Fair warning; I’m going for the whole Outlaw Preacher thing today and preaching from the 3 verses that the lectionary politely left out of today’s Acts reading which is supposed to be chapter 1 verses 15–17, 21–26. The revised Common Lectionary from which we get our assigned readings each week accidently left out 3 verses. but I’m going to read them to you because frankly I think you can take it..…here we go Peter is talking about Judas..…
for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
In Matthew’s telling of the gospel Judas repents and then hangs himself but here in Acts we are told that he bought a field, tripped and fell, bursting open his guts. He died alone in a field of blood. He died knowing that he was a sinner and perhaps thinking that God did not want him.
See, there was no Easter for Judas. There was no resurrection. There was no light shining which the darkness could not overcome. There was no experience of the risen Christ for Judas. He never got to be filled with joy and disbelief like those in the upper room. He never got to stick his fingers in the resurrected wounds of God. He never got to eat sacramental broiled fish on a beach. Judas did not get to experience the defeat of sin and death revealed in the breaking of the bread. He chose death before seeing that death was done for. Our brother Judas. Was what he did beyond forgiveness? How is it that Judas who betrayed Jesus once and was filled with remorse became the villain and Peter who denied Jesus 3 times and wept bitterly became the rock on which the church was built? When it comes down to it, what is the difference between Peter and Judas. Well, Nothing. Absolutely nothing and while we’re at it we might as well admit that there’s not whole lot of difference between us and them either. We are all the beloved Christ deniers. But we share something with Peter that Judas never got to experience and it’s the thing that could have made all the difference. In Judas’ isolation he never availed himself of the means of grace. Judas carried with him into that field the burden of not receiving God’s grace because he was removed from the community in which he could hear it. In Judas’ ears there never was placed a word of grace. And let me tell you. …that’s not something the sinner can create for him or herself.
We cannot in our isolation manufacture the beautiful radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity. As human beings there are a lot of things that we can create for ourselves. Entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste. We cannot create the thing that frees us from the bondage of self the thing the frees us from the shackles of sin and death and the guilt of all of it. We cannot create for ourselves the word of God. We must tell it to each other. You cannot as it was said of Judas “turn aside and go to your own place” of meditation or yoga or your own place of resentment and anger or your own place of voluntary simplicity or even prayer and create the proclamation of God’s grace. That’s why we have community. So that we can stand together under the cross and point to the Gospel. And it takes a good sinner to really get the gospel; which Bonhoeffer says is frankly hard for the pious to understand. Because this grace confronts us with the truth saying: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner, now come as the sinner you are to a God who loves you. God wants you as you are; God does not want anything from you; a sacrifice, a work. God wants you alone.
Nobody said this to Judas.
. How would that early Christian community have been different if Judas had received forgiveness as the rest of them had. Again and again Jesus had said they should preach forgiveness of sins in his name. I mean, it was forgiveness of sin that got Jesus in trouble with the pious folks. He was pretty serious about the whole thing – mentioned it all the time even.
Maybe Judas was destined to betray Jesus. Maybe it all had to go down just like it did. And maybe Judas chose death too soon. Maybe he didn’t avail himself of the means of God’s grace…. But maybe his community never sought him out and offered. Maybe extending the Word of God’s forgiveness to Judas was simply too painful for them. Maybe it was easier for Judas to be the identified problem in the family. Certainly would have been tempting to me. Judas is the traitor…not us. We need a villain so that we don’t have to sit in the awkward and discomforting reality that it is actually all of us. Maybe his community failed him.
And if they failed him. I hope they confessed their sin and heard the ringing freedom of the very forgiveness they were charged with proclaiming to the world they were sent in to. Because they needed it. And you need it and trust me, I need it.
We have to hear again and again who God is for us and what God has done on our behalf. We must free each other from bondage through our confession and forgiveness. We need to break through the isolation of sin and remorse to stand as Christ for one another. I think this is actually why we at House for All Sinners and Saints say that we are religious but not spiritual. Spiritual feels individual and escapist. But to be religious is to do this thing of being human not in isolation but in the midst of other sinners as equally messed up and obnoxious and forgiven as ourselves. And sometimes this can look a whole lot.. like helping to keep each other’s guts from exploding alone in a field.
That’s why we must be little preachers for one another. That’s why we defy the encroaching darkness by pointing to the light of Christ. The light of God entering into our ears as the Gospel and into our mouths as the body and blood – a light which pulls us from being turned in on self. This is a light we cannot create for ourselves. We cannot absolve ourselves. We cannot commune ourselves. We cannot enter into the story of who we are and who God is by ourselves. So you come here with your churning guts and you hear that you are forgiven. You come here in your ambivalence or piety and hear of a God who climbs down from heaven to enter the pain and beauty of humanity. You come here and hear of a God who climbs up from the earth still stinking of the grave and offers his body for us so that we might in turn be his body in the world because, brothers and sisters, there are fields of blood all around us. There are the abandoned spaces of loathing and remorse in which God’s beloved isolate. The gut wrenching reality of solitude threatens us all. But here you are. Gathered by the Spirit. Forgiven. And about to be fed at a common table. Blessed and together. Once again God refusing to lose another Judas to a field of blood.