Crows Nest Uniting Church
Easter 7 • 17 May 2015


Acts 1:15-17,21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19


Rev. Chris Udy



Over the last few weeks
SBS has been screening ‘Struggle Street’,
and generating volumes of public comment.
Some people called it ‘poverty porn’
and said that SBS had exploited
the social disadvantage and multiple disabilities
of a few families from Mount Druitt
for moral titillation and cheap ratings.
Others used it to vent their spleen
on people they consider cheats and bludgers,
filling the Twittersphere with outrage
about people on welfare
buying TVs and mobile phones.
The loudest judgements were reserved
for Billie Jo Wilkie,
who was filmed using drugs
and smoking cigarettes
just days before her baby was born,
and who, her mother tells us,
was herself born an addict, a “methadone baby”.
 
It was moving and sad to realise
the Uniting Church presence in Mount Druitt:
a young minister – Josh Bleyerveen –
who was mentoring and encouraging
the young people in his congregation
to work for reconciliation
in their families and beyond;
moving and sad to see the local community
trying to raise the money needed
to keep him there at the church,
but, as with so many other resources
in places like Mount Druitt,
having to see him leave.
 
But for many who watched it,
the story that most touched home
was that of the Kennedy family:
Peta, who not only does all she can
to keep her family safe and together,
but tries to build community too,
is profoundly inspiring.
The last scenes in the documentary
are of a video she makes
to remind Ashley, her husband,
of who he is, and where he belongs,
and who loves him.
Ashley has deteriorated in front of the camera,
losing his memory and his confidence,
but he is determined to love his kids
even including Corey,
who scares his Mum
and infuriates his father and his siblings.
But Peta includes Corey in her video,
hoping that even Corey will come back home.
 
Most families have a problem child like Corey.
Someone who turns celebrations into confrontation,
who takes the money and runs,
who fights or lies or cheats,
or is angry or stupid or weak.
Most families have someone
who needs much more help than any of the others -
who’s constantly being propped up,
bailed out, reeled in, worked over and jumped on.
Most families have someone
who seemingly delights
in doing the one thing that will cause everyone else
the most pain, shame and distress.
 
The prodigal son, the wayward daughter,
the black sheep of the family.
And families that don’t have a prodigal
will often choose one from somewhere else -
some other family,
far enough away to be safe
but close enough to be useful -
an evil uncle or a tragic aunt,
those mad bad cousins, or the awful neighbours.
 
For some strange reason we seem to believe
that we’ll look better if someone looks worse,
that we’ll be safer if someone else is under attack,
that we’re loved more, when someone’s loved less.
 
And the Christian community
isn’t exempt from that weird reasoning.
The ultimate black sheep
in the faith and family of Jesus Christ
is Judas - the son of shame.
 
He was once a person of some authority and trust.
He was the treasurer of the disciples -
he held the purse,
and he wouldn’t have been given that responsibility
if he had shown himself unreliable.
He was also an active and apparently effective worker
in the first waves of the Christian mission.
He was sent out twice by Jesus,
first as one of the 12,
then in all probability as a team leader
among the 72 followers
sent to the villages and towns to preach and heal
and proclaim the kingdom.
The disciples returned with stories of great success -
and brought back the 5,000
who shared bread and fish with Jesus
beside the sea of Galilee.
 
Judas was obviously bright, motivated and trusted -
but he also made a mistake -
he broke the trust he’d been given,
for reasons that we simply don’t know -
but surely not just for a few coins -
and by betraying Jesus,
he became the “bad son”
of the Christian community -
our negative example - our scapegoat and our demon.
 
Judas was so hated - so rejected -
that we identified all our evils in him -
and the Biblical writers were so keen
to make sure we knew he came
to an appropriately just and punishing end
that they have him dying in two different ways -
Matthew says he hung himself -
Luke says he fell over in a paddock
and ruptured his insides.
 
2000 years later Judas is still causing problems.
Our international and ecumenical lectionary writers,
who decide what readings
we’ll focus on each Sunday –
apparently didn’t know what to do
with Luke’s version of the end of Judas’ life,
so they leave it out -
so our reading from Acts
skips over the awkward verses,
and neatly cuts him out of our worship.
 
