Bread – Smelly

March 24, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, March 24 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Exod. 7:8-24; 2 Cor. 2:14-3:6; Mark 10:1-16
    Psalms 119:145-176, 128, 129, 130

Have you ever been in an enclosed space, such as an elevator, with a smelly person?  Perhaps it is the lack of something, like deodorant.  Or perhaps it is the addition of something, like perfume or cologne (I have never understood the difference, except that men would never wear "perfume").  Sometimes the smell is overwhelming and we want to gag, or maybe are allergic and we start sneezing or breaking out in a rash.  Sometimes the smell is very pleasant, and it reminds us of gardens or other pleasures.  This last type of smell is the foundation of the cosmetics industry (at least the perfume part), and has spawned a new escape from our troubles – "aroma therapy."

In fact, we can say that the nature of perfume is that one man’s pleasant smell is another’s allergy.  It is for this reason that many workplaces warn of the excessive use of perfume or ask that it not be used at all.  Just as we must not offend with bold language or challenging concepts or with truth, we must not offend with being smelly.

Yet that is just what we are commanded to do as Christians.  We are commanded to present Jesus Christ into the world, in who we are, how we behave, and what say.  We are commanded to preach the gospel.

And when we preach the gospel, when we stand for Jesus Christ in the world, when we take upon ourselves the mantle of Christian, when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we smell.  Hear what Paul has to say in his second letter to the Corinthians in today’s reading:

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one [who is perishing] we are the smell of death; to the other [who is being saved], the fragrance of life."  2 Cor. 2:14-16

Think about this for a minute and ask yourself this question — Am I smelly for Christ?  Has anyone ever told me that I exude the fragrance of life?  Has anyone ever been angry with me, telling me that I exude the smell of death?

One might be inclined to think of this passage as somewhat allegorical, not referring to smell as such but instead referring to attitude.  Let me challenge that.  God gave us a multitude of senses, all of which we use to engage our world and evaluate it.  Through our senses we experience pleasure and pain, anticipation and want, danger and safety.  Our world presents us a package involving sight, sound, smell, and touch and we use all of our senses to evaluate that package, to determine if the package is good or bad, moral or immoral, true or false.  If that is the case, then why wouldn’t God let us use our sense of smell, as a complement to the other senses, to assess who God is and who His people are?  If that is the case, why wouldn’t Christians smell as fragrance to those who are living and as death to those who are dying.

In today’s world, we are inclined to neutrality, to wearing no perfume at all because it might make someone sick or might be offensive to someone.  Christ is offensive to those who are dying.  We are offensive to those who are dying.

When we are getting ready for the day and are ready for the final touch of hair spray, perfume, cologne, or aftershave, it might be a good time to also put on the armor of God, the Spirit Christ promised, and let our odor, our Christian odor, smell forth.

Today, be smelly for Christ.

Bread – Weave

March 8, 2010

Readings for Monday, March 8 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 44:18-34; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43
    Psalms 77, 79, 80

We are in the season of Lent, the time between Jesus Christ’s birth and His death and resurrection.  For many denominations, it is a time of preparation, a time of somber reflection about the horror of our sins and God’s mercy in sending His Son to deal with those sins and His justice in demanding blood, His own Son’s blood on the cross, for those sins.

During this time of contemplation, my mind often wanders to the incredible nature of the revelation of God contained in His Word, in the way that the Bible "weaves" together both history and miracle, both this time-bound history of God’s involvement with us and the concurrent eternal miracle of God’s involvement with us.

Sometimes the "weave" is in your face and other times it is more subtle but there nonetheless.  Today’s lessons standing alone make for excellent separate sermons; together they present the more subtle weave of history and miracle, the weave of revelation.

