Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The breath of life

Today I have been asked to look at the picture of the holy spirit as breath, and as breathing is the most natural thing in the world so too should be the breath of God, the breath that fills us with a new life just as it did in the beginning when;
‘the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person.
I once read that the Holy Spirit is like; ‘the air we breathe’, I love that analogy, so simple and yet so true, because without air we cant exist and without the Holy Spirit, we can’t have the relationship God intended us to have with Him. The Holy Spirit completes the Trinity, it completes us, it gives us life, it restores us, it is the reason for life; the Holy Spirit is to the Church what air is to every human being. The Holy Spirit empowers our lives, deepens our faith, motivates our mission. The Holy Spirit freed the first Christians from the slavery of fear and it can free us, it can free us today and inviting the Holy spirit to work within us is as easy as breathing - it really is that simple. 
And yet I have really grappled with this sermon today. Because I feel that along with our relationship with the spirit come a lot of terms and labels, which we all use to describe peoples faith journey, and in doing so I wonder if we might alienate or exclude others. As I prayed about this and talked to others I began to feel a responsibility to de-mystify theses terms and this language that we often use.

A few weeks ago I went to Birmingham to a BMS day and I talked to my friends and fellow trainee ministers about the language we Christians use to describe our faith journey and our relationship with Jesus. As we sat discussing these terms I heard a student from the other end of the table, who was from Spurgeons college say; ‘you can tell that lot are from Northern they are getting all spiritual already and its only breakfast’.  

We were seen to be getting all ‘spiritual’ because we were talking the talk we were using the right words quoting the right chapter and verse from the bible and using the correct theological definitions.  Our Spurgeons colleagues joined in and by now it was getting to be a very heavy theological conversation for 7.30 in the morning.

Finally my colleague from Spurgeons college said; ‘listen, its simple – is the Good news Good news? When your church community leave the building on Sunday morning do they feel they have had good news?’ 

I was reminded of again when Alan said a few weeks ago, we are in the business of discipleship, of sharing the good news.  Shouldn’t that news be as accessible and as natural as breathing, something we don’t think about, we just do, something which is part of our lives and which lives within and lives alongside us in a way which is personal and unique to us.

The day after the conference I was awoken at 7.00 and as I started to come round, words, these words which I am sharing with you now, started pouring into my head – I ran downstairs and started typing – and here they are….

Words are very powerful aren’t they?  they can make us feel incredibly happy, empowered, valued, confident  and also angry, sad, confused, isolated, rejected, insecure…the list is endless.  In my experience I have found that Christians can be very good with words, we can have our own little exclusive language, our own little labels and our own special words that we like attach to people and to their faith, to their church and to their walk with Jesus.  They can be very damaging; they can be empowering but are they helpful?  If we are in the business of bringing people to faith and encouraging them in that faith are we being helpful by attaching label’s to their faith walks?   My friends and I may have felt quite flattered that we Northern students were seen to be very spiritual, but was it an accurate label? I’m not so sure.

So my question is this - are labels always accurate? Do we really know what they mean?  Are they helpful when we are in the business of bringing people to faith or do we alienate people and do we isolate them?  As I prayed and read the bible I began to realise I had just accepted these terms and words which people had attached to my coming to faith and although I could identify them as stages in my walk I wondered if I had really understood what they meant.  During our discussion at that breakfast table three trainee ministers were all interpreting them slightly differently, perhaps we too may have different interpretations an understanding for Baptism in the Spirit, being born again and salvation.

So I went back to my own conversion to try and dig deeper, to interpret what it meant in my story to be converted, of being born again, and being baptised in the spirit.  What I realised was that I had just assumed these labels when people referred them to me and I had never questioned them, I had just accepted them and left it at that.

