Text: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-17
Location: Episcopal Preaching Foundation’s Preaching Excellence Program, May 2013
The Smell of Christ
A student of mine called me late one evening after worship. He was really excited on the other end, and I had to ask him to slow down. So, he says, “Mother Kim, this strange thing happened to me today. After worship tonight, I was riding the train back to my apartment, when this woman sat down next to me. I had my earbuds in, so I wasn’t really paying her any attention, but she tapped me to get my attention. She said, “Son, you smell like Church. You smell like Church.”
Now the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that those who know Christ have a particular smell. When we come to know God — come to trust and believe in the power of God’s love, there’s an aroma, a fragrance that lingers in the room even after we leave. To borrow from the words of the woman on the train, when we encounter God, we begin to “smell like Church.” Or to borrow from Paul, “We smell like Christ.”
And so friends, I believe that all of us are here, because at some point along the way, perhaps even multiple points along our journey, we have encountered a loving, living and amazing God. And in that encounter, God’s scent rubbed off and onto us… The essence of Christ co-mingled with our natural oils and smells to create a beautiful fragrance — a fragrance that made people say to us, “I think you have a calling. There’s something about you. I sense it.” … You smelled like Christ.
You all know the stories of people who have lost loved ones, but they are comforted by a pillow or shirt that still has the loved one’s scent on it. But then, over time, because the item has been separated from the source, the smell dissipates and that’s when real grief sets in.
And so it is with our ability to maintain the scent of Christ — sometimes we get distanced from the source and the smell begins to dissipate. So the question for us today is, “How do we keep smelling like Church?” And perhaps more honestly the question for some of us is, “I’m starting to stink with the stench of unforgiveness, self-loathing and pride… so how do I start smelling like Christ again?” “How do I get God’s scent back on me?”
In the appointed Psalm we learn that sometimes getting that fragrance back simply means, that we need to ask God for it. Perhaps it’s time to start praying again.
And maybe our fragrance can be strengthened simply by daily (yes, daily) reading of Scripture and devotion? For some us, it may be time to see a therapist and to get a spiritual director. For me, I experienced a renewed touch from God, when I simply paused and beheld the beauty of nature that surrounds us — because for me was is in the smell of fresh rain and in the aroma of fragrant flowers that I first encountered God… And for some of you, you just need to smell incense again — because that is the smell of Church for you…. because that’s what stimulates your memory of your first introduction to God.
That evening on the phone with my student, I asked him what happened next. He said, “She started to cry. And she looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you. I haven’t been to Church in a long time.’
My sisters and brothers, we are called to spread the fragrance of Christ throughout all places. We are called to this, so that, by the grace of God, people will know, indeed, they will smell Christ and be comforted in the saving grace that comes from a encountering an ever-present, living, and fragrant God who loves and cares for us all!
So friends, go, go, and smell like Christ.