Toorak Uniting Church

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One lost

Acts 1: 15 – 17, 21 – 26
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
1 June 2003

Today’s reading can raise a whole host of interesting questions and thoughts on a wide variety of subjects. We could dwell on the praying together of Jesus’ disciples and some women. We could speculate who were the 120 that even before Pentecost seem to have formed a post Easter congregation. We could speak about Peter and how, from the beginning he seems to have taken the lead. We could think about Judas, the betrayer, and his fate. The use and function of lots to determine his successor and the roots that has in Old Testament customs and belief. We could wonder who Mattias was and why this is the only time we encounter him in the New Testament. And why it seems so important at this point that there are twelve, whereas, after James is murdered a bit further along the line, nobody seems to be worried about finding a successor for him.
The text is full of possibilities and fascinating issues that each for themselves could easily take up a whole sermon.

What struck me reading it this time and what I’d like to elaborate on for a bit this morning however is betrayal and the healing of the betrayed.

Judas had betrayed Jesus.
Why we don’t know.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a psychological analysis of Judas’ motives. He may have acted in good faith, convinced that if he handed Jesus over to the authorities he’d actually force Jesus and his followers to action and start the revolution he had been expecting Jesus to start for some time. It is equally possible that he acted out of spite, because Jesus was not what Judas’ had expected him to be. Maybe he felt disappointed and let down by Jesus. Maybe he was just plain greedy and wanted the money before he bailed out of the movement.
We don’t know.

What we do know is that he realises after Jesus’ death that he has made an awful mistake and that he does not see any other way out of his guilt than to kill him self. In contrast to the miracle of new life that the others experience after Jesus’ death, Judas finds himself in a dead end street, with no hope, the way forward blocked by this awful thing he has done.
For him there is no resurrection but only death.

I must say that I feel sorry for Judas. He seems a poor, misguided and pretty hopeless man. A man who got lost and who could not find the way back.

To life, to God.

It happens. I think we probably all know how awful it is to be lost, in whatever way.
The panic of loosing your way in a strange city when it is getting dark and there seems to be nobody around to ask directions is very much the same as the feeling when we loose our way in life in a somewhat more profound way.
Lost when you’ve done something you wish you had not and you do not know how to make amends.
Lost when you’ve been hurt and you don’t know anything to do but hide in some dark corner to tend to your wounds.
Lost in grief, people can sometimes lose their way in grief for a considerable amount of time.
And in any of those situations there is always the possibility that we get really stuck, not able to break away and find a way back, to life, to light, to joy and good living. People who suffer with depression will be able to tell you all about that sort of feeling. Lost and not able to find a way out. Death, be it in a literal or a figurative sense, looking like the only alternative to a life in misery.

I feel sorry for Judas. I think he was lost. In a very bad way. And somehow I have trouble believing that even where he did not see any light in his remorse, the Lord who told these wonderful stories about lost sheep and lost coins will have left it at that. However, that is not for us to decide. It is something between the Lord and Judas, between the betrayer and the betrayed.

Peter and his friends are also lost. Lost for clues as to what to do next.

Judas was one of us Peter says. He was one of us, "he was part of us" is how the Greek can also be read. And there is some deep psychological truth in that. Peter acknowledging something that a lot of people would have a trouble acknowledging.
Not only had Judas travelled with them, up and down the country, looking after the money, taking part in their discussions, wondering about what the words and deeds of Jesus meant. He was not the only one who betrayed the Lord. Peter himself had denied his Lord three times, and all the others had fled and left their master when the Roman soldiers came to take him to Pilate.
None of them had a really clear conscience!
As none of us have. Judas is one of us, Judas is part of us, of all of us. We all have the potential of becoming a betrayer in us. We probably all have, at one time or another betrayed. Be it somebody else, somebody we loved, somebody who didn’t deserve it, or maybe somebody who did, or the Lord, or even the principles we’d like to adhere to in life. Judas is one of us. And it may take some courage to acknowledge that, as Peter did.

They have both, in their own ways, betrayed their Lord.
The difference between Peter and Judas however seems that Peter had the courage to go back and face the others, face his Lord, face himself, where Judas didn’t.

And in that I think there is something in this text to be learned about reconciliation and about life after betrayal. Peter and the others gathered together however hopeless and worthless they must have felt. They had been no good when Jesus was taken and they knew it. And it is in that situation that the Lord comes and offers them new life. Peter and the others stay together in prayer, persevere in their searching for a way forward, for reconnection, for the restoration of the community. And they get it.
Also: They must have mourned Judas, the loss of a friend, the loss of innocence in a way with the realisation that they too could have done the same thing had things been slightly different. That in a way, they’d all left Jesus and betrayed him.
At the same time they have been betrayed themselves. One they considered as their own has gone off and done this awful thing, killing himself afterwards. They must have had all the trouble people have when they try to cope with the suicide of someone they are closely related to.

It must have felt strange without him and easily they could have turned to anger and vehement condemnation and negation of what they themselves were.

But no, Peter stands up and says: He was one of us, he was part of us. Acknowledging that something has happened that has affected their group and that something has to be done for them to be able to move forward. There should be twelve of us he seems to say, twelve for every tribe of Israel, we cannot just let one part of us to stay lost.

They have seen the resurrected Lord, they have received the blessing of forgiveness and grace, and it has brought them back from death to life, from no hope to a promised future. And in prayer and submission to the will of God they together find the courage to move on. Leaving Judas to God, accepting forgiveness for their own wrongdoing and persevering in prayer and the building of the community of Christ, even before Pentecost.

This is one of the remarkable things about this story. And in that it shows us one of the things communion is about.
It is about finding the courage to celebrate that God brought forth life from death, light from darkness, good from evil. It is about accepting that the Lord comes and invites us to his table to heal us, to open the future for us, to sustain us as a community of faith and prayer, even where there are issues we find difficult to face, in ourselves or in others. That the Lord is out to find us, who would otherwise be lost.

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2003


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