I remember it all as clear as if it was this morning. I remember  sitting on the brown leather chair that belonged to my uncle Charlie in the room that is now my study looking out into the yard and being literally filled with the holy spirit, it poured into me like a waterfall, from the top of my head I felt the weighted of the world being washed away and when it had finished I was filled with a peace which I had never known before and I spent a week being terrified it would leave me.  I remember the following morning kneeling by my bead, I didn’t know why and these words coming out of my mouth;
‘Father I am sorry for turning my back on you for all these years, forgive me and let me serve you as I served the Buddhist community – be careful what you pray for…and I remember my baptism, of gasping for breath as I came out of the water with the feeling of being propelled at great speed towards a piercing light…. I remember all these things. I remember my story I remember my conversion I remember being baptised in the spirit I remember being saved I remember giving my life to Jesus I remember feeling I had been born again and I remember being told what had happened to me using these biblical terms which I understood through my own experience. But it was my experience and it was my story.

I remember my story but when I tell it to people who haven’t come to faith it’s the same story but without the biblical terminology, its my story of how I asked Jesus to come into my life and how I asked to be forgiven for my past and for all the times I had messed up and its how I asked if I could walk with him for the rest of my days.  I love my story and I love the way my  story continues, because  I still ask to be forgiven I still ask him to walk with me.  I was saved and forgiven on February 17th 2003 and I continue to be saved and forgiven because I continue to mess up and I will need to continue being forgiven and saved until the day I die and go to be with Jesus.  That is my on going story as a disciple of Jesus. 

So in all my praying and reading and grappling as I prepared for this service I have come to the conclusion that we can over complicate things which should be natural, and when we over complicate things and use our biblical terminology we can actually do the opposite of what we are intending to do, sometimes we can cause damage, we can make something as natural as breathing into something which people become afraid of and confused about.  Speaking from my own experience, when I first came to faith I went to a church where every week during the service people would speak in tongues or sing in tongues,  there would be interpretations, people would fall in the spirit and there would be prophesy and testimony.  People danced and waved flags, worship was extravagant and sometimes the service would go on until 1.30 when the spirit was on the move. 
But I often left feeling I hadn’t heard the good news, feeling left out, worrying because I was not like them, that I was not a real Christian, not good enough to be a Christian.  The reason why was because  I hadn’t been given the gift of speaking in tongues and I was told this was a mark of being saved of being a Christian, of being baptised in the spirit.  So I was anointed with oils and I was prayed over and I had hands laid on me and I think most members of the church tried to get me to speak in tongues –  but still I couldn’t speak in tongues and it weighed heavy on my heart, and the words I’m not good enough became my mantra and they have weighed on my heart for many, many years.  I tried and tried to be a good Christian by my works so that I could be a proper Christian so I could be good enough so I could make up for not having that gift of the spirit. I now know that I am good enough, we are all good enough we are not saved by our works we are saved by grace;
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. 
We have been saved and we have been given the holy spirit as a blessing and as a gift. We can’t be loved any more by our good deeds by trying to be good enough, we are loved and accepted as we are. 

I remember my conversion, I remember my story and I have heard people attach words to the different stages of my story but I have come to understand that the most important thing to remember in my story is my relationship with Jesus, its my story and its unique  to me and your story is your story and your experience of the holy spirit and your walk with Jesus is yours.
We can all walk the walk and talk the talk, we can all look like we are being spiritual at the breakfast table at 7.30,  but its really all about the good news, about Jesus, and its really only Jesus who knows the truth. 

I don’t want anyone in this church to ever feel like I did, I don’t want anyone to ever feel they are not good enough. I want you to leave today having heard the good news,  because  the good news is that if  we follow Jesus, if we want to have a relationship with him if we want him to come into our lives we don’t need to worry about words we just need to allow the spirit to breathe into our lives, just as the old hymn says;
Breathe on me breath of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
 and do what thou wouldst do.
I believe that it’s a simple as that, so breathe in the breath of God, let him fill you with the spirit each and every moment of the day so that you can enjoy an abundant and joyous life, accept the gift, accept the blessing and accept the love so that you can love those He loves and serve those he calls us to serve.

