"This doesn't smell like a church."
His comment stopped us all in our tracks. Our community theater group needed a rehearsal space for a couple of weeks and our director received permission for us to practice in the sanctuary of a local congregation. As we walked down the aisle, one of the cast members casually tossed off this remark. We couldn't let it go. "And just what does a church smell like?"
"I don't know. But this doesn't smell like a church."
I've forgotten all of my lines from that play, but I've never forgotten that statement.
What does a church smell like? Over the years I've asked myself this as I evaluate how Christ's call is carried out in our congregational life. Church life is easy to describe in sound and vision. We spend hours practicing and preparing music for worship. We install stained glass, dress our sanctuaries in liturgical colors, and paint our Sunday School rooms in pleasing shades. But when the Lord observes us living our communal lives, do we smell like a church?
A woman prepares dinner in the church kitchen on Sunday morning. She uses her gift of cooking to minister to missionaries home on furlough. The mouth-watering aroma of roast turkey winds its way through the kitchen doors, down the hall, and into each Sunday School classroom. Hungry stomachs growl in protest at the coffee and cookies that seemed so appealing a few minutes ago. Mouths salivate with desire for one taste of the succulent bird that will grace a missionary family's table later that day.
A man crawls under the floor of a single mother's home. The wooden floor sags and she cannot afford the expensive repairs. Men from the congregation sweat profusely in 90-degree heat as they insert supports to halt the damage and raise the floor to level. Their sweat stained t-shirts stick to their backs as the musky odors of dirt and perspiration mingle with cotton.
A nurse places sterilized instruments on a tray. That morning a doctor will apply his skills to correct a child's cleft palate. Medical professionals and volunteers perform acts of healing out of love for God and obedience to his command to serve others. The scent of antiseptic and soap lingers in the air around the rural clinic where villagers have traveled miles for medical help.
A woman walks into a crowded orphanage and is overcome by the stench of feces and decay. From that moment on, she and her husband dedicate themselves to building and equipping a home for the forgotten children of the Dominican Republic. Nearly 200 handicapped orphans now wear clean clothes and sleep peacefully in sheets crisp with the fresh scent of detergent.
A city bus belches diesel fumes as it passes a group of teens walking into a church's new youth center in the heart of a blighted downtown. A young missionary couple welcomes them to Bible study as the savory smell of pizza and popcorn draws them into the crowd.
Children delight in the sweet fragrance of fresh cookies and peppermint at a gathering in the fellowship hall. Each of these children has a parent in prison and for one afternoon they experience the joy of their own Christmas party. Laughter dances through the air, redolent with the bouquet of spiced apples and pine needles.
Scripture compares the prayers of the saints with the fragrance of incense rising before the throne of God; the sacrifice of repentance as a pleasing aroma, delightful to our Lord. Mingled with prayer is the savory scent of selflessness, the pungent odor of service, the lively essence of loving kindness, and the warm fragrance of fellowship.
I pray that, if Jesus were to walk through our doors today, he would say,
"This smells like a church."
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