Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sermon for 2/25/15: Lent 1 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The “sore abuse and scorn” that paled our Lord’s head “with anguish,” as we sang, actually began long before the physical abuse. It began with the actions of a friend, of one whom He loved, a companion with whom He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that only compounded the weight of sin He bore on the cross.

“One of you will betray Me,” He said at the table that night. And they became sad, and one after another they asked, “Is it I, Lord?” We, too, need to ask that question of our Lord. Have I sold you out, Lord? Have I lived for this world and its pleasures and bought into them, rather than wanting you, rather than spending time with You, rather than hearing Your words of life? Have I lived as if I mattered most and You mattered not at all? Is it I, Lord? Jesus makes it pretty clear, doesn’t He? The wound of betrayal is not inflicted by those who are distant from Him, from those who are not His companions, His friends. No. This is a pain that comes from those nearest to Him, from those whom He held in special love. “He who has dipped His hand in the dish with Me will betray Me.” Not someone distant and unknown, but someone near, and dear, and loved.
But note the love of the Lord! Do not think for one moment that the Lord’s love for Judas, His betrayer, was in any way altered by betrayal. Of our Savior, the Psalmist spoke truly: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” He loved this man who would go his faithless way. Jesus loved this man who would first despise and turn from His love, and then despair of what he thought he had lost forever. For Judas, the betrayal was so big a sin that he was convinced he could never be forgiven. The betrayal by Judas was a horrible sin, to be sure, and it is a horrible sin in us. What on earth could ever justify handing over the Creator of all, who has shown us only kindness and love, into the agony of torture, crucifixion, and death? What madness is it that would lead the creature to betray the Creator? What folly it is to chase a few dollars in this world, spurning, all the while, the gift of a life that never ends.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” That had to be the most terrifying word our Lord uttered. But do you see, people of God, that Jesus did not say those words out of hatred or anger or any such thing? He spoke from the depth of His sorrowful compassion. He saw, as is His way, where Judas would end his life, that in the end Judas would despair of the mercy of God and go to his grave believing that his sin was greater than God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. And that broke our Lord’s heart even more than the betrayal itself.
How little Judas understood the Son of Man whom he betrayed! For it was also for the sin of Judas, and the sin of all us Judases, that Christ stretched out His hands and let them pound in the nails. It was for our sin that Christ pleaded, “Father, forgive them.” It was for our sin that the Lord of life let “grim death, with cruel rigor” rob Him of His life so that sin and death would lose their claim on us forever.

The pain of betrayal is great, and it wounded our Lord’s heart. But it could never turn that heart to bitterness. In that heart lives a love too great, too strong, too mighty for bitterness and hatred to ever conquer it. Although betrayal hurt, like the pain of hell itself, Jesus went on loving Judas, even as He goes on loving you and me.
And so, in the wounds of the crucified One we find a love that sets us free to love as we have been loved. Our Lord spoke often of taking up our cross and following Him. Do you see, now, what your cross is? You are betrayed when you love others. Instead of your love being returned, it is rejected. Such betrayal hurts and wounds you in terrible ways; you may be crushed and even reduced to tears. Then that old sinful nature inside rises up in indignation and anger and eagerness to get even. But by the strength of the cross of Christ, by the power of your baptism into His love and mercy, you nail that old sinful nature to the cross and say, “By the power of Him who forgave me, even when I have betrayed Him so many times, I forgive. By the power of Him who loved me, even when I sold Him out, I will love you, the one who has hurt me.” This is the cross we are often called on to bear. And when we do, it will mean torture and death to that old sinful nature. But to the new man, who has arisen in Holy Baptism, it will mean life and joy. You will be partaking of the very life of your Savior.
We have not begun to love with the love of Christ until we have come, by God’s grace, to love those we thought were our friends but who have betrayed us, hurt us, brought us sorrow. When we go on loving them and seeking good for them and their blessing—a feat impossible for fallen human nature, but possible through the love of Christ—we begin to taste something of the joy known by the martyrs of Christ across many centuries who loved and prayed for the very people who brought them to death.
As often as the Church gathers to hear God’s Word and to receive the Holy Sacrament, she celebrates the love that is in her Savior, which is stronger than all our betrayals; a love that He freely gives us in His body and blood, that won forgiveness for Judas, for you, for me, and for all. It is our experience of such love that frees and strengthens us to bear the wounds of betrayal ourselves, following our Lord with joy. May He give us the grace to do so. In the name of the Father and of Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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