As I wrote these word a ping came from my phone and I received this message from a friend who had found me on Face book and who I haven’t seen since I came to faith.  This is what he said; Helen!!  It was so nice to see you scrolling by on Facebook.  I stalked your profile and it was quite amazing to see the journey you've been on.   My in-laws live in Harrogate so I have driven past your church numerous times in the past few months.  In fact filled up with petrol at the Sainsburys across the roundabout last Friday.  Yesterday at a prayer for Bradford event someone I sat next to was discussing LEPs and your church came up as a unique partnership.  Small world.
I remember very well the day you stopped me on the way into school and said "Your friend is now my friend!"  To my shame it took me ages to get what you were on about... Somewhere I have a video of us singing "Spirit in the Sky" at a Year 11 leaving assembly.  It now seems it was prophetic – you calling out "Gotta have a friend in Jesus".......  

I know I gotta have a friend in Jesus, He is my breath, he is my life and I know that when I am breathless, dispirited or when I have been winded by a painful blow God will breathe new life into me.  When I am low he will replenish me so I can keep on giving, keep on serving so I can do what he wouldst have me do.

In John 3 verse 8 it says the wind blows where it wishes, we cant see it but we can see the effects as it blows the trees, lifts things off the floor, twirls them about in the sky - the wind or breath of God will do the same in us, it will lift and carry us with great power.  When we breath in the spirit of God we have his strength for our weakness, his sight for our blindness his supply for our need.
Take a deep breath how does it feel? It’s the feeling of life, the holy spirit is the breath of life it is our gift and our blessing.  Don’t be afraid or mystified by biblical terms, just breathe in God and then breath him out into the lives of those you encounter. This is your gift and your blessing – take it and live it and be blessed by it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

