Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Increased by my Friends

John Merz urged Walter Wink's books on me (notably, Engaging the Powers) and Michael Sniffen preached the following sermon on Holy Monday at Concord Baptist Church (see in entirety, http://stlukeandstmatthew.org/sermon-preached-at-concord-baptist-holy-monday). The Holy Spirit's connection of the two is unmistakable. The Church is drawn into a "delusional game" of collusion with the System but when members "get to work transforming" a new reality comes to life. 
"...Christ...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.” (Cor. 2:14-3:6)
"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. There’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 stink weed. 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 (God’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 can’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 don’t set out to be messengers of death, but some things in this world need to die so that God’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 they’re not quite ready to vacate.
Jesus’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 couldn’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.
I’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 whiff, 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 summer’s day to those who benefit from the status quo, but when God’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-prisoned  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..." 
-Rev. Michael Sniffen, Church of Saint Luke and Saint Matthew, Brooklyn, NY

1 comment:

  1. George, thank you for the recommendation of Winks' book, which is now on my Amazon wish list. Thanks also for the link to the powerful sermon by Michael Sniffen.