The rest of the reading from Acts isn’t much better.
The disciples decide
that Judas must also be written out
of the family history –
replaced by another disciple.
But children can’t be replaced.
They can only be loved,
and mourned when they lose their way.
 
John’s gospel deals with Judas in quite another way -
a way some families take too -
and describes Judas as the one destined to be lost -
the one who was predisposed to evil - the “wrongun”
born with a difficult nature.
 
But that doesn’t really help.
If people are born bad,
then they really have no responsibility
for what happens.
If it’s all in the genes
they can’t be blamed, can they -
and since most families share
the genes of their wayward children,
it doesn’t really help
to appeal to predisposition,
or any other kind of predestination.
 
The truth is -
all kinds of people,
for all kinds of reasons,
make bad and destructive choices -
and once the choices are made,
the wounds and scars
of our betrayals remain,
they can’t be undone.
 
So if that’s the end of the story -
if there is no going back,
and no possibility of a different future,
if there is no repentance, and no forgiveness,
if people can’t change and grow
and become new people,
we might as well all give in now.
 
But this is the last Sunday
in the season of Easter,
and we believe in resurrection.
 
The good news is
that God and most parents
never give up on their children -
and that most nights,
whether they’re religious or not -
most parents, sometimes with words,
but more often without,
do something like pray the prayer
Jesus said for his family
from our gospel reading for today.
 
“Holy Father, protect them,
just as I protected them when I could,
and save them from the world’s evil -
its prejudice, its greed, its fear, and its blind malice.
I’m not asking you to take them out of the world,
I know they have to live their own lives,
but let them see the truth -
and let the truth make them strong, and peaceful,
and joyful - and holy.”
 
Surely, when Jesus prayed
that prayer for his disciples
he meant it for every one of them -
including Judas.
Jesus was surely as heartbroken
about Peter’s denial
and John’s desertion
as he was about anything Judas did.
The only difference
is that John came back,
and Peter waited for another chance -
and through the miracle of forgiveness
Jesus healed his family.
 
Author Madeline L'Engle, in one of her books,
tells the end of the story of Judas like this:
After his death,
Judas found himself
at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. 
For thousands of years he wept,
first in fury, then self-pity, and then repentance, 
and when all his tears were spent,
he finally looked up.
Far in the distance, he could see
a tiny glimmer of light -
so he began to climb in that direction.
The walls of the pit were dark and wet,
and over and over again he slipped and fell
and rolled back down.
But ultimately, after enormous effort,
he reached the top of his climb -
and as he dragged himself out into the light
he found himself in an upper room.
In the room he saw people, people he knew, 
seated around a table …
and that’s when Jesus said,
"We've been waiting for you, Judas.
We couldn't begin till you arrived."
 
I’m also heretic enough
to hope that when Judas finally came to God -
by whatever means he died -
God said “Oh Judas! –
what a sad and terrible mistake!
Now can you see
that there’s nothing to fear,
nothing to prove,
nothing to win - just come home.”
 
What Judas might do with that offer of forgiveness
is still up to him -
he might still reject it -
but God’s love and God’s freedom
are always extended -
and at every point God accepts and absorbs
the fear and the hurt
of our failure to trust and to live in his love.
 
The world can be a sad, and broken,
and heartless and dangerous place –
and the fault lines of human distress run through
every neighbourhood and community on earth –
but people like Peta on ‘Struggle Street’ reveal
that in every community there are also people
who not only live with dignity,
and integrity, and courage,
but who also do what they can
to live with compassion,
to extend forgiveness, and to work for healing.
 
The amazing thing
is that this courage,
and this healing response of grace and love
is not rare -
it’s there at the heart of most families,
and even those whose experience of family
is not so good
can usually identify someone
who has shown them this expression
of the love of God.
It isn’t rare –
but it is immeasurably precious,
and when we celebrate baptism,
we’re called with all God’s family –
including Cara – and even including Judas -
to let God’s never-ending grace
wash over and refresh us,
and we are also challenged and encouraged
to live in its freedom,
and to reveal it to others.