Monday, November 10, 2014

Sunday, Nov 9 Service - The Unauthorized Gospel of Judas

Sunday Service - November 9, 2014
First Parish Church Fitchburg
Wil Darcangelo, officiant

Opening Words 
And so here we are. And it is right that we should be here.  It is right to be here now.  Give yourself permission to be truly present.  Worldly cares and concerns will still be there when our sacred time is over.  Let's take the time to fill the well together here.  Let's open our hearts to the solutions for the challenges we have.  The worldly concerns which wait outside will be better served by our devotion to these brief sacred moments we have with one another right here, right now.  

Meditation - reading followed by a short meditational silence 
Celebrate when you are disappointed.  I always get champagne when I’m really, really disappointed by something that hasn’t gone like I wanted to or when a sudden change comes along I wasn’t expecting.  I think I started doing it because I prefer to defy my anxiety and depressive tendencies by my actions rather than medicate them.  I’d rather attempt to view the gaping hole caused by the absence of whatever I was expecting to come as an invitation for the wonderful something that’s on its way.  Not a gaping hole of disappointment, but a portal for what’s truly best for me to come.  

How many of us have lost out on a job only to get an offer from an even better one?   Would it have hurt to raise a glass when you lost that first job?  It might have made it suck a little less.  Would it be so bad to transform some disappointments into hopefulness?  

Sure, take your time absorbing the change, it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to grieve.  But when you’re ready to accept it and decide what’s next, start by being grateful for the process of your life.  Start by giving thanks for what’s to come.  Ponder your faith and ask yourself if you’re the type who believes you’re not alone.  

Do you believe in God?  If so, do you think God is there for you?  If you don’t believe in God, just be grateful for your intellect and creativity which will help guide you to the solution. Regardless of how intelligent or creative you think you may be, be grateful for whatever you have.  That gratitude will guide you to the solution.  Faith in oneself is just as good as faith in God.  Some would say it’s the exact same thing.  I tend to think I’m not alone.  The God I believe in is one who helps when asked, and sits there loving me quietly when I don’t think to ask.  Which is often, of course, like the rest of us.  

Let’s reframe our way of thinking.  Let’s take a stab at being creative with our grief and loss.  It is not irreverent to bless the fact that every cloud has a silver lining.  Why not celebrate it?  If the Universe provides based on our intent, what favorable messages might we be sending when we raise a glass to possibility?  Take a deep breath and think on that for a few moments...

(Moment of silence followed by chime)

May we find the opportunity to discern the blessings within our challenges.
May we know peace in the midst of disappointment.
May we may we know truth in the face of deception.
And may the glass we raise be filled with love, justice, compassion, understanding, and faith. 

Today I’d like to talk about the relatively recently-discovered Gospel of Judas.  It was found in the 1970’s but not protected or translated until after 2000.  The National Geographic Society published the translation in 2006.  For those of you who don’t know or remember, Judas was the infamous disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin priests, setting in motion the events that led to Jesus’s crucifixion and reported resurrection.  As the “authorized” Biblical version tells us, Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and later hanged himself with guilt.  Throughout the centuries the name Judas has been synonymous with betrayal, evil, and shame.  But the unauthorized Gospel of Judas tells a very different story.

For the record, I am not here to authenticate the Gospel of Judas.  I am not going to attempt to validate the text as either truth or fiction.  Like the Bible, it is whatever it is, provable or not.  These are texts which we may look to for inspiration or food for thought.  They are historical reports and open to interpretation as your own faith dictates.  

I have chosen to discuss this text because it turns on its ear the long-held notion that Judas was evil for what he did.  The Gospel of Judas makes the suggestion that Judas was, in fact, Jesus’s favorite disciple and the only one with whom he shared the real truth about the Kingdom of God on Earth.  The text reads:

Jesus said [to Judas], “[Come], that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit],

which no eye of an angel has ever seen,
no thought of the heart has ever comprehended
and it was never called by any name.”

Jesus told Judas about the creation of Adam.  He told him about the Cosmos, Chaos, the Underworld and those who rule it.  He taught him about the creation of Humanity and the destruction of the wicked.

