June 4th Sermon: Pentecost Sunday (Rev. Angelika Zollfrank)
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
I remember my grandmother’s linen closet. From top to bottom stacked full with white linens: bed sheets, duvet covers, table clothes, white napkins, handkerchiefs, wash clothes, towels, and pillow cases. My grandmother’s dignity and comfort in the world seemed to depend on her carefully laundered and ironed textiles. And, if she wanted to get to the big table clothe for special occasions like Easter or Pentecost, she first carefully took out the table clothes that were designed for daily use and therefore where on the top to get to the special one that was on the bottom. I loved observing this process, because the closet smelled of the essential oils of the many pieces of soap that my grandmother had carefully placed everywhere between the sheets. The fragrance of these soaps perfused every bit of fabric: verbena, lavender, rosemary. Sweet, spring fresh, spicy.
We remember, on the day that Jesus had died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus covered Jesus’ lifeless body with copious amounts of scented, essential oils. They took comfort in preserving Jesus’ dignity. They carefully wrapped the body in linens. And, they buried him in the tomb. When Peter and another disciple went to the tomb in the morning, however, they found it empty, the linens still smelling of essential oils strewn about in the tomb.
On the same morning, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. She then ran back to where Jesus friends were hiding out. “I have seen the Lord!” — In response the disciples – locked the doors for fear. They sat an entire day, huddled together, in their stuffy, airless room of terror. Picture this communal tomb in which the smell of fear communicated through sweat and breathe. Frozen by fear they, their lizard brains on high alert, they are locked in. The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear. The smell of paralyzed anguish – or the aroma of Christ’s life-giving spirit – which of the two guides our lives?
The doors of the house where the disciples met were locked for fear of the Jews. Now, their fear had nothing to do with the Jews. John uses the word “Jews” whenever he speaks of the public. The doors were locked for fear. Sheer agoraphobia had gripped Jesus’ friends. As if they had just averted their own death, they were locked in because of their fear of the public, their fear of speaking out, their fear of sticking up for the values that Jesus had taught them. Careful not to get into an argument, they decided silence and waiting it out was their best option. They wanted a private life away from the public. They thought, “if not comfortable, then at least safe.”
Their anxiety made them sweat. It turned their impossible hideout into a stuffy closet smelling like dirty laundry. These friends of Jesus were locked into their helpless disgust with those who decided that God’s beautiful and well-ordered creation, Jesus’ life-giving and egalitarian values, and his way of being in the world were neither profitable nor possible. They were suffering from resurrection anxiety.
Do you know it? I do. Resurrection anxiety befalls us when our sense of hope and possibility is under attack. Resurrection anxiety reigns when we give into the notion that evil will be unstoppable. Resurrection anxiety spreads when we feel our energy to protest against the destructive power of death sapped. Resurrection anxiety paralyzes us when we give into a sense of resignation, close the doors to possibility, and build walls to keep life out.
I remember how the fragrance of the soap that my grandmother had hidden between her linens permeated the doors of the linen closet. On any given day, when I walked by those locked doors, there it was, – this aroma of possibility, this sense of a day to come that again warranted the use of the big table clothe and brought a community together around the large table.
The spirit of the resurrected Christ permeates the locked doors and walls of the house where the disciples met in much the same way. No walls or doors or other limitations can hold back the life-giving possibility that he is. And he wants to breathe the aroma of the life-saving spirit of resurrection on them. Jesus spirit touches all again with the sense of possibility and faith. He, who is all spirit of possibility, can permeate any matter: the doors and walls of fear’s prison, the barriers of different languages, the divisions that separates people of different religion, race, class, and gender. Jesus’ life-giving spirit permeates the walls of their resurrection anxiety with his greeting, “peace be with you.” And they remember, remember this possibility that is called faith. Remember walking the way with Jesus. Remember his acts of justice and care.