I choose you

The Vine and the Branches  John 15 
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
I have read this passage many times and early on in my ministry I have preached on it and yet when I read it again to prepare for today it feels as if I am reading it for the first time. That’s the wonderful thing about scripture, at different seasons in our life the words from familiar scripture can speak to us in new and refreshing ways.
The thing which struck me most was the section which I have just read and the fact that Jesus chose us and he calls us to be his friends. I felt so moved when I read these words and they spoke straight into my heart - Jesus chose me and he calls me to be his friend. He doesn’t see the relationship as master and servant but as equals, as friends.  As I thought more about this I understood that this means warts and all, in the worst of times and the best of times, at our worst and at our best he wants to be alongside us.
Friendship is a powerful thing and that’s why it is no surprise that one of the most popular features on Facebook is “friendship”, Facebook is the most popular social get together place on the internet. There are 400 million users and if they had their own country it would the 3rd largest nation in world. It is a place where people can share their lives, where they can talk with others, post pictures and articles they’d like people to see… presenting their life as they want it to be seen, sharing what they had for tea, their wonderful holidays, their hectic social lives or for some it’s a place to rant about the government.  All this is done between “friends”, the people you’ve given the privilege of being able to visit your Facebook.
The average Facebook user has about 150 friends. But there are many that can have hundreds – even 1000s – of friends. Some have as many as 30,000 friends who get access to their page and their lives at the click of a button.
I checked and I’ve got 248 “friends” on Facebook.  But there is an odd thing about these friends. They’re not all really what I’d call “friends”. Many of these are people I work with, network with, there are people there who  I lost touch with , people from church people from college - but very few of them are what I’d call close friends. Very few are people that if I were sick and in hospital would come and visit me or if I was stranded on the M1 at night would come and rescue me. That’s because many of them don’t really know me. They know what I project on facebook but they don’t know the details of my life, they only know about what I want them to see about my life on facebook.  They don’t know what I struggle with because I don’t share my intimate pain on facebook. In fact not only might they not know me, they might not even LIKE me.  On Facebook they’re my friends but, for the most part, they’re just passing acquaintances, some are self admitted facebook stalkers who like to peep in on the lives of others but leave no trace of their visit, some leave comments some just press the like icon, some pass by.
Most of them are very nice people, otherwise I wouldn’t let them into my life but they’re not REALLY my friends and perhaps this is a reflection of real life too.  Sometimes even the people we call our friends – aren’t really our true friends. They’re not there when we need them. They disappoint us forget us, or ignore us. They may even betray us and hurt us.
Sadly the reality of life and the reality of being a human being is that we don’t ALWAYS have true friends that we can always count on… But the good news is that Jesus tells us HE wants to be our friend and he will never let us down, he will always be there, he is our constant faithful friend in the truest and most complete sense.
If you take tie to reflect on this passage it blows you away.  Jesus wants to be our friend. We didn’t send a facebook friend request to Jesus. He sent one to us.  We know this because it is there in black and white in verse 16 when Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I CHOSE YOU and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
Jesus reached out to us – first.  And what is important about that, what is amazing about that what is unbelievable about that is that if most people knew what we were REALLY like, deep, deep, down… they wouldn’t accept a friend request from us. If people knew some of the things we have SAID/DONE/THOUGHT in our entire lives, they wouldn’t have anything to do with us.  But Jesus does.  Jesus knows exactly what we’re like… He knows our darkest shame and secrets and He STILL wants us as His friends. Ephesians says it this way:
“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” Ephesians 2:4-5
Even when we were dead in our sins even when we had  messed up lives even when we weren’t worth much --- to God… or anyone else even then he wanted to be our friend. 
I know that s true because I have lived it.  I ranted against God, against Christians and for sixteen years I was a Buddhist leader, I turned my back on God and I slammed the door in his face and hollowed abuse at him until I was empty and broken and lost in the darkness.  And it was then - when I was a broken and lost an enemy of God, dead in my sins, lying on the floor in front of a Buddhist altar challenging him by saying; ‘ok if there is a God reveal yourself,’ it was then in that moment  that God sent His “friend” request. Rephrasing John 3:16, you could say “For God so loved you and I, He sent us a very special friend request” He sent me Jesus and I thank him for reaching down into the mess that was my life then and lifting me up and bringing me to the life I have now.
 “For God so loved the world that He gave (sent) His only begotten Son” - not just for me but all, for all who would accept him as their friend and who would come to know him as their savior, their Lord, their everything.
The way you become a “friend” on Facebook is that one person sends out an INVITATION to someone else to be their friend. The other person can then either “CONFIRM” them as a friend or IGNORE you. What Jesus is telling us here is “I invited you to be my friend… you didn’t invite me.” “You did not choose me, but I chose you...”will you confirm me or will you ignore me?
He invited US to be HIS friend, He reached out to us because we weren’t worthy to reach out to Him – He accepted us in all our mess and brokenness and I for one feel humbled that He thought I was worth His time.
