Sunday, May 17, 2015

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:12-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-15
John 17:11b-19

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son.

I can't imagine what it must be like to be a judge. They sit on the bench every day and listen to the stories being told to them by both plaintiffs and defendants. I love to watch some of those daytime judge shows like "The People's Court" which takes small claims court cases out of the system and into the limelight. These cases have a financial limit, but there is not limitation on the strangeness and hilarity. The litigants tell stories that are unbelievable, not only because they are so strange, but because they simply are not truthful.

On a recent episode, the plaintiff obviously forged a signature to prove her case, even the name was misspelled on the promissory note. Others, both plaintiffs and defendants, forget their stories even while they are telling them, jumping from one idea to another. The judge will often call attention to something they have written in their statement to the court that is contrary to their testimony. They make excuses or justify their words to try to convince the judge to rule in their favor. In the end, however, the judge has to make a decision based on everything he or she hears according to the law.

The judge often says, "I don't believe you." We want to believe what they say, especially since they have sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, many people do not take that oath seriously. They make the vow, but then say what they think will help them. Unfortunately, when their stories do not line up, the judge sees past the lies and rules accordingly. The litigants often respond, "I am not a liar!" yet their answers to the questions clearly show them that they lie. The problem is that many people think it is ok to be a little dishonest and consider themselves good people even when they twist the truth. The judge, however, has to pick through the lies and find the truth that will provide justice to both sides of the case.

"I don't believe you," always leads to the assumption that the person is a liar. Sometimes I question the judgment of the judge because I don't think he or she has really heard the person. I am surprised some days when the judge does not believe a story that seems to make complete sense to me. Of course, I'm limited in my knowledge; I only see what the editors and producers of the show reveal to the audience. It is possible that the judge has information that I do not know, giving him or her an insight into the character of the litigant or the case that is unavailable to the rest of us. Sometimes, however, it seems like the judge doubts statements that seem to be the truth.

"I don't believe you," makes a person out to be a liar, but we have to remember that our judgment is not always right. We are fallible human beings; we see the world through our imperfect and biased understanding of the world. Unfortunately, we live in a day when we say this often when listening to others. We don't believe politicians. We don't believe journalists. We don't believe the police. We don't believe the brutes that run on the streets and attack others. We don't believe our family or friends when they say something that does not fit our expectations. We don't believe others, and when we don't believe them, we make them out to be liars.

John writes, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." Those that do not believe that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that Jesus does what He says He does call God a liar. Disbelief is a judgment against God. John writes these things so that we know that we have eternal life.

Jesus does not need to prove that He is who He says He is, and yet throughout His life and ministry Jesus constantly pointed to the witness of God's promise fulfilled in Him. The Old Testament scriptures told God's people, and continue to show us, how He would make things right. We failed, but God knew all along that He would send Jesus to reconcile us. We can read those promises and see Jesus in the words, whose place is then proven through the stories of His life found in the New Testament.

This Sunday falls between Ascension and Pentecost. This is the one, very brief period of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when the disciples are left alone. It was a time of waiting, watching, praying, and hoping. I don't know how they were feeling at this point. Did they believe Jesus would send the Helper? Were they confident that they finally understood what Jesus was saying or did they feel abandoned after forty days of walking with the resurrected Jesus?

The Gospel lesson for today looks back to the prayer of Jesus before His arrest. Jesus knew what was coming and He prayed for His disciples that they would believe Him while they suffered everything that would happen in the next few weeks. "Hold on to them, Father, and give them the strength to survive until that day when they would be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Judas was already gone from their midst during this prayer. He had gone to the priests to betray Jesus, although we do not really know Judas' motivation. Some have suggested that Judas simply wanted to call Jesus out and force His hand. Judas was not much different than the other disciples in his misunderstanding of Jesus' purpose. They all thought Jesus was meant to be the king; they all expected Jesus to lead God's people against their oppressors. None of them ever really thought that Jesus would die. Judas acted on his expectations.

Others have suggested that Judas did not have control. The scriptures certainly tell us that Satan entered Judas, taking over his flesh to accomplish the final defeat of Jesus. Even Jesus suggests this is a possibility in today's prayer by saying that Judas' betrayal fulfilled the scriptures. Jesus called him the son of perdition or the son of destruction. Judas didn't have a chance, did he?

