May 14, 2017

“Soothing Smells”


Leviticus 2

2 When anyone presents a grain offering to the Lord, the offering must be of choice flour. They must pour oil on it and put frankincense on it, then bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. A priest will take a handful of its choice flour and oil, along with all of its frankincense, and will completely burn this token portion on the altar as a food gift of soothing smell to the Lord. The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons as a most holy portion from the Lord’s food gifts.

When you present a grain offering baked in an oven, it must be of choice flour: unleavened flatbread mixed with oil or unleavened wafers spread with oil. If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it must be of choice flour mixed with oil and it must be unleavened. Crumble it into pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. If your offering is grain prepared in a pan, it must be made of choice flour with oil. You will bring the grain offering made in one of these ways to the Lord, presenting it to the priest, who will then bring it to the altar. The priest will remove from the grain offering the token portion and completely burn it on the altar as a food gift of soothing smell to the Lord. 10 The rest of the grain offering belongs to Aaron and his sons as a most holy portion from the Lord’s food gifts.

11 No grain offering that you give to the Lord can be made with yeast. You must not completely burn any yeast or honey as a food gift for the Lord. 12 You can present those as first-choice offerings to the Lord, but they must not be entirely burned up on the altar as a soothing smell.

13 You must season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not omit the salt of your God’s covenant from your grain offering. You must offer salt with all your offerings.

14 If you present a grain offering to the Lord from the first produce, you must make such an offering from the crushed heads of newly ripe grain, roasted with fire. 15 You must put oil and frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest will completely burn the token portion—some of the crushed new grain and oil along with all of the frankincense—as a food gift for the Lord.


Mention the Book of Leviticus to anyone outside of a doctoral Bible program and you will probably get the response of someone going to the doctor and hearing the words “tiny incision.” It’s not a good response.


Leviticus has long drawn the ire of many a Bible reader, because it can be a tedious read. Earlier in the spring, I was reading through Leviticus and couldn’t get over the constant repetition regarding ritual sacrifice of the early Hebrew peoples, like the example here. Multiple chapters read almost word-for-word like this one. The intense details, especially those around animal sacrifice, make it easy for a sleepy early-morning reader to forget what chapter and verse one was on after taking that last sip of coffee.


I have learned many lessons over time about paying attention even when the material gets tedious. Because, if we can struggle through all the details, we see why it is so important that the priest gets it right: he wants to please God by making the sacrifice something God would enjoy – a soothing smell.


Today’s sermon banner states, “Obedience to God is an expression of our love for God.” I don’t do what I do because I think it makes sense. I didn’t choose it for the salary. I do it because I love God, and I want to do my best to please God with what I do.


Today, we celebrate Mother’s Day because many of us grew up having mothers who taught us the value of obedience and loving well. My mother taught me many lessons throughout my life. She taught me how to boil water for Ramen and to bake chicken nuggets. She taught me that I have to dust underneath things on my dresser and not just around them. She taught me how to love even when it’s really tough. Had she not to be obedient, to practice, to do things the right way, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t know how to create soothing smells.


Through years of obedience, I know how to set a formal table. I used to think it was silly, but now, I know a set table tells guests in my house that their presence is special to me. I love my mom the same way I love God – by being obedient to her wishes as an expression of love for her. I know that her insistence was a way of translating a message about loving me so that I, in turn, can love others better.  By loving each other, we love God.


Imagine the faith required to be a priest in the early days of God’s presence among the Hebrews. He would have to make sure he did every action correctly, or he ran the risk of upsetting God. Thankfully, God handles lack of obedience better now than in Leviticus. Otherwise this would be a very different sermon.


Obedience is a part of our baptism. We choose to take part in Christian life because God offers us life abundant. We have someone to lean on when times are tough, someone to teach us when we don’t have all the answers, and someone to comfort us when we feel low. In the Bible, God is often referred to as He, but God is both parents – our Mother and our Father. And sometimes, I need God to be my mother, even if part of that is obedience.


Wesley translated this method into his theology of grace. He felt that, as we get more accustomed to giving our time and efforts to God, we would grow in love of God and neighbor. This process is called sanctification, and it happens after a person gives themselves over to God’s call on their life. The end game, or what we call salvation through perfection, is to reach a level of love for God that we no longer worry about the world. We no longer worry about the time it takes to get things right. We simply want to do everything we can to show God how much we love.


The good news is God doesn’t expect perfection now. God knows we have lives that won’t let go of us and bills that keep piling up and kids that are always doing something. It’s okay that the road of sanctification is long. As we offer up little parts of ourselves, they get turned into big blessings because God hears our hearts that are trying.


Our vision team is going to meet tomorrow evening to talk about the ways our church can be an example of selfless love to our community. Part of that is planning, and planning can be tedious. But as we work, and try, and are obedient to God’s call on this church to be the light for this community, we too, will create a soothing smell that reaches up to heaven.


To all the mothers who taught us well; to all the grandmothers that remind us to not be so serious; to all the new mothers and soon-to-be mothers who are still learning the ropes, Happy Mother’s Day to you. You remind us that what we do matters to the One who loves us.

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