What’s That Smell?
What’s That Smell?
June 5, 2011
by Rev. William “Buck” Day
2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
But 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. Who is sufficient for these things?
God’s word for us this day!
Would you pray with me please?
Lord God thank you for your word; thank you for the way it instructs us; thank you for the way it corrects us; thank you for the way it challenges us. So Lord we ask that by your Spirit you would be able to speak to us this day. We ask that because of Christ. Amen.
Well, it was a weekend in the late spring of 2007 in New York City and shoppers who were looking for electronic gadgets encountered a fragrance that they had not necessarily experienced before. They thought perhaps it was a new fragrance, perhaps Calvin Klein was coming out with something new. But, no, you would be wrong. The local Samsung store, electronic retailer, was conducting a test of its new signature fragrance. Researchers were trying to find out, of shoppers who were leaving the store, what they thought about the scent. Was it cool, was it invigorating, was it passionate? What were they thinking as they encountered this smell? And, more importantly for them, they were trying to find out if shoppers actually lingered in the store a little longer, shopped longer, because of the fragrance.
A pharmacist from the U. K. by the name of Admin Patel was unimpressed. He said he actually didn’t notice it until it was brought to his attention. He said, “I think Samsung should stick to what it does good—making gadgets.” However, Nicole Schnedeker, a Dutch tourist, thought the store had just opened. She said, “It smelled fresh and new.” Plus she volunteered, “I lingered a little bit longer than I had intended. I felt relaxed. It put me in the right mood. I think that is important in shopping today,” she said. But my favorite, however, is an eleven year old named Simon Clark of Connecticut who admittedly was an electronic gadget guy. He said, “I love the smell of technology! It smells stimulating!”
There is something about the sense of smell, isn’t there? …and how it speaks to us. Retailers and people who sell know that, don’t they? One of the tricks that realtors will sometimes use during an open house is they will have the smell of fresh baked bread when you walk in to view the house. Why? Because they think that that is going to bring back some good memories for them of some place in their childhood and hopefully they will consider the house, and that works in some cases. But our sense of smell is really strong, isn’t it? It has the power to visibly take us back to different places, different times, different people. All just because of something that we smell. I think it is more important than we realize.
So today we want to talk about how you and I smell, and beyond that, how do we smell as a church to the world around us? What do we smell like to our neighbors? to our family members?…because, we all definitely have a smell. So what I would like you to do is I would like you to turn to the person next to you and take a good whiff right now. (laughter) Thank you. Thank you for humoring me.
Our Scripture this morning talks about us as having “the aroma of Christ”. What does the aroma of Christ actually mean? Well perhaps a little context might help us understand what Paul is trying to say first to the Corinthian church and now to us. Paul uses the words “triumphal procession” in our Scripture and that was something that actually happened in the days of ancient Rome. In fact, when the Roman soldiers would have a major military conflict, many times what they would have is they would have a military procession, a triumphal procession for the victory through the streets of the town. Many times it was through the city of Rome. In fact, if you go to Rome, there is an arch in Rome, called the Titus Arch, that actually depicts one of the more famous processionals that Paul is referring to. As part of this procession that would march through the streets, people would burn incense as part of the celebration. So not only would you have the sight and the sound of these soldiers marching through the town, but you would also have the smell that would be a part of it. Paul is picking up on that processional metaphor here because all of the people understood that. All the people had experienced that probably at some point in their lives. He uses it to help him to defend his ministry to the Corinthian church. He uses this idea of a triumphal processional as a backdrop through our whole passage of Scripture. That is in his mind as he is talking.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they will be known by their smell; that is, by the smell of Christ. And we are known by our smell, aren’t we? We do have our own smell. You just inhaled it. But we also know that there are folks who have bad breath all the time, let’s be honest here, right? We have some folks who maybe smell like they could use a shower from time to time. I mean there is the standing joke on David Letterman that he always makes about the smell of cab drivers in New York. There is a story of a man who walked into a convenient store to purchase a few items. The woman behind the counter said, “Well you must have been working in the yard.” And he looked at her and said, “How did you know that?” And she said, “Well there was this wonderful smell of freshly cut grass and sweat and gasoline.” (laughter) It was obvious what he was doing by how he smelled, and that is the point that Paul was trying to make to the Corinthian church.
It should be the same with us. The smell that we have should be the smell of Christ and it should be obvious to everyone. But it still doesn’t get at that, what does it mean to have the smell of Christ? So Paul begins to unpack that, I think, for them and answers that for them. One of the things he says is that we should see ourselves as servants, just as Paul did. When Paul uses this processional metaphor notice who is leading in it, it is Christ. Christ is leading the procession, not Paul. Many times during these processionals not only would they have the conquering soldiers marching through the town, but they would also parade the prisoners that were marching through the town as well. They would be forced to walk in this parade, too. So whether Paul saw himself as one of the captured prisoners because Paul kind of uses that imagery in the New Testament of being captured by Christ, whether that is what he is thinking about or whether he is thinking about he is one of those soldiers that is marching behind Christ; we don’t know. But what we do know from here is that Christ is leading the procession. This procession is not of this world. It is of another world. It is bringing in the kingdom of God is what Paul is referring to. And all the servants along with Paul are there to serve Christ.
