March 23 Sermon


March 23, 2022
I Peter 3:11
Pr. David E. Schafer

“Mercy in Betrayal”

INI, Amen

His name was Benedict Arnold. We know him as a traitor to the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Benedict Arnold sold out his country for 20,000 pounds of silver. Benedict Arnold’s name is associated with shame, disgrace, and scandal.

Another name that is associated with shame, disgrace, and scandal is the name of Judas.  From the time of the Gospels, Judas’ name has been associated with betrayal - betrayal - of the worst kind.

For 30 pieces of silver, Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord and Savior - our Lord and Savior - Jesus Christ. Tonight, we look at Judas’ betrayal. And we view not only his betrayal of Jesus, but our own betrayal of Jesus as well. We do so, in full view of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Our text from St. Matthew, chapter 26, describes the scene. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night. Jesus had just instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion with his disciples in the upper room.

There, in the Garden, Jesus was praying to his Father for physical and spiritual strength to face his holy destiny. St. Matthew tells us “Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.”

As Matthew has written, Judas was just one of the twelve disciples. Judas was the disciple that Jesus had hand-picked to be his closest friend. Judas had followed Jesus, listened to his words and witnessed his miracles. Judas was a trusted confident.

And yet, Judas turned against Jesus. Judas struck the deal with Jesus’ enemies; with those who sought to discredit and destroy the Lord. Jesus’ enemies needed an informant - an insider - who would help to carry out their plot for Jesus’ arrest.

The reward was small. Only 30 silver coins. The payment was the price for a common slave. Judas would sell out his master like a slave.  The money was cheap - just like - good old Judas. After all, anything for a buck!  Right?

On that dark Thursday night, Judas led a crowd to arrest Jesus so that he might go on trial, be found guilty, condemned to death, and nailed to the cross.

Judas had provided an insidious signal to identify Jesus as the target for the arrest. Judas approached Jesus and gave him a kiss- a kiss of betrayal - a kiss of death.

How painful it must’ve been for Jesus to receive such a kiss. How shameful!  How disgraceful!  How horrid!

For 20,000 British pounds, Benedict Arnold betrayed the United States. For a fraction of the price, Judas betrayed Jesus Christ. And what about us? What is our price for betrayal?

Maybe our price is that of greed, want, or excess.  Perhaps our price for betrayal is ambition, our quest for the best, the shiniest, the newest, or the latest thing. We press on with our selfish wills over and against the will of God.

 I want to talk specifically to our young people and to their parents. It seems that every Christian denomination across the country is facing a shortage of pastors. When I graduated from Luther Seminary, I was 1 among a class of 185.  Last year, I think Luther graduated about 35 students. And the numbers are far worse in our NALC seminary.

There are more and more ministers who have put their long years of parish ministry behind them. They want to retire and enjoy themselves. At some point, Loretta and I are planning to join the ranks – hopefully - this time of the year - in sunny and warm Florida.

So often the question is asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  A better question to ask is “What does God want you to be when you grow up?”  I can always remember that I felt called to the ministry. What about you?  Do you hear God’s calling?  Has  becoming an ordained pastor ever crossed your mind?  What does that still small voice saying to your heart?

It is a true blessing to be a pastor.  Yes, there are challenges.  And yet, there comes a rewarding joy when you follow Jesus!  I have always that it was a privilege to be a servant of the Word and the sacraments; to hear the hurt of another, to bear their burdens; to speak a word of forgiveness; and in the midst of death – to declare God’s word of eternal life.

For years and years, my father’s mother prayed that one of her sons would to go into the ministry.  God did not answer those prayers. .Grandma Schafer never gave up.  She began to pray that at least one of her grandson would study for the ministry.  

Grandma did not live to know her prayers were answered.  Grandma died just before Christmas when I was a freshman in college.  But when I answered the call, I knew that grandma was – and hopeful still – thankful that her prayers were answered.

What about you?  What about your sons or daughters/?  What about your grandchildren?  What do you pray for when it comes to your sons and daughters?  You pray that they will be happy and heathy.  You pray that God will bless them in every way.  You pray that they will have a great future.  But do you pray that their futures will include college and seminary?  If not, please consider praying like my grandma did for all of those years.  And remember, God always answers prayer.  He always does.

I have always been amazed that God can use someone as unworthy as me be a pastor.  It’s not that I wanted to betray Jesus – and yet – I know that I have been unfaithful time after time.  And I know that I’m not alone in betraying our Lord.  You are right there with me.  We have all betrayed Jesus with our words and deeds.  After all, we are sinners, each and every one of us.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  And that’s where we are welcomed.  Jesus welcomes us to the cross.  Jesus welcomes us to come unto him with our betrayals.  Jesus welcomes us to come to him with our brokenness, our contempt, our pride, our envy, and all of our other shameful sins.

It’s from the cross that we hear Jesus’ word of forgiveness.  From the cross, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive us.  From Jesus’ own lips, he frees us, breaks our chains, forgets our past, and heals our sin sick souls.

From the cross, St. Paul’s words “For by the grace of God I go on” takes shape – transforming our lives – giving light in our darkness – giving us breather – and hope – and life and life eternal 

Like Benedict Arnold and Judas, we have all betrayed our Lord.  And yet, in spite of our betrayal, Jesus opens his arms for us from his cross.  From Jesus – who suffered and died for us – may we receive his mercy in betrayal.

INI, Amen