Tag Archives: fear

Judas – Servant or Scapegoat

Judas HangingThe turning point for Jesus and Judas? My dissertation for my MA focused on the question of whether Judas Iscariot might be God’s scapegoat. This sermon preached on Maundy Thursday 2017 is based on John 13:1-11, 31b-35 and suggests that there may be more to his actions than the traditional view of Judas the unrepentant, egotistical betrayer of Christ

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

This evening we hear one of the pivotal stories of what it means to be a Christian. John, declines to provide us with an account of the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the origin of our Holy Communion, but instead gives us an account of Jesus washing his disciples feet as mark of servanthood which models for them a life of mutual acceptance and forgiveness which must be the mark of his followers for all time.

Apart from Peter, who, with his usual bluster and enthusiasm, misinterprets Jesus’ actions, our attention is focused on Judas; Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ. Of all the gospel writers, John focuses on the persistent presence of the devil; for all those who come to believe in Jesus, particularly the Jewish converts, are changed into Children of God rather than children of the devil.

We are also not given an account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert by John, but it is useful to remember Luke’s account, where at the end of his failure to persuade Jesus to have anything to do with his enticements, the devil leaves him ‘until an opportune time’. This then is that opportune time and Judas is to enter centre stage for his brief but eternal moment of fame.

Here then might be his story:

‘The past few weeks and days have been very unsettling. For the last three years we’ve been travelling with Jesus, seeing him doing such miraculous things and managing to outsmart those who wish to do him harm. I’ve never been more certain of anything, that he truly is the one who has come to liberate not only our own people, but many others from the tyranny of brutal regimes… and yet so many are saying he’s gone too far, what he asks us to do is too hard a life to follow, that he must be demon possessed and so they are turning away. His talk of oneness with the Father, calling people to salvation and eternal life for some is an outrageous blasphemy and yet I’ve seen for myself the wonderful deeds he has and is doing.

Restoring sight to the blind, curing the sick and the lame, freeing people from injustices and teaching ways of love and peace above hatred and violence – why don’t the people get it. I’ve learned so much from him and he’s trusting me, as one of the twelve, to be part of his mission, to show others the power of God; and what better demonstration of that power than his bring Lazarus back from the dead – there can surely be nothing more amazing or mind-blowing. Yet, even that has had the effect of dividing people and has added weight to the authorities case against him, that they are losing control of the crowds and fear an uprising. Certainly our latest arrival in Jerusalem shows that he has an incredibly popular appeal, but still for someone who claims that we should do all we can to support and uphold the poor, the way he allowed Mary to be so extravagant with that precious nard is at least questionable.

There have been moments lately when my mind seems foggy, my judgement clouded and I can’t think straight – what really is his purpose for me? Am I to abandon the faith of my father and forefathers; isn’t there a way that we can explore a way to move forward? What might it take to bring both sides together? Might it be best to talk to the authorities and hand the problem over to them? … Is that what he wants me to do?

Now though, as we sit here sharing a meal, he’s once again demonstrating his upside down thinking; the master who acts as a servant, by offering to wash our dusty feet. Look at Peter, who earlier protested so vehemently that he would allow him to do no such thing, suddenly eager that Jesus should bath his whole body… and yet when he came and knelt before me, his gentle hands wiping away the dirt and grime, I couldn’t look him in the eye. Does he know what I’m thinking?

He must do, but it didn’t stop the feeling of cold panic that swept over me when he clearly stated that he knew at least one of us was not as innocent as they seem. Is that his way of telling me he knows what I’ve determined to do? Even so, we have broken bread together and his offering to me of the choicest morsel surely shows that he still loves me. Perhaps it is the right thing to do.

Judas leaves the circle of the disciples.

