The Rev. Michael Sniffen
The Concord Baptist Church of Christ – Holy Monday 2012
Mark 6:13-29 , 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Thank you to Pastor Simpson for the generous invitation to preach in this church during the holiest of weeks. Thank you to all who prepared this service and thank you to all in attendance for your commitment to the cause of Christ in your daily life and work – for your witness in this neighborhood and in this city, and for your sacrificial love for GodÃ¢Â€Â™s broken world.
In PaulÃ¢Â€Â™s second letter to the corinthians he says: Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.Ã¢Â€Â
We – you and me – and all people of faith and goodwill are the aroma of God. We are the fragrance of life to those who wish to be saved and the fragrance of death to those who are perishing. ThereÃ¢Â€Â™s power in that image.
The fragrance of God is wafting out of us at all times – and to some our scent is irresistible and to others it is repugnant. When we come around – some people smell Chanel #5 and some smell rotting trash. When we show up, some smell blooming lilacs and others smell stinkweed. When we arrive, some smell freshly grilled sweet corn and others smell last weeks moldy left-overs.
You see, the power and the grace and the peace of God is in us (GodÃ¢Â€Â™s very essence) oozing our of our every pore – We are the body of Christ – and because of that, some are drawn to us – and some canÃ¢Â€Â™t stand to be around us…we smell like life, we smell like death. We smell like teen spirit, we smell like BO.
This is the angelic reality of being a person of faith. We smell good to each other and yet we stink!
We donÃ¢Â€Â™t set out to be messengers of death, but some things in this world need to die so that GodÃ¢Â€Â™s people can fully live. There is no resurrection without the cross. As we gather together this week to observe the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, we must acknowledge that a significant part of the Christian message smells like death to a lot of people, because a big part of our message is that God is going to cast down the mighty from their seats – and theyÃ¢Â€Â™re not quite ready to vacate.
JesusÃ¢Â€Â™s teachings on love, compassion, justice and peace were so threatening in his time that when the powers-that-be heard about him – the smell of death filled their nostrils and they were terrified. The religions leaders of his time did everything they could to marginalize him…and when they couldnÃ¢Â€Â™t do that, they got in bed with the government and arranged to have him gruesomely disposed of on the cross – a much feared instrument of state torture and death.
IÃ¢Â€Â™ll tell you this. Times have not changed. When we insist on love, compassion, justice and peace in our neighborhoods, in our city, in our state, in our country and in the world, the powers that be take a wiff, they smell their own death and they seek to snuff us out.
Just look at the mounting protests in our country seeking to organize people to demand justice and peace. Members of these movements are met with police brutality, with arrests, with eviction notices. They are derided in the press. Christian leaders engaged in active protest are painted as instigators or condescendingly cast as naive about the ways the world works. Precisely the opposite is true. Unfortunately, progressive christians are few and far between these days, so we have a lot of work to do.
Make no mistake. Some aspects of Christian life are acceptable to the man. Prayer breakfasts, tea parties, soup kitchens, choir concerts – these sorts of things smell like a summerÃ¢Â€Â™s day to those who benefit from the status quo, but when GodÃ¢Â€Â™s people get to work transforming the corrupt power structures of this world, those who hold the keys to our cells smell trouble and it makes them scared as hell.
Those who benefit from systems that enable a very few to command the vast majority of power, wealth, and resources would prefer that we not be who we are called to be. They would prefer that we stand down. They would prefer that we spend our time making ourselves comfortable and telling others that everything is alright. They would prefer that we not remind each other and our neighbors that we continue to be en-prisonedÃ‚Â by the sins of economic injustice, excessive incarceration, the unlawful mass seizure of homes, unequal access to health care and a growing chasm between rich and poor. They would prefer that we shut up about the fact that we continue to be en-prisoned by racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia and violence. We are not supposed to say that. It does not smell right to those who who walk the halls of power. We are seen as dangerous and indeed we stink when we follow Christ in triumphal procession to the cross. True humility, devotion and commitment frighten those in authority. That is, in part, why the crucifixion had to happen. The powers-that-be would rather we all go home, watch american Idol, spray febreeze on the problems of the world and wear them for a while longer.
But we cannot do that, can we? We cannot wear injustice any longer. We cannot wear intolerance for another season. We cannot wear denial any longer, as though it will somehow protect us and our children from reality.
No, my brothers and sisters, in this dim world God is calling upon us once more to wear the mantles of prophets and not to be afraid when the powers-that-be declare that we reek to high heaven. For it is our task to look the evil systems of this world in the eye, pronounce them dead, bury them and celebrate our resurrection.
There will be consequences, of course. You remember what Herod did to John the Baptist…a story that has been on repeat over and over again like an old episode of Law and Order.Ã‚Â Ã¢Â€ÂœItÃ¢Â€Â™s all just a little bit of history repeating…Ã¢Â€Â
John the Baptist was sacrificed on the altar of propriety for speaking the truth. Today, the heads of the poor are offered up on silver platters, for whose sake? And it is rationalized as fairness under the law. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Remember, Herod started out saying that he didnÃ¢Â€Â™t want to harm John. In fact, he respected him. He knew him to be a righteous and holy man, but that didnÃ¢Â€Â™t stop him from chopping his head off in order to preserve his reputation with his dinner guests.Ã‚Â The poor and marginalized today suffer the same consequences. We love the poor. We respect them. And then we decapitate them with policies and laws that make it impossible for them to survive with any dignity.
If the beheadings are to cease, the revolution of love begins with us in Holy Week.
In Holy Week, we proclaim together that the crucifixion, as awful and gruesome as it was -was once for all.Ã‚Â Jesus willingly suffered shame and death in order to expose the unjust systems of this world once and for all so that his people might be liberated from oppression forever.Ã‚Â But the powers-that-be prefer propriety to compassion. They value rules over relationships. When we step out of line, they prefer our heads on a platter.
They will not prevail. For we know how the story ends. Good Fridays come and go. Herod is not the hero… and joy comes in the morning. ItÃ¢Â€Â™s only Monday, but can you smell the Easter lilies? The cherry blossoms? The fragrance from life to life?
Soon, my friends. Soon. Soon Christ bursts forth from his three day prison smelling fresh as a daisy. Riding on the wings of the morning…seeping out of the pores of his followers as we share fellowship and active resistance to the powers-that-be together. Christ bursts forth in us declaring a new day in which all GodÃ¢Â€Â™s people are free to grow and flourish like a freshly planted garden. It shall be so.