Unlike Facebook… where most of my “friends” aren’t really my friends, not only is Jesus my friend, but my friendship with Jesus improves my friendship with others. I believe that my friendship with Jesus makes me a better person, my friendship with Jesus gives me a heart for other people to be the friend to them that He is to me.  His life, his example his stories make me want to be like him.
My friend Helen often used to say to me that in this world, earthly friends will disappoint me, that she would disappoint me, that she may even hurt me and I never really understood at the time what she meant, I felt it was a bit of a cop out for letting me down. But now I understand.  I understand because I know I am human and If I am your friend… sooner or later I’m going to disappoint you too, not because I want to not because I mean to but because as human beings we mess up and we can be selfish, we can put ourselves first, we can fail to see life through the eyes and situations of others. It’s not normal for us  to think of others first. It’s not normal for us to worry about other peoples problems when we have problems of my own. We human beings tend to be inherently selfish to lesser or greater degrees. I know that much as I hate it I tend to think of myself first, I will admit that if I am sharing chocolate with Polly and one of the two pieces has broken bigger I want the bigger one, I hasten to add she does too, and what follows is a cover up for our inherent selfishness which follows this pattern of you have the biggest, no you have the biggest – she always gets the biggest.  Because I love her, and love overcomes that inherent selfishness, love dissolves greed.
Jesus said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” It’s a repeated command, over and over again throughout the Scriptures. Why repeat such a command?  Because Jesus knows that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We don’t really know how to love until we’ve learned the love of Jesus in our lives and how did Jesus love us?
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I believe that God isn’t concerned with how many friends you have on facebook, He’s concerned with how many people to whom you are a friend. How many people you and I laid down our lives for. Because God KNOWS that in this world people can be lousy friends because human beings can be selfish. Despite best intentions human beings look after their own interests first. But Jesus set us the example of putting others first. He laid down His life for us… so that we could live.
That friendship he offers us models why Jesus put such an emphasis on friendship in His ministry. Friendship is the framework for His church, and it’s the power of our ministry for Him it also emphasizes the value friendship can have in SAVING others from death.
My friend Helen spent eight years building a friendship with me so that I could be saved from death.  There are friends in this church who have also saved me, who have listened to me, prayed for and with me, who have even loved me enough to tell me when I have messed up and as you look around this church I hope and I pray that you too share friends who will do the same for you.
Jesus showed compassion and love towards the weak and the outcasts. Jesus loved the unlovable.  I think I was pretty unlovable when I met Helen.  But she loved me and she loved Jesus enough to show compassion to share with me her Jesus stories and slowly bring me to faith.
My favorite Jesus story is the on the night that he was betrayed by Judas, when he and the disciples went to an upper room. Before they sat down, Jesus took off His outer robe, he knelt down and he gently and lovingly washed their dirty feet.  His love that night was the love of a man who was willing to be humbled as a servant.
In John’s Gospel, John uses two Greek words that both translate into the English word “love”. The first Greek word is philos- which means a friendship type of love and the second Greek word the John uses is agape - which is more of an intimate type of love.
As John was writing this passage, he used both words, alternating between the two of them. The English translators translated philos as “friend” and agape as “love”.
Jesus knew that the type of love that we needed to show each other was more than just a facebook friendship; it needed to be a love that was genuine, a love of patience and a love of tolerance, a love of compassion.  A love that would love the unlovable, a love that would forgive a love that didn’t hold grudges because Jesus instructs us to love people in a different type of love than we are taught to love in the world.
I fully acknowledge that I am nowhere close to demonstrating the type of love that Jesus wants me to demonstrate, I dearly wish I was.
But I can promise you one thing I promise you that I am trying and I will keep trying and I ask you to try with me.  Because I believe that it is a love such as this, it is a church such as this that will become the center of this community in Rawdon.  It will be a church such as this that will be known as a loving church where people care.  It is a church such as this, which will bring the lost home.  It is a church such as this which will have a servants heart for those outside these four walls.
We have been commanded to do this and we have a promise that we will not do it alone.  I know that we can do this because Jesus has promised to guide us.
I am not asking you to do anything that I am not trying to do myself.  But I can’t do it alone, I need you to stand with me, and when I fail I need you to encourage me and when I get it wrong I want you to tell me and when I mess up I need you to forgive me.  If we truly want to serve Jesus if we truly want to bring people home to Christ then it starts with love and we can do it because Jesus said we could, Jesus said he will guide us.  We wont be alone and we don’t have to be scared.  Jesus said: This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus died for all those times we mess up, he died for all those things we are ashamed of, He died so that we might become His friends but to be his friend means that he also asks us to love others.
My prayer for this church and by church I mean you – my prayer for this church is this; my prayer is that everyone in this church accepts that friend request from Jesus not just today, but every day and my prayer is that we become addicted to that friendship and through that friendship we all learn how to love as Jesus did and my prayer is that as we do we will bear fruit and we will bear fruit that will last.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Too good not to share ...