And when it came time for the foretold crucifixion, Jesus then instructed Judas to betray him, presumably that he might bring about the will of God through his actions.  He told Judas that he would be reviled for his act of betrayal and that he would suffer much grief at the hands of others.  This must have sent a chill up Judas’ spine since Judas had already told Jesus much earlier in the gospel that he’d had a vision of the disciples stoning him to death.  But Jesus also told him, “You will exceed all of them.  For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”

The canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that Judas was acting on his own selfish behalf in turning Jesus over to the authorities.  That it was an act of greed and resentment.  That Satan had entered him.

But the Gnostic Gospel of Judas tells a story about a favored disciple who reluctantly accepts the role of betrayer at his master’s request.   You may believe what you will about it.  The point here is not the veracity of the story.  It’s the suggestion that things may not always be as they seem.

So what might we do with this story?  Some would say, of what particular use is a gospel of any kind to a Unitarian Universalist?  Especially since we usually acknowledge that we are not in a position to validate any of it?  We do not hold the Bible to be the unassailable Word of God any more than we choose to revile any text that was not given its gold stamp of holy approval by the early church.

I lift up this text for one reason: I ask it to examine for us the disparity between our understanding of hardship and the blessings of challenge and disappointment.  Christian culture has reviled Judas for two thousand years while it has also acknowledged its belief that the crucifixion and resurrection were all part of a big cosmic plan.  It contradicts itself wildly in its choice to vilify Judas when according to all stories Judas is the one who put that holy plan in motion.  

So, again I ask, what might we do with this story?

Earlier I suggested to you that we should learn to celebrate disappointment.  Why?  Because I believe that on some level things happen for a reason.  I believe in the Law of Attraction and that what we think we become.  To celebrate disappointment is a way to not only calm ourselves in the midst of grief, but to send a message that we believe better is coming.  That we not become mired in our own struggles, but turn our eyes toward the solutions to them.  And actively attract those solutions to ourselves in the process.

I have had some deep challenges in my life as have most of us.  And I am tempted to resent them.  I am tempted to be angry for what happened to me and to blame all those who made it happen.  And punish them.  Yes, I am tempted.

We live in a society that sues first and asks questions later.  We incarcerate based on a sense of revenge and call it justice rather than make an assumption that things happen for a reason.  Sometimes that reason is because we have let a problem get out of hand rather than deal with it.  We push mental illness under the rug and then shout foul when someone acts out in that untreated, uncared for state.  Sometimes it’s through no known fault of our own that bad things happen, but we then live in a space of anger, hostility, and vengeance.  What will that get you?  Our culture tells us we must defend our honor.  But where is the honor in that?

If you are a person who believes in the Will of God or that things happen for a reason or that some good might very well come from difficulty if only we can choose to see it that way, then Judas the Betrayer becomes something more.  

What are the Judas moments in your life?  Who are the Judases in your life?  When something challenging happens to you, how do you react to it?  Who or what is your authority?  Is God your authority?  Love?  Justice?  The Bible?  Who or what tells you how to react to life’s challenges?  

Let love be your authority.  Hold your life challenges up to the yardstick of love and see how it measures up.  Hold a challenge in your lap and love it and see what love tells you to do with it.  Don’t punch it, don’t strangle it, caress it, and see what happens.

Be open to the possibility that if life’s challenges have served you well, even if on only one single occasion, it might just happen again.  When you despair and don’t know where to turn, give thanks for the solution that is already out there waiting for you to discover it like soul mate you just haven’t met yet.  That solution is out there walking the earth, knowing the sun and the air, waiting to meet you.

Be open to thinking differently about the world and what has made it the way that it is.  Be open to what it may yet become because of the challenges it has seen.  And be open to what it might be that saves us all from ourselves.

Pray with me, if you will.  Eternal and loving Source, give us the wisdom to see the beauty and perfection in change, and in challenge.  Teach us what you would have us know.  Teach us to be strong with a strength informed by love, not revenge.  Guide us toward peace and comfort and help us to be the witnesses of our own salvation.  May it ever be so.

Go now in peace.  Go forth and live the life you imagine.  Free from resentment and anger.  Filled with love and good will.  Shake someone’s hand today and bless them with your kindness and understanding, for they probably need some good news, too.  Amen.

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