And we can also learn the art of permeating seemingly unchangeable matters with God’s spirit of life and possibility. In the memory of Jesus’ words, the rooms we lock ourselves into open up as well. Suddenly there is more space, and opening, some wiggle room. The fragrance of his words permeates the day. “In this world you have trouble, but I have overcome the world.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
And then in this room, – suddenly larger and lighter, he says again, “Peace be with you.” He says it twice. And the second time they see his wounds in his hands and in his side. This time, the wounds identify Jesus as having overcome death. This time these wounds become a point of joy, because they recognize him. This time, as he shares his peace with them, he gives them a job: “as the father has sent me, I send you.”
And he breathes on them. In this moment bunch of fearful individuals become the Body of Christ. In this moment the little stripes of linen stitched together again into one big table clothe. In this moment the church is founded through Christ’s spirit breathing on them. In this moment we, too, become again a living and breathing community of faith.
With this breathe of life, we are sent forth to be as 2. Corinthian 2 would have it, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Just as hidden as the soap in my grandmother’s closet, we are gifted with the powerful aroma of Christ. We are sent to permeate the world with the possibility of God’s fragrance.
And what are God’s favorite fragrances? What is the aroma of Christ we are to sent to permeate the world with? What are the manifestations of this life-giving spirit?
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirit, various ways of being God’s language, and ability to interpret God’s language.
These are the gifts of the spirit, the aroma of Christ that we are sent to bring into the world. We are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
Now, there is nothing ethereal about the aroma of Christ’s spirit. Practically speaking we are sent forth today to allow our life, the life of this community, and the public life we are a part of to be permeated by the values of our biblical foundation. We are sent forth take every day moral risks and to be life-long learners in the school of God’s spirit.
It is possible that in the list of manifestations of the Holy Spirit that we heard today, prophecy maybe the most important to remember. The prophets of the bible spoke out against sin and injustice and the mistreatment of the poor. And the greatest sin these prophets focus on is the sin of idolatry: worshiping money, worshiping power, and worshiping injustice towards the creation and towards the least of these. There are more than 2500 bible verses that speak of how we should treat the stranger in our midst, of how we are to speak out against injustice against women, children, and the unfortunate. 2500 bible verses that call us and send us to speak the truth, speak about what we know, speak of hope, speak of love and speak of justice.
We are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
We are sent to speak up and live our faith. We are sent by the spirit to sing of the hope we know; to work to bring healing to all, not just to hose who can afford it.
We are sent to pray with those who need comfort. We are sent to create community with those who are terrified and isolated. We are sent to break bread with those who are different from us, so that we can learn to understand each other’s language. We are sent to instill values in our children that are beyond consumption and we are called to create and make things we can take pride in.
We are sent to make sure that people get paid what they deserve. We are to lift our voice on behalf of those who are broken. We are sent to protect the elderly and give shelter to those who have no home. We are sent to bring the aroma of God’s spirit to those who have lost a sense of possibility and hope. We are sent to bring fairness to our criminal system and peace to our communities. We are sent to put the pieces back together when death has ripped them apart. We are sent to bring care and comfort to this savage world that leaves so many bruised.
We are sent to share our tears and our laughter. We are to spread the big table clothe and make room around the table. We are sent to preserve God’s creation for generations to come. And leaving the green light on at city halls around the nation may just be a sign of the spirit. We are sent to keep the faith, to nurture hope, and to become as human as God. Peace be with you.
Holy Spirit, Lord of light,
From Thy clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.
Come, Thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure,
Come, Thou Light of all that live.
Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightsome Guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet,
Pleasant coolness in the heat,
Solace in the midst of woe.
Light immortal, Light divine,
Visit Thou these hearts of Thine,
And our inmost being fill.
If Thou take Thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay;
All his good is turned to ill.
Heal our wounds; our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away.
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and Thee adore,
In Thy sevenfold gifts descend:
Give them comfort when they die,
Give them life with Thee on high;
Give them joys that never end.