It was embarrassing. But, in my defense, it was an automatic response. I was walking with some friends at a mall and we were passing by a candle shop. The aroma coming from the shop hit my nose and I immediately made the sign of the cross in front of everybody. The looks I got were perplexed to say the least.
You see, the sense of smell is the most powerful memory sense we humans have. And the smell coming from the candle shop reminded my body of incense. And incense is used when we pray. And we make the sign of the cross when we pray. My muscle memory took over when I smelled that familiar smell.
St. Paul says we Christians have an aroma as well.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 2:3-15:
Brethren, my joy is the joy of you all. For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
But if any one has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to you all. For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, for he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, to keep Satan from gaining the advantage over us; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord; but my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
St. Paul is following up his first letter to the Corinthian Church and helping this unruly parish get back on track. When he writes this second epistle to them, he includes instructions about a brother who had been living an immoral life among them. In his first letter, he said that this man should be put out of communion for a while so he would wake up to the damage he was doing to himself and the church. And guess what, it worked. He repented. But now the Corinthian Christians won’t let him return to the church! So Paul has to write this second epistle to tell them to restore the man!
You see, the Orthodox Christian Faith isn’t about punishment, but restoration. Authentic repentance and Authentic restoration is what we do in the Faith. And that’s because that’s the way our Father treats us. He always forgives. He always restores. He always embraces. He never turns us away. Ever.
But we humans struggle with this because we are so easily trapped with the notion of punishment is “due.” We get that from the broken self-centeredness that is so common to us all. Our ego too easily expects retribution and vengeance. And this never works out well. There is always a high cost paid by the punisher. That’s why God doesn’t do this. He calls us to the more difficult work of repentance. And remember, repentance is not saying “I’m sorry I broke a rule” as much as it is an attentiveness of how far below I am living when I should be striving to be like Christ.
This kind of message is both Good News and Bad news for this world. It is genuinely Good News to those who are exhausted from trying to forever make an “angry God” happy with them. And it is definitely Bad News for those whose ego can’t imagine that they are not the center of the universe! This Orthodox message smells beautiful to those hungering for God and it stinks to those who only love themselves.
Today, does your life remind others of the Good News of Jesus Christ? You are meant to smell like heaven. Some will love it and some will hate it, but it all comes from being Orthodox on Purpose!