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“The Sounds of Lent: Clanking Coins,
Kissing, Lying and Crowing Rooster”
Matthew 26:47-63, 69-75


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Ash Wednesday—February 17, 2010

“The Sounds of Lent: Clanking Coins”

The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 26th and 27th chapters:

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked.  ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’

“Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.  From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. . . 

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.  ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’

“‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.”

For our Lent services this year we are focusing on “The Sounds of Lent,” beginning with the clanking coins:  [clank out coins].

For Judas, it was at first a lovely sound.  We are told in the Gospels that he kept the money bag that served as the common treasury for the disciples.  You can imagine him carefully counting out the coins in that bag, lovingly looking at them, touching them, listening to them clank as he carried the bag along on their journeys.  It was for Judas a beautiful, reassuring, comforting sound: [clank out coins].

That is the real reason why he was indignant and complained when the woman anointed Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume.  The Gospel of John says, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to steal what was put into it.”

People speculate about Judas’ motivation for betraying Jesus.  Why would one of Jesus’ own followers, from his inner circle of chosen disciples, betray him to death?  In the Gospels, Judas’ motivation is made clear: [clank out coins].

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  The average household income in the United States last year was about $50,000, which is probably a pretty good modern equivalent to what that rare, precious perfume was worth.  It’s not just a coincidence that in the Gospels it is right after this incident with the perfume that Judas said was wasted that he goes to those who are plotting Jesus’ death and asks, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

Judas thought Jesus was planning to incite a political revolution that Passover, to overthrow the Romans and establish his earthly kingdom at Jerusalem.  And, naturally, as keeper of the disciples’ money bag, Judas assumed he was in line to become what they call in Britain the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Jesus’ new kingdom.  Judas dreamed of having not just a bag but entire vaults filled with mountains of beautiful coins: [clank out coins].

For Judas, it was at first a lovely sound.  But, it soon became a haunting sound, the constant clanking of those 30 silver coins in his money bag.  “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse.”  Perhaps he thought it would never actually come to this.  Jesus had performed so many powerful miracles.  Surely he could save himself—and Judas would still get his money.  But, now Jesus was condemned to be crucified, and like the beating heart in Edgar Allen Poe’s story, with every step Judas took the haunting sound of the clanking coins in his money bag reminded him of what he had done. 

“He was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.  ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’  “‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” 

[Clank out coins]  For Judas, it was at first a lovely sound.  But, it soon became a haunting sound.   And that’s how it will always be for us, when we betray our Lord for the sake of any illicit thing or activity.  For Judas, it was money.  What are the illicit things or activities for which and by which you have betrayed your Lord?  You can apply what Paul says about money in 1st Timothy to any illicit thing or activity for which and by which you betray your Lord, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

For Judas, it was money.  What are the illicit things or activities for which and by which you have betrayed your Lord?  Whatever it is, though at first it may bring pleasure, like Judas in the end it will bring for you only sorrow and doom.  That is the Lenten lesson of, “The Clanking Coins.”

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Kissing”

The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 26th chapter:

 “Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him.”

The sound of kissing seems out of place in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the Lenten story of our Savior’s suffering and death.  We usually associate kissing not with betrayal, suffering, and death, but with love and affection.  The sound of kissing would seem more appropriate for Valentine’s Day, which we celebrated last Sunday, than for Ash Wednesday.

In the ancient world, and still in the Mediterranean world today, kissing on the cheek was a common from of greeting, even between men, like our custom of shaking hands.  There was also a practical reason for Judas to greet Jesus with a kiss.  He had been paid well to hand over Rabbi Jesus, and in those days before flashlights and eyeglasses, in the dark Garden of Gethsemane, Judas needed to get right up to the face of the man he was betraying, to make sure he identified for the soldiers the right man.

“Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him.”

What makes this the most notorious kiss in history is the grotesque contradiction of an outward act of friendship and love masking the ultimate betrayal. But, we must confess that the sound of kissing in the Lenten story is symbolic of us, and our own sinful insincerity and hypocrisy. For, when we hypocritically say that we love Jesus, but then in our lives do not actually show that we love him, we are like Judas, betraying Jesus with a kiss.

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Lying”

The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 26th chapter:

“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.”

Jesus has now been taken by the soldiers from the Garden of Gethsemane to the chief priests and the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, before whom he is on trial for his life.  He has been accused of blasphemy, which was punishable by death. 

The book of Psalms prophesies in great detail every aspect of our Lord’s passion.  Psalm 27 prophesies the sound of false witnesses, lying about our Lord, “For false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.”

The sound of lies against our Lord in the Lenten story emphasizes his total innocence: “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.”

The sound of lies against our Lord in the Lenten story emphasizes his total innocence, his perfect righteousness and holiness.  Even Pontius Pilate proclaimed, “He has done nothing to deserve death.”  Even the Centurion who crucified him declared, “Surely this was a righteous man.”

Hebrews says, “He was in every way tempted just as we are, yet without sin.”  Peter says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  And the Apostle John describes the total innocence of Jesus this way: “He appeared to take away our sins. And in him is no sin.”

In order for Christ to be a sacrifice worthy to pay the sins of the world, he himself had to be blameless, holy, perfect.  The Lenten hymn “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” puts it this way: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; he only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.”

Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  That is what the Christian Gospel and Christian faith is really all about.  The perfect, holy, sinless Son of God took all your sins upon himself, and not only yours, but the sins of the whole world.  All the suffering he endured, he endured for you.  As Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  The Good News is that your sins are all forgiven, because God’s own Son took all your sins upon himself.  As Paul says in Ephesians, “He loved us and gave himself up for us an offering and sacrifice to God.”

The sound of lies against our Lord in the Lenten story emphasizes his total innocence, and the Good News that he was good enough to pay the price of sin, by his sacrifice he did unlock the gates of heaven and let you in.

Amen.

[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Crowing Rooster”

The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 26th chapter:

“Then Jesus told them, ‘This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’  Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’  ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’  But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.’ And all the other disciples said the same. . .

“Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee,’ she said.  But he denied it before them all. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said.  Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, ‘This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.’  He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’  After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, ‘Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.’  Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

The sound of the rooster crowing is a call to repentance.  Repentance means more than just being sorry for your sins.  Being sorry for your sins is only the first part of repentance. For, Judas was sorry for his sins, but then he went out and hanged himself.  That’s because Judas did not have faith, which is the second part of repentance.  Judas did not believe it would be possible for the Lord to forgive a sin so great as his, did not turn to the Lord and trust in him for forgiveness.

Peter’s sin was also very great.  After declaring at the Last Supper that he would never deny Jesus, just a few hours later, while Jesus is on trial for his life, Peter in the courtyard outside denies three times that he is Jesus’ disciple, and even calls down curses on himself and swears he does not know who this Jesus is.

“Immediately a rooster crowed.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

The difference between Judas and Peter is not the enormity of their sins, which are equally deserving of damnation.  The difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter trusted the Lord could and would forgive even a sin so great and terrible as his.  The book of Isaiah puts it this way, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

Like Peter, heed the Lord’s call to repentance.  Forsake your evil ways and turn to the Lord, for he will have mercy and freely pardon.

Amen.

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