot attain what we want. We need to trust that we have not been victimized at all and that this painful experience is challenging us to evaluate where we have placed our faith.” Carolyn Myss

This is the most profound issue that you bring out in this sermon, Elizabeth. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

One of the things that has gagged me from the abusive right has been their claiming a victimization by LGBT progressives in the church in order to try to gain power. Give me a break!

Faith is being willing to trust on the love of God most of all when it doesn't seem to be there. Refusing to be victim is the one of the hardest aspects of being faithful.