The weave begins in Genesis.  The silver cup has been "discovered" in Benjamin’s sack and Joseph demands that Benjamin become his slave in compensation for the injury.  Justice would say that Benjamin should pay.  However, another son steps forth – Judah – to offer himself in slavery as payment for Benjamin’s actions.  Does the name sound familiar?  Could this be a foreshadowing of the action that Jesus Christ, the "Lion of Judah" will take many years later?  A historical event, but also an eternal miracle.  Part of the weave of God’s revelation to us.

We then proceed through Mark, where we are presented with Jarius’ dying daughter, soon to become his dead daughter.  This event involves Jesus Christ.  He is asked by Jarius to heal his daughter and by the time Jesus gets there, she is recently dead.  Jesus Christ raises her from death into life.  A historical event and an eternal miracle, all wrapped up together.

We then end with Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthians to be ready, to treat each day as if Jesus Christ returns on that day.  This passage sounds like it is instructive first, a historical instruction to be followed so that you will be prepared for a historical event.  However, like so much is the weave of revelation, it points to an eternal miracle, the return and triumph of the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ, and the conquering for all time of sin and its natural consequence, death.

We recognize weaves in cloth and call them patterns.  God’s Word is a giant cloth, woven from threads of history and eternity, from plain facts to unexplainable miracles, but with a pattern.  It is a pattern which repeats itself over and over again, an elegant pattern which can sometimes only be appreciated by standing far above it, wearing the lens of discernment provided by the Holy Spirit.  It is the pattern of life and death, death caused by sin and life caused by God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Do you recognize the weave, the pattern of God in your own life?  Do you see God in your history and also your miracles?  Do you see Jesus Christ in all things?  Are you amazed by the beauty of the weave, the pattern of love, grace, power, and mercy?

If not, then make this a good Lent by stepping outside the busyness and the business and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.

Once you see it, and you will, there is only one response.  And that is to say "thank you."


Bread – Understanding

March 3, 2010

Readings for Wednesday, March 3 as
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Gen. 42:18-28; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Mark 4:1-20
    Psalms 72, 119:73-96

"Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands."  Psalm 119:73

In today’s readings we have three lessons in understanding.

The first is a lesson of understanding from experience and is taught by Genesis 42:18-28, where Joseph’s brothers have sought help from Joseph (without knowing who he is) for a necessity of life, food.  As we are taken through this lesson, we come to a greater understanding of the long-term effects of our actions (harming Joseph), the power of God in all circumstances to bring good out of intended evil (God’s placement of Joseph in Egypt, in high command, where he is in position to help his brothers), the futility of judging others before we judge ourselves (the elder brother Ruben’s criticism of the actions of his younger brothers, when as the elder brother it was Ruben’s job to protect Joseph, which he utterly failed to do), the graciousness of God’s blessing (giving not only of food, but returning the silver as well), and our highly suspicious response to any blessing we might receive (the brothers’ asking what they did wrong when they discovered the silver, rather than accepting the gift with gratefulness).

The second is a lesson of understanding from instruction and is taught by Paul in 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8, where the church is taught about the limits of toleration, God’s different behavioral standards for those who claim to be Christian as opposed to those who claim citizenship in the world.  From instruction, we learn that our old ways are not God’s ways and that God calls us to obedience, first in the Old Testament as a necessary response to God-given law and second in the New Testament as a necessary response to God-given love.

The third is a lesson of understanding from example, from analogy, from story which can only be understood through discernment of truth.  This is taught by Jesus in the Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:1-20.  This form of understanding is perhaps the hardest, because it does not rely upon the concreteness of experience or lesson, but on the special relationship between us and the Holy Spirit, who as a gift of God in our abject death to sin, gives us eyes to see and ears to hear.

Which way is God speaking to you today?  Through your life and the lives of others (experience), through the Word (lesson), and/or through the Holy Spirit (discernment)?  Maybe it is all three.

The truth is that in our sins we cannot really learn from experience, lesson, or parable.  Just as it is Jesus Christ who through His death on the cross carries us from death to life, so it is Jesus Christ at the instruction of the Father and through the agency of the Holy Spirit who carries us from deafness and blindness to understanding.

Thank you, Jesus!


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