Text: Ephesians 5:1-9
This week we take a special time out of the year to celebrate and thank the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League for their many years of service as one of the two official auxiliaries of the Missouri Synod. The LWML has been active for over 65 years, sharing the love and Good News of Jesus Christ, the world’s redeemer. The theme for this year’s LWML Sunday, which this sermon is loosely based off of, is “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings,” Now, as I was researching some ideas this week I learned a couple new words. The first is Dysosmia. Dysosmia is a disorder that involves any alteration in quality or distortion in the sense of smell. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either something smells different than you remember, or you start smelling something that isn’t there.
Now, with the disorder of the sense of smell that leads you to smell something differently than how you remember, to be quite frank, it usually means that you are going to smell something rotten or decaying instead of the good smell. But, there are rare occasions where one might smell something good instead of bad. This is called Euosmia; instead of smelling correctly that something is dead or rotten, one would smell the dead thing as a pleasant smell. In the Epistle text we read how Christ offered Himself as something εὐωδίας, literally – a good odor, a fragrant offering. By offering Himself as the sacrifice and offering in our place, Jesus became a fragrant offering unto God. Through faith in Him we have become sweet-smelling children of the Light.
The text begins, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (vv. 1-2) St. Paul is calling to mind the long history of sacrifices among the people of Israel. We have record of sacrifices pleasing to God as far back as Genesis 4, where Abel offered up the firstborn of his flock to God. After Noah and his family got off the ark, he built an altar to God and sacrificed. God smelled the pleasing aroma and vowed to never again curse the ground because of man or strike down every living creature. The sacrifices continue so on and so forth throughout Old Testament history, even up to the time of Christ.
These sacrifices were instituted by God because of the hardness of human hearts. The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…for at one time you were darkness.” (vv. 6, 8) Earlier in Ephesians we hear that we were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world. (Eph. 2:1-2) As those dead to Christ, we were darkened in our understanding. In our natural selves, we do not understand the things of God. We were alienated from God because of our ignorance and hardness.
The word that the Lutheran confessors use to describe our natural sinful condition is concupiscence. This means that not only are we born with original sin, but it is evidenced in that fact that we have a natural inclination to sin and are by nature turned away from the things of God. And finally, in our sin we were callous towards God. I hate to pick on a specific group of people, but being in sin is kind of like being a teenager. What are 3 of the most common words out of their mouths, “I don’t care.” (Cf. paragraph w/Eph. 4:18-19)
In our sin we neither cared about our neighbor in need nor did we want to do anything about it. We didn’t care about God; instead we fashioned gods of our own making and desires. Therefore, Jesus Christ became the fulfillment of all sacrifices, the ultimate fragrant offering unto God. Hebrews 9 says, “He [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (9:12) Because we by ourselves are dead in our trespasses, we smell rotten. We smell dead; in our sin, we walk around with a gagging smell of decay – we might not smell it, but God does. Therefore, “Christ [also] suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus Christ offered Himself up in our place, as payment for our sins – a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (vv. 1, 8a) I don’t mean to ascribe things to God our Heavenly Father, who is formless, beyond what Scripture does; but it’s like God the Father has Euosmia. Because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we are made a fragrant offering unto God. The “good odor” that is Jesus, has spread to us through the gift of faith. Paul writes, “We are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15) In Ezekiel 20 God says, “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.” (Ezek. 20:41) God says that He will accept us as a pleasing aroma when He brings us out and gathers us. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He suffered and died to separate us from our sin. Through His grace and the gift of faith we are brought out of the dying masses in the world and made holy and righteous. This is because God has dealt with us for His name’s sake, and not according to our evil deeds.
John Chrysostom, whose name means “golden mouth,” was archbishop of Constantinople in the very early 5th century. He wrote, “We are then, as it were, a Royal censer, breathing withersoever we go of the heavenly ointment and the spiritual sweet savor.” Because of Christ’s offering of Himself as a fragrant offering, that sweet smell extends to us. We are the sweet-smelling children of the Light. As Christians, like Chrysostom says, we walk around like bowls of Royal incense, breathing heavenly ointment to those around us. Paul urges us to, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” (v. 9) This means fleeing from all sin, from sexual immorality and impurity, from covetousness and filthy or crude joking. These are the sorts of things that our sinful nature wants us to do. Our sinful bodies want to covet and be crude.
“But thanks be to God,” Paul writes, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Thanks be to God, who despite the temptations of our flesh, continues to come to us through His Word. He continues to give us the free forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. Through faith in Him we smell sweet to God. Therefore He leads us in the triumphal procession. We live in the world spreading the fragrance of Jesus Christ, the good news that through Him sins are forgiven and all things are made new. In His love we no longer live with the decaying stench of death and decay, but the sweet smell of grace and healing forgiveness. This is not of ourselves, but it is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.
Euosmia is a condition where, instead of smelling something nasty, one smells something pleasant in its place. Through the fragrant offering of Himself, Jesus has, in effect, given our heavenly Father Euosmia. He no longer smells us as dead and rotten in our sin, but as His own sweet-smelling Son. Today we give thanks for the Lutheran Women Missionary League and for the work they do. They stand as an example for us to follow. Made fragrant through the death of Jesus, we walk as children of the light, as beloved children of God, covered in the sweet smell of the blood of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.