Silence, Stillness, and Centering before God (2 minutes) 

Scripture Reading: Job 2:7 –10 
So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. 

Jonathan Edwards, in a famous sermon on the book of Job, noted that the story of Job is the story of us all. Job lost everything in one day: his family, his wealth, and his health. Most of us experience our losses more slowly over the span of a lifetime until we find ourselves on the door of death, leaving everything behind. Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past. . . . It is not therefore true that we become less through loss unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left. . . . Loss can also make us more. . . .I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it. . . . One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul. . . . However painful, sorrow is good for the soul. . . . The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. 
Jerry Sittser 

Question to Consider
How can you see God enlarging your soul through your losses? 

Father, when I think about my losses, it can feel like I have no skin to protect me. I feel raw, scraped to the bone. Looking at Job and Jesus helps, but I must admit that I struggle to see something new being birthed out of the old. Enlarge my soul through the trials and losses of my life. In Jesus’ name, amen. 
Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Consuming fire ... Too good not to share

Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:1 –5 
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 

God’s presence in us is like the fire in the Burning Bush. It gradually takes us over, so that although we remain fully ourselves, we are being made over into our true selves, the way God originally intended us to be. He is Light, and we are filled with His light maybe even literally, as some saints were said to visibly glow. The term for this transformation is fairly scandalizing: theosis , which means being transformed into God, divinized or deified. Of course we do not become little mini-gods with our own universes. We never lose our identity, but we are filled with God like a sponge is filled with water. 
Frederica Mathewes-Green 

Question to Consider 
What is one area of your inner person that the fire of God’s presence might want to burn away (e.g., selfishness, greed, bitterness, impatience)? 

Prayer Jesus, I believe that you came to save me from the penalty of my sins death and for eternal life. At the same time, you came to save me from the poison that flows in my veins, from that which keeps me from your Light. Come invade me with your burning fire that I might become the person you have created me to be in you. In your name, amen. 
Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)
Emotionally  Healthy Spirituality
Peter Scazzero

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Forgiving Judas....

Last week I reflected on our own resurrection stories.  How for each of us there will always be a possibility to nail our old selves to the cross and be born again in Christ.  That for each of us there could be a resurrection story no matter how much we mess up and no matter how much we disappoint ourselves and our Father in heaven.  How there is always hope, there is always grace and there is always forgiveness no matter what. 
Because as Christians we believe that for each and every one of us there is an Easter story waiting to happen.  God will reach down to us in our shame and despair and He will surround us with his love and grace.   There are no exceptions.  Even when we walk away, even when we turn our backs on Him.  He will pursue us to the very end and he pursues us through Jesus because through him we will receive our forgiveness, through him we are made new. 

Then this week, I watched a documentary about Judas and I started to think about the message I had shared with you on Sunday and I thought about the message in relation to him, to his story, because there was no Easter for Judas, there was no resurrection for him.  There was no light shining that would overcome all darkness, he never felt the joy of the spirit on Pentecost, he never saw death defeat sin, he never received grace and forgiveness.  He walked away in shame and despair and he did not feel the loving arms of his father reach down and comfort him.  There was no resurrection story for him.
When Judas went to that field to take his life he carried with him the burden of guilt and remorse and as he hung from that tree he never experienced Gods words of grace.  In his isolation he didn’t know that Jesus died for our sins, including his.
If we go back to John’s words as he describes that night, we see a series of contradictions - we see Jesus flanked by both love and betrayal, the beloved disciple and Judas.  The bread dipped and passed to Judas, an action that showed special friendship, and yet announces his betrayal, the betrayal of the deepest most intimate friendship.  The tender foot washing, the last supper, the central sacrament in Christianity, and Judas is there, he too has his feet washed; he too tastes the bread and drinks the wine.  He is invited to be part of the Easter miracle, and in a way he is.  Then Judas leaves the light and goes out into the darkness.  Here John paints pictures of extremes, love and betrayal, darkness and light, the trusted friend who then became the enemy for all time.
It’s a tragic story, a story which hurts and for me the saddest part of the story is not the betrayal, terrible as it is, for me the pain is in Judas’ terrible realization of what he had done, what he must have felt and carried, how in his shame and despair he saw no alternative but to take his life.  The human isolation, the shame and despair, the regrets and repentance.  Perhaps this hurts because we have all felt these human emotions at some point in our lives.  We have all felt shame and despair, we have felt regret and remorse and yet we have been able to name these feelings, we have been able to name the shame and we have been forgiven, we have received grace and in our brokenness and frailty we have been restored. 
There was no restoration for Judas, no Easter story, no forgiveness.  Perhaps what hurts in this story is the if onlys, the what ifs.  Because had his course of action been different he could have shared the resurrection, he could have known the spirit of Pentecost he could have been part of the good news.  But by taking his own life he not only gave up on himself, he gave up on God, because forgiveness can only be received by those who repent and accept and although we know from Matthews gospel that he repents, he takes the coins back and leaves them on the floor of the temple, we also know that in his shame and despair he doesn’t accept.  So great is his burden of guilt and shame that he gives up hope in God, and in doing so he closed his mind to what had been in front of him and stepped out of the light and into the shadows.  His tragedy was that he didn’t realize that even he wasn’t beyond forgiveness.  What hurts me the most in his story is that the Judas story is the story of others through the ages.  That there are people out there who may feel the same, who don’t feel that forgiveness is for them, who share the Judas feelings of being an outsider, not good enough, unforgiven.  What hurts me in this story is the humanness of it, the reality and the truth. I am not here to judge Judas, I am not here to judge those in shame and despair, but  if I believe in the cross, if I believe that Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven if I believe he died for all sins including ours, including Judas’ then I have a responsibility to share this and if you believe this then you have a responsibility too.  We should have an urgency to reach out to the Judas’ of this world and convince them to accept Gods grace and love.