I seize a lull in our conversations to slip out, and the darkness of the night compared to the bright glow of the room I have left renders me temporarily blind. As I move quickly away, the sound of laughter and fellowship follows me through the still, cool air, however, my heart is heavy and mind whirling – do I sense the enormity of what I am about to do? May God forgive me if I’ve chosen the wrong path’

Judas made a choice, whether under the influence of the devil or not, but John makes it very clear that whilst Jesus was about to be betrayed, he would not be taken by surprise. He has not been deceived and his arrest, trial and crucifixion will not be a dreadful miscarriage of his plans, but their fulfilment. Instead the event will glorify Jesus and through him glorify God, not by being recognised, proclaimed and crowned as king, but by going obediently to disgraceful death on a cross.

Judas leaves the circle of the disciples before he can hear Jesus’ commandment that a mutual reciprocity of love is the best way to show others that they are one of his disciples. Love that is to be shown even to those who find themselves far away from God; those who cannot see or understand what purpose God might have for them; even those who seem unforgivable. God knows his plans for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.

Amen

Fear Of Failure

Compline - A quiet end to the day

Compline – A quiet end to the day

This week I had to do something really frightening. The sort of thing that makes your heart race and your knees tremble. It wasn’t quite the fear I feel when I am at a great height and not in control of my balance; nor was it the fear generated by an unseen but threatening presence – the sort that made me hide behind the sofa whilst watching Dr Who as a child. No, this was the fear of failure.

The cause of this fear? Well, you could say it was self-inflicted; but for various reasons I had offered to be one of the ordinands that ‘sang’ Compline in the college chapel!

Compline is the final service or ‘office’ at the end of the day. This quiet and peaceful worship, stills the mind and allows you to hand over to God all of those things that have happened during the day before retiring for the night. At Cuddesdon, the practice is then to maintain silence until the next morning

The service is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, and can be said, but is more often than not sung. However, this ‘singing’ is done in Plainsong – a sort of medieval chanting style. The notes are written on a stave [a set of five parallel lines on any one or between any adjacent two of which a note is written to indicate its pitch] in the form of dots (see picture below)

Compline is sung in plainsong

Compline is sung in plainsong

And there’s the rub – the fact that I had to google what the name of those lines were called tells you that my musical knowledge is limited. I understand that each note has a different sound depending on where it sits on those lines, I even know the names of some of the notes in those positions; but my problem is that I can not link in my head the name of the note with the sound that is supposed to come out of my mouth! Still, I wanted to give it a go.

I’ve written previously about having the courage to do something in Getting Out Of The Boat but inherent in all of these types of challenges is the fear of failure; that you’ll make a mess of it; that people will laugh; that you’ll feel a fool. So probably best not to do it…

As the time got nearer, the natural introvert in me kept questioning why I had ever thought it was a good idea and what had possessed me to volunteer. However, I knew that I’d been pushing myself lately to do things that stretched me; that exhausted me, but which were beginning to give me more confidence

I have to admit that even after a brief lunch-time rehearsal, right up to the moment that I sat in the chapel itself, that I wanted so much to say ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t do this’, hoping that like Zechariah I’d be struck dumb and have a legitimate excuse to save face; but a quick arrow prayer to say ‘Here goes God’ and the barely audible note hummed by my wonderful fellow ordinand, Jane*, sitting right next to me, found me launching into the first versicle

Did I sing like Katherine Jenkins? – No!

Did I hit a few ‘bum’ notes? – Yes!

Did I worship the Lord in word and song – Yes!

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control
2 Timothy 1:7

Having done it I can’t say that I won’t feel that nervousness again, but if we attempt to do things in good faith the Holy Spirit  will invariably pitch in there with us [musical pun intended]

So don’t fear failure, and don’t let fear stop you from giving things a go. As it says in one of my favourite prayers:

Lord help me to remember
that nothing is going

to happen today that
you and I together
can’t Handle
Amen

*Huge thanks must go to Jane Winter, whose infinite patience and kind encouragement played a large part in enabling me to not give in to my fears and for the support of all my fellow Ordinands who sang the responses impeccably and who didn’t laugh but gave me silent hugs afterwards!