Sermon for LWML Sunday, October 5, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:1-9 Sermon Theme: “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings”
(Sources: Online Meditation, entitled, “A Fragrant Offering”; 2014 LWML Sunday Sermon; “As Children We Imitate Our Father,” by David Ernst; original ideas and examples; Nelson’s Three-in-One; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; “LWML Mission Grants” online)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The dictionary definition of “fragrant” is simply “Having a pleasant odor.” Of course we know that what is a pleasant aroma to some people is not at all pleasant to others.
Two wives, when talking about how their husbands deserted them for football and beer, decided they should try to find a perfume that smelled like beer.
When one of my aunts left her parents’ farm to work in Houston, she fell in love with an English/Irish city boy who had never been on a farm in his life and had never been around German Wendish Americans before. My aunt brought him home to meet her parents, and her mother, my grandmother, fixed all of our family’s favorite dishes to impress him, including what we loved most, koch Kase , her delicious homemade cheese which smelled like limburger while it was cooking.
He walked into the house while the cheese was cooking, shook hands with my grandparents, and then rushed out into the yard, gasping for breath. An aroma that was pleasantly fragrant to us almost knocked him out.
The dictionary defines “flagrant” as “Conspicuously bad, offensive, or reprehensible, so offensive that it cannot escape notice.” “Fragrant” versus “flagrant,” the difference between an “l” and an “r.” What was fragrant to me and my family was flagrant to my uncle-to-be.
Our sermon text for LWML Sunday 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.” In the Chapter preceding our text, Paul says to the Philippians, “They [the gifts you sent] are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Ephesians 4:18).
The Bible first mentions offerings to God when Moses points out in Genesis that Abel’s offering was more acceptable to God than Cain’s. The first mention of a “fragrant offering” is found in Genesis 8:20-21, where Moses says, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man. . . ‘”
The Apostle Paul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, came to the important realization that none of our labor is acceptable to God, that is, none of our carnal, fleshly work is acceptable in God’s sight. As Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6, “All our works are as filthy rags before God.” None rise to our Lord Jesus as fragrant sacrifices.
You see, these Old Testament sacrifices and offerings were acceptable and well-pleasing to God, but not, as the Jews imagined, because of the work or of the sacrifices in themselves. Martin Luther said they were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which the animal sacrifices foreshadowed and encircled. None of mankind’s works, even under the Old Testament, reached God as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.
The Apostle Paul taught that the sacrifices of the Old Testament have passed. Now all sacrifices are powerless, except that of Christ Himself; He is the sweet-smelling savor. This sacrifice of Christ on the cross is pleasing to God; he gladly accepts it and wants us to be confident it is an acceptable offering in our stead. Christ’s wonderful fragrant and gracious sacrifice on our behalf is the one that God receives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.
God’s promise was that when Jesus came, blind people would see, deaf people would hear, lame people would walk, sick people would be healed, lepers cleansed, seas calmed, demons cast out, mute people would speak, the hungry fed, captives set free, and severed ears restored. When that happened, our Father in Heaven received all these acts as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.
That is the plan of God, — that Jesus Christ, the perfect fragrant sacrifice and offering, would be the Lamb slain, in whose book the names of all who live and die and rise by faith in Christ Jesus have been written. Because Jesus paid the price on the cross, not our good works that did, our sacrifices and offerings are now acceptable and pleasing to God,
Because of Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifices and offerings of those whose names are written in the Book of Life are acceptable, — our loving obedience: ACCEPTED. Our regular studying of the Word of God: ACCEPTED. Our living together in unity and harmony. ACCEPTED. Our speaking our faith: ACCEPTED. Our loving each other and helping one another. ACCEPTED. Our attending church regularly. ACCEPTED. Our tithes to the Lord: ACCEPTED.
Every penny, nickel, dime, quarter for missions in LWML Mite boxes as a fragrant sacrifice and offering. ACCEPTED. Lutheran children’s books for Southeast Asia. ACCEPTED. Rebuilding North East Lutheran School, Haiti. ACCEPTED. Story books in sign language. ACCEPTED. Helping at Risk Kids with Learning needs. ACCEPTED. Native American Outreach training, Alaska. ACCEPTED. Training K-9 Comfort dogs for LCMS Chaplains. ACCEPTED. Training indigenous pastors and deaconesses. ACCEPTED.
Those are just a few of the projects for the LWML’s Biennium Mission Goal of $1,830,000. Because Jesus paid the price for us through His ultimate sacrifice of suffering and death on the cross, these LWML offerings are accepted by our Heavenly Father as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.
As I said at the beginning of my sermon, the dictionary defines “fragrant” as “Having a pleasant odor,” and it defines “flagrant” as Conspicuously bad, offensive, or reprehensible, so offensive that it cannot escape notice.” As fallen human beings in a fallen world, “fragrant” can easily become “flagrant.” When a wine “turns,” for instance, the wine’s wonderful aromatic bouquet turns into the nose-stinging stench of vinegar. So it is also true of what we offer God.
Paul warns in our text, as followers of Christ, there is to be no sexual immorality and no covetousness, no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, and no associating with those who are guilty of such things, as those things reach our heavenly Father, not as fragrant offerings but as flagrant offerings. Paul urges us in the text to be “imitators of God.”
It has always been true that “what you give is what you get,” because everything that we do has natural consequences. The natural consequence of being kind is usually receiving kindness from other people. The natural consequence of sexual immorality could be AIDS or some other venereal disease.
The divine consequences are a little different. The divine consequence of our sins, such as those Paul mentions, should be death. But because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, totally accepted by the Father as ransom for our sins, we have hope of eternal life. By grace, we are forgiven those awful sins, and through faith are saved. Our “fragrant” offerings to God are a proof of our faith, whereas “flagrant” offerings show that we have no faith.
The ladies of LWML are sinners just like you and me. Over the years, the love of Jesus in their hearts has led them to do many projects pleasing to the Heavenly Father. Some times, they were tempted, like you and me, to do less than what their mission goals called for. But, just as God does for you and me, He forgives them for their weaknesses.
So, dear saints of God, let us strive with all our Holy Spirit-inspired and Spirit-filled faith to infuse the heavens with fragrant sacrifices and offerings by not simply doing, but by being those sacrifices and offerings in the nostrils of our loving God and Father. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.