Maybe Judas had to betray Jesus, maybe it had to happen that way to fulfill the prophecy we will never really know.  All we know is that his betrayal led to his isolation and the rejection of his community, we know that for all time the name Judas is one of the worst insults we can throw at someone. We know that that no one went to seek him out we know he was judged. But is it our place to judge?  Was it the disciples place to judge?  Did they fail him? Do we fail the unloved living in their shame and despair? Should they have acted on Jesus command to others, as he loved them? Should we? Because he needed more than anyone to hear the words of love and forgiveness and he needed to hear of Gods grace.  There are Judas’ out there and they need to hear this too, and we are the ones to tell them because we all have the authority and we all have the responsibility to remind people that we are all loved, we are all forgiven.
Behind me is a picture of a window in a little church in Morton, Dorset.  The image can only be seen from the outside and it is the image of Judas, the betrayer of Christ. It is the creation of the glass artist Laurence Whistler, and it was finally installed in 2014, 14 years after Whistler's death and almost 30 years after the parishioners, appalled at the subject and the strangeness of the image, rejected this valuable gift.
The church had been destroyed during the bombings during the second world war and it was slowly reconstructed by the faithful, including all the beautiful stained glass windows.  The rector, Jacqueline Birdseye, led the move to bring Judas back to the church, because she believed it was a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness.
What interests me is the image is the light that shines onto Judas face because it reminds me of when I came to faith thirteen years ago.  Shortly after my salvation one of my closest friends was found dead in his home having suffered a heart attack.  We had been Buddhist leaders together for many years and I felt a terrible pain and loss because he had died without knowing the love of Jesus.  When I shared this with a close friend she shared her view on salvation which is this; that she follows a God who pursues us to the last moments of our life and that in those moments before death we will never know if salvation takes place. It is between God and the dying.  This gave me great comfort back then and it gives me comfort today as I look at this window.  Like my friend I  can’t limit God, the God of love, of grace and forgiveness, I cant know what miraculous moments take place during the last breaths of others.  But it is my hope that salvation, grace and forgiveness can take place, even at the very end.
I don’t have any answers for you today; I am not sharing an opinion or a point of view.  Today I offer you the questions that I have been grappling with this week as I reflected on Judas’ story, and my biggest question is what would have happened if Judas had walked towards the resurrection, what would have happened if he had received forgiveness and grace?   What would have happened if he had heard the words of grace and forgiveness that were just for him?  What would have happened in his story and more importantly, what would have happened in ours?
I want to finish with the prayer of Jesus from John 17, the prayer that Judas didn’t hear;
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”