Let’s try an exercise. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath (let it out).
Now as you continue to breathe I want you to try to remember the smell of the earth right after a rainfall …
As you breathe I want you to try to remember the smell of freshly buttered popcorn …
As you breathe I want you to try to remember the smell of just squeezed lemonade …
As you breathe I want you to try to remember the smell of your favorite cookie just out of the oven …
Open your eyes. Smell is a powerful emotion. It is one of the reasons that in olden days (and still today in some places), the church used incense, linking the mystery, the majesty, the wonder of God with a certain smell.
Sally, Ann Marie, and I are just back from Music in the Mountains, a 3 day music conference. One of the people leading us is Brad Nix. And Brad shared with us early on that he had forgotten his deodorant, Old Spice. And not wanting to offend anyone, because playing the piano, and conducting are hard work—he was rummaging around in his luggage and found his wife’s deodorant.
So, he figured, why not use it? Men and women can’t sweat that differently, right? So he put on his wife’s deodorant. But he was now confessing to us that every time he lifted his arms, instead of smelling like Old Spice, he was getting a whiff of “Clean and Fresh.” It was a little jarring, although it did make him think of his wife.
Did you notice that Paul talks about Jesus as a “fragrant offering” to God? How often do we think about what Jesus might have smelled like? (I invite you to think about that this week.)
The fact that Paul used the word “fragrant” makes me think of something that smells nice. Jesus is fragrant. Jesus is love. And love is supposed to be nice, like that wonderful reading we often hear at weddings from the First Letter to the Corinthians.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (I Cor. 13:4-8a)
Paul tells us to be imitators of God—to love with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength. And that means to put away [from you] all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
How many of us were schooled by well-meaning parents, and teachers, and ministers, to tamp down any strong feelings. They quoted this very lesson “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We were to imitate God and love, and be tenderhearted, and always forgive, and be kind. I was brought up to believe that the Mister Rogers “personae” was the ideal for Christian behavior—never talking too loud, never getting too excited.
But that isn’t healthy. And it isn’t even what this passage says. Let’s go back to the beginning. We started with smells that evoke a smile. But sometimes smells are not nice. We all know what a dog smells like when it has been sprayed by a skunk. We may know the smell of something rotting, or molding, or otherwise going bad. Smells sometimes warn us of danger, like the smell of smoke. In fact, the gas companies (since the early 1900’s) added odor to the odorless natural gas many of us use so that we have a prayer of knowing that there is a leak and getting ourselves to safety.
So maybe this fragrance of Christ, this fragrance that we are supposed to emulate, might not always be so pleasant. Maybe sometimes, we get a whiff of something that is off, something that is not right, something that is dangerous.
And then I noticed that right there in our reading is a clue. You have to pay close attention, because it goes by in a flash, and then gets overshadowed by all the other words. Listen again, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
Did you catch it? It says, Be angry but do not sin. Be angry. It gives permission to be angry. It recognizes that sometimes we need to get angry. Sometimes there is a reason to get angry. Sometimes we need to pay attention to why we are getting angry.
Be Angry—but … don’t let it get out of control
Feel Anger—but … don’t let it fester and boil
Pay Attention to Anger—but … don’t let it consume your life, for anger is supposed to lead us out of danger, towards a better life, a better world.
Smells, Odors, Fragrances—are a part of our life. They can be sweet, or nostalgic, or mysterious, or off-putting, or a call to action. That mix sounds much more healthy than the one-sided message I took from my youth.
I want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I want to leave behind a scent, a fragrance, an essence, when I walk in this world, when I interact with others, when I rise up, and lie down, and lift my hands in praise.
I want to love as Jesus loved—with all that I am, and all that I have, and all that I can be. And yes, that means trying to be patient and kind and not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It means trying not to insist on my own way, or being irritable or resentful. It means training myself not to rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoicing in the truth. It does ask me to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, even endure all things. But …
That is only part of love. Paul did not say that we were to glorify the status quo, or walk by on the other side when there is something wrong, something lacking, or someone in need. As Seasons of the Spirit so wonderfully put it
Love is not [always] easy, soft, or nice. Sometimes, it can begin with anger and takes that anger as the impetus for
challenging injustice, seeking liberation, working for
healing. The church is called to be such an agent for transformation in the world; [since we] ourselves [are] transformed by the love of God.
So let us love. Let us be angry when necessary. Let us strive to be a fragrant offering—
a fragrant offering to our glorious God.