Luke tells us in today's first lesson what happened to Judas. Peter again reiterates the fact that the betrayal and destruction of Judas fulfilled the scriptures. He had been part of the disciples, a minister alongside Jesus and the other eleven. Peter also quotes the Psalm, "His office let another take." The disciples were taking care of business while they waited for the promised Helper, replacing the empty chair at their table so that there would be twelve apostles rather than just eleven.

I have always wondered, however, whether Judas' end was actually written in stone. What if Judas believed Jesus and waited for God's grace rather than rushing into his own judgment about his guilt? What did Jesus mean when he said that Judas was destined for eternal damnation? Was Judas' suicide alone in a field part of the plan? Or, by eternal damnation did Jesus simply mean that Judas would be blamed and damned by every generation of Christian forever for Jesus' death? Judas was, after all, not the only one to turn his back on Jesus. Peter, beloved Peter, denied Jesus three times on the night of the trial, and did not stand with Jesus at the food of the cross. Peter's response to the arrest was as Jesus predicted, but it served no greater purpose for God's plan. As a matter of fact, Peter's denial was self-centered. He was protecting himself. Judas, on the other hand, was doing what he was expected to do.

So, what is the difference between Peter and Judas? Peter was forgiven. Now, Judas sought forgiveness. He took the coins back to the priests and begged them to take them back. He confessed his sin and asked to be forgiven in the manner he was familiar: at the temple by the priests. But when he did so, the priests sent him away without satisfaction. They refused to take back the money because it was blood money and they did nothing to forgive his sins. What choice did Judas have? He was no longer welcome among the people with whom he'd spent three years. Jesus was dead. It seems he had no family and friends. He didn't understand what would happen to Jesus in just a few days. Nobody did. No one expected Jesus to be raised. No one expected that Jesus could forgive them for their failure. If Judas had only waited, would his story have ended any differently?

The difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter waited. He was probably suffering from despair just like Judas. He thought he could handle anything and that he could stand up with Jesus, but he failed. Peter was not a strong man. He constantly wavered between bravado and humiliation. In one breath Peter could confess his faith that Jesus is Lord and then in the next breath think he could control the will and purpose of God. Perhaps the fact that he couldn't stand on a decision was his salvation in those dark days between the crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps his salvation was the community in which he lived. Judas didn't have that community. He was, and still is, blamed for what happened on that dark day two thousand years ago. Whether he deserves our disdain or not, he will forever be damned in our eyes. He followed the path of the wicked, not that he betrayed Jesus, but that he didn't look to Jesus for forgiveness, and he is no more than chaff blowing in the wind.

Judas didn't believe Jesus and made God out to be a liar. Judas was not wicked because he betrayed Jesus; he was wicked because he didn't stand upright when the judgment came. He did not remain focused on the God of mercy, taking in the living water of grace that came from Jesus Christ the Lord. The psalmist says that the way of the wicked is doomed, but perhaps it is not because of their sinful actions but instead because they do not believe God's Word.

The disciples that stayed together believed Jesus' word. They didn't sit around doing nothing while they waited, but they looked among their ranks to find someone to replace the one who was gone. They chose Matthias, through prayer and the help of God. We don't know much about Matthias except that he was with the group from the beginning. We hear about the Twelve through the stories, but we often forget that there were more. They were witnesses to Jesus' work, ministry, stories and miracles. They ate the bread, walked the miles, cast out demons and healed with Peter, James, John and the others. They believed, they waited and they received the blessing of that faith, the promise of eternal life that is found in Jesus Christ.

The question for us today is whether or not we believe God's Word. Will we believe that God will be faithful to His promises, even if it seems as if He has abandoned us? Or will we make God a liar by not believing the testimony that God gave us eternal life? Will we wait for Him, knowing that we have been assured of the eternal life won for us by Jesus Christ? Will we have such confidence in this promise that we will trust God in everything, looking to Him for everything we need? Will we stand upright when judgment comes, connected to the God who gives life and brings forth the fruit in our lives? Will we trust God's lovingkindness even when it seems as though there is no hope for us? Will we believe the witness of the scriptures both Old and New Testament that tell the story of the One who has won for us the eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus?

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