St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 7, 2021
“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”
DOES GOD have a nose that He can smell with? In fact, does He have other senses? Does He hear, see, taste, and feel? If God is not a physical being, but spirit only, how do His senses work? And if so, do our spirits have senses? Can these unseen senses see? Can we, without spiritual noses, still smell? And if Jesus’ gift of Himself as a sacrifice was sweet to the Father, a sweet-smelling savour, what do our sins smell like to God? What do our silent, secret deeds sound like?
Little children find it difficult to hide in their misdeeds. Kids lack poker faces, and they spill their story pretty easily when pressed by an authority, “Who broke that window?” “Ok, who ate all the cookies?” “Did you draw this on the wall?” As kids we have a choice to make when our elementary wickedness gets us in trouble: we can stop doing bad things, or we can learn to get away with them. I’d say most of us learned a combination of both, our stupidest evil deeds led to lying convincingly. If nobody knew you broke a rule, nobody got hurt, what of it? Who cares? Is a victimless crime still a crime? Adolescents sift through these ethical dilemmas to find a reason not to feel guilty when they do feel guilty. Read Tom Sawyer for colorful examples of this. We eventually learn, even if nobody ever finds out, there’s still one victim of our sins: and that’s us.
The Commandments deal with both physical deeds and movements of the heart. We aren’t to commit adultery, murder or steal, and while a sinner may hide his evil deeds, such wicked actions usually will out. There are victims of such crimes, and usually accomplices. But sins like dishonoring a parent, coveting a neighbor’s wife or possessions: can anyone tell? Crimes of the heart or head are inner processes, and thus, easily camouflaged. You can tell white lies, or flatter someone you dislike. Look interested when you’re bored to tears. Does thought-sin have a tell? the small action done inadvertently that gives you away? Are there tells for our secret sins?
Thoreau once said, “There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.” Henry David Thoreau We all know what milk smells like when it’s gone over to the dark side. Rotten eggs, moldy cheese, Doritos left too long in the cupboard all get a sick smell because good food in time ferments or is overcome by mold or bacteria. As a teenager, riding my motorbike, I came across a dead calf. It’d been dead for some time. I never quite got over that stench. Deaths smells the worst.
God can smell our sins. He can see our thoughts. He can read the movements of our hearts. Nothing is hidden from Him, as our Collect for Purity says. In Isaiah, God indicted the haughty and vain daughters of Zion, saying He’d strip them of their finery, “Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench.” Isaiah 3:24 Sin stinks to high heaven. Sin screams and moans and shrieks its awfulness to God. I believe that, if we were fully aware of how all our deeds and inner workings were apparent to the hosts of heaven, we’d stop most of our sins. If we got aware of how other peoples’ spirits sense our cruelties, lusts, vanities, pride and disinterest: we’d be embarrassed to go out in public.
What does pride smell like? Pride is as blue as nobility. We admire a person with confidence. We think a person is what they say of themselves, so we are often deceived. Pride is my new pair of handmade Italian leather shoes that just stepped in the dog’s stuff outside and I don’t know it. The reek is evident to all, even to me, but I’m the only one that doesn’t know where it’s coming from.
Envy is an evil green tint to the complexion when it looks at another’s things or accomplishment. That vile emotion sours the milk and poisons every feeling. Envy shrieks in pain, seeing others succeed. That cold, bitter feeling robs all joy in another’s good fortune, setting in motion plots for revenge. Envy is like acid fumes that sting the nostrils.
Anger is red. Anger’s veins stand out in one’s neck. It’s eyes bulge. Few can disguise anger, and may call it patriotism, zeal, loyalty, or passion. Godly anger or indignation was a fair feeling even Christ exhibited. The sin of anger is when we feed it. Instead of using our passion to defend innocence, we carry grudges. Growls of anger come from the gut, like bile or bad breath to our spiritual senses.
Covetousness is bright yellow. Our social covenant says that acquisition is good, amassing quantities of expensive things the goal of capitalism. Successful folk wear diamonds and drive fancy cars, and we think them superior. We flip through travel magazines and catalogs to see what we can’t afford. Such desires whimper when eyeing such valuables, the diamonds worn at the Oscars, dresses by Givenchy, Princess cruises, and Ferrari’s stallion logo. And that faint cheesy fragrance goes unnoticed, except by everyone else.