Now, this is important for Paul because he is telling the Corinthian church something very important. He is saying, “I need to speak to those who have come to discredit my ministry.” Paul’s saying he is different than those who came after him to kind of tear down the Church. Those who came after him were ones who were filled with their own self-sufficiency. They could do it on their own. They could make it happen; and, in fact, they brought what they thought were letters that turned out to be false from the home church in Jerusalem trying to discredit Paul’s authority. So what Paul is saying to them is “I didn’t come to my own self-sufficiency. I didn’t come to my own power. Rather I came as someone who was weak and foolish by those who followed me. I was weak and foolish because I followed Christ, because I relied on Christ for my strength, not my own self. Not my own self-sufficiency.
So he served. He served with that kind of humility. He served with that kind of grace using the crucifixion as an example. So part of having the aroma of Christ in our own lives is being a servant. Serving with that same kind of attitude that Paul lived with.
Living with the aroma of Christ also means that we are to spread the knowledge of God. The words that Paul uses here are “from knowing him”, and that means from knowing Christ. For Paul, the idea to know God was not this kind of intellectual pursuit that we had to have some kind of abstract thinking or trying to increase our intelligence from books, Paul was not thinking about that when he says “to know Christ.” Rather he is referring to knowing Christ the way we know real people in real terms. When Scripture says that Adam knew Eve, that wasn’t an intellectual knowledge; that was a physical act. And Paul is saying that we can know God in the same way, with the same kind of intimacy that is experienced between Adam and Eve; obviously without the physical piece of it; but he is talking about that kind of intimacy, that kind of knowing each other on a very close level.
So God, through Paul, is establishing real relationships between the people of Corinth and himself. And the same is true for you and me. The message that we carry is the message of God to this world. We actually bring God to this world as the aroma of Christ as we live our lives. Paul is making a very important statement here. He is saying the message and the messenger are the same. That is what Paul is looking for. The message of knowing God personally is incarnated in the messenger. In other words, how we live our lives says something about God. That is why Paul is using that metaphor of smell, because smell is so integrated into who we are. We are to smell like Christ to the world. And he goes on to say that we are a sweet smell to those who are being saved. But the reality is that we are also a repugnant smell to those who are dying.
Then Paul adds at the very end of our Scripture, “who is sufficient for this?” Who can do this? And again he points back to Christ. He says only in Christ could we possibly do this, only in Christ.
So then for me this begs a question and that is, well what does this kind of sweet smell of Christ look like in the world if we are going to smell like Christ through our service and through our relationship with him through knowing Christ? Well, one of the ways I think that would be a real easy way to answer that would be to say it is how we live our lives. It is our actions, it is our words, it is our attitudes. They all speak about Christ. They give away our smell to those people around us. One of the ways to think about that is that our walk, the way we walk through our lives, talks. Our walk, talks. It speaks to the people around us in terms of how we live, what our attitudes are, what are the things we do. Many times it speaks louder than our words. I think that is particularly true in our world today. People don’t want to hear what you have to say, they want to see what you have to say before they will listen to it. And that is an important piece for us.
So what does that look like for us here at Faith as we think about that very specifically? What does that mean? Well we are in the midst of our Renewing Faith commitment right now. We will continue to work through that; and, as part of that, we have talked a lot about trying to get new people to come into Faith, to join Faith, to be a part of this community. In addition we have been talking about all of us having to take on more in terms of our ministries, more commitment to our ministries, talking about getting involved in volunteering. That is going to continue to increase as we go forward in the life of Faith.
One of the ways we can do that, I think, is the attitude that we have about Faith that we bring to the world. If we want Faith to move forward, it is going to take every one of us to be excited about what is going on and where we are going. Because let’s face it folks, we have been through some hard times over the last few years and the community knows about the hard times that we have experienced, primarily because of what we have said about Faith to those folks. Yet, even in the midst of that we have had new people, new families come to Faith and they have said in particular, “We have heard about Faith. We heard the news that is out there about Faith, but we came anyway and we are staying because we like it here.” That to me means that things are starting to smell better around here at Faith. So that is an opportunity for each one of us to overcome that kind of negative perceptions that are in the community about Faith Church. And it is going to require all of us.
I think of the old Davanni’s Pizza slogan that was on their pizza boxes. It said, “If you like it, tell others. If you don’t, tell us.” That is what we need to be about here, folks. That is what we need to be about here.
Next weekend we also have a great opportunity. The Sound of Music is going to be coming for five shows next weekend and we are going to have the community coming into our building in ways perhaps we have not seen in a long, long time. When they come, they are going to have their metaphorical noses in the air to get a smell of what Faith Church is like. What will they smell? What will they smell? This may be the only chance to show them Jesus Christ through the people of Faith. Now that is not only true for those that are in the play that are members of Faith, they are already living that because there are members in the cast who are not from Faith. So they are already living that. But it is not just for them, it is for all of us, as well.
So for us as we think about that, think about what kind of attitude we bring as we come to the play, as we have the opportunity to serve cookies to them at no charge because of our deacons. I want to take a moment and just say “thank you Deacons for taking on that ministry.” That was something that they willingly took on in terms of providing refreshments during the intermissions for the plays. That is a gift to the community. That is one of the ways that we can improve how people perceive Faith. So Deacons, I want to publicly thank you for your hard work and for everyone who is contributing cookies, I want to thank you, as well.
So by coming to the play, by our service to them while they are here, but also it is simply about all of us just maybe having a very friendly casual conversation with someone you don’t know; because there are going to be lots of people here next weekend that we don’t know. This is our opportunity to let the aroma of Christ be smelled by everyone who walks into this building. For my heart is that for all who walks through these doors that they be excited about what is going on here at Faith, not just the visitors, but all of us, as well. Amen? Amen!