|Staying close. Avila Beach, November 2014|
Isaiah 50:4-9 was our first reading today.
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
The Gospel reading came from John. Here's one line, John 13:21
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me."
I will keep this one simple. The mad step backwards in civil rights in Indiana, Arkansas, and other upcoming states can feel like a blow or spit upon the face. It's a veiled attempt to shame and denigrate, to make a second class person in a country where all are supposed to be treated equally.
But as is shown in social media, people are willing to stand up and not be shamed, and to not let their family and friends be shamed. The days of hiding are gone. We can stand together, speak together, work together, confront our aggressors together.
On top of all this is the passage in John which has often been used to paint Judas as a villain. What was Judas's sin before this? Nothing is mentioned in any detail. What we know is that Judas seems to distance himself from Jesus. He seems to be rejecting his teachings and turning him over to those who similarly disagree. He distanced himself from Christ. He happened to do it in a big way, but distancing oneself from God or Jesus is basically a definition of sin. Our lives are meant to move closer to God, not away from God.
Now, Peter himself denied Jesus three times that same night. His sin was no better. Peter distanced himself from Jesus, from goodness, from solidarity and love. He just happened to do it without turning Jesus over to authorities. But sin he did and he wept.
So as I watch the raging storm over legislation allowing businesses and people to discriminate in Indiana, as I watch people embrace the notion that they can push away God's children, I am reminded that we all can easily distance ourselves from our Creator all too easily. We can all deny Christ and reject our common birthright. We all sin when we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters.
I don't any more hold Judas supremely guilty like the simplistic stories in movies have portrayed him. I see him as no more guilty than me. His sin was to embrace Jesus with false love, and in doing so sent Jesus to his fate.
We can't legislate love, but we can legislate civil and fair treatment. If some choose to sin by pushing others away, by embracing Jesus with their own false love, by unwittingly separating themselves from God, we must pray that they some day recognize that their sin, like our own, can be hard to see. In their pushing away that which is love, we must stand together and confront them with what they are doing, so that all that distances us can wash away.
And we all, like Judas and Peter, can eventually see how we distance ourselves from God.
May we pray for the gentle Holy Spirit to come down upon our land, hold us ever closer to divine goodness, and nudge and narrow that wide space that separates us from God.