Gluttony is orange. It can’t be hidden. While pride, envy, and covetousness may disguise themselves, doubling their destructiveness in our defense of them, a fever for food or drink makes this sin rather obvious to everyone. An exception might be a gourmet, who eats less, but only the finest. Churchill said, “My tastes are simple: I only want the best.” Gluttony moans in hunger and whimpers in delight in waddling distance from a Golden Corral. The drunk just smells like booze and indigestion.
Lust is reddish purple. This area of sin we feel most shame for, and still it makes billions selling artificiality. I can’t even talk about it here. Bellows of hoarse desire and hoots at the sight of a girl; false bravado and a drunk’s courage launch a thousand misadventures by night. It used to mainly be a male-driven urge. Now many girls initiate lust in dim light, later to make the walk of shame back home. It’s a deadly perfume that arrests attention, then cheapens the soul with false love.
Sloth is any color it lounges on. We all have lazy days. But TV and computers have made industries of laziness while our bodies lose muscle tone and our minds get lost in games, habits of idleness and sluggish unwillingness to serve any purpose. Sloth is another obvious sin. As time goes by, a greater effort and intestinal fortitude are needed to rise and do things, but we must. It’s disheartening to see youth laying around instead of enjoying the sun. Sloth has many products to lure us. Sloth stinks like wet newspaper, unwashed dishes or a laundry basket.
St. Paul frequently cheers the saints and sets a high standard where we may see it and aspire to it. “Be imitators of God, like dear children,” he says. “Walk in love.” Now, here walking means living your life. Then he lists some of our favorite sins: fornication, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, coarse jesting, idolatry, and deception. He likens these to walking in darkness and becoming dark ourselves. We may think we know where we’re going, but we stumble in the night. When we stumble, we get hurt. We all were such darkness, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
That’s easy for Paul to say. It feels like a ledge on a high building that, if we fail to be careful, we fall a long way. Not really. God makes a way for us to get back to righteousness quite freely, and even if we fall, we don’t fall far. A long fall may mean greater spiritual discipline to get us back healthy in spirit, but God is always merciful. It was for this He sent His Son.
We have options, either to wander back into sin, or stay the course. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them,” says St. Paul. If we have trafficked in one sin or another, we have those scars in our spirit, and spirit recognizes spirit. Others with the same history find us and try to take us back to our old ways. Our wounded souls also know the signs, and we have a choice to make. We may need help to make the right choice. But Christ gives us victory here, if we’ll avail ourselves of His compassion. If we will stay in His presence. If we will forgive ourselves for the past, as He has, and not be defeated.
“It is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” That’s just what I’ve been doing, shame on me. Yet, Paul concludes, “all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light… Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” Eph 5:1-14 Sometimes we have to name the dead thing, the livid infected corpse, the spoiled and rotten item, and point it out, so that we know what to avoid and where not to step.
Sin stinks. It screams. It moans. It glares in the darkness with an evil pallor. We think it hidden, but God can smell and see and hear even our innermost workings. And He knows us. After everything, He loves us, every one. I was once told that a minister should never preach about sin except with a tear in his eye. I won’t fake crying, so let this be my cry. God said, “The priests who serve the LORD cry between the altar and the entrance to the temple saying, "Spare your people, O LORD. Don't let the people who belong to you become a disgrace. Don't let the nations ridicule them. Why should people ask, 'Where is their God?'" Joel 2:17 God wants to restore us. He has done every possible thing to remove the barriers to our salvation and fellowship in Him. All that remains is for us to avail ourselves of the remedy. Our enemy is not ourselves, but the sneak who devised the rebellion, who is exposed and defeated by Christ. God says, “His stench will come up, And his foul odor will rise, Because he has done monstrous things.” Joel 2:20
But let us be a sweet-smelling savour, the incense of our lives fragrant in the spiritual senses of God. Offer the movements of your heart to the God who saves you, and let Him faint with love of you, who having known other paths, now walk His Way of triumph in new life.