Have you ever had the experience of a particular smell, either good or bad, that triggers memories? There are a number of smells that will trigger memories of my grandparents’ house. My daughter has also shared experiences where certain smells trigger her memories, and they are often of her grandma’s house (my mom).In many respects, the smells from my childhood create almost a homesickness. There was something deeply contentful about those smells and the feelings invoked. I can’t imagine not having them.
God provided a recipe for a very special—a holy—incense. So special that it’s only time of use was in the temple. It was just incense. Incense is nothing special.
God made it so. Likely, it was set apart so that the smell became associated with the God and being in God’s presence.
Imagine a rough, horrible day that you found nothing good in. Because you have to, and only because you have to culturally, you go to the temple. You smell the incense. If you’re like me, that smell would trigger the response, God is here.
Because incense was a familiar thing, this special recipe had to be set aside, so that even the common could be holy.
Sometimes normal things, sometimes odd things, sometimes even people who are the “enemy” are set aside to do God’s will.
Paul was the enemy, until he wasn’t. Paul was going about his normal business, and then Jesus came to him in a vision.
While it might seem strange to combine the Law of incense with the story of Paul’s call, the reality is that God often defies our human logic. God sees beyond the human vision that we have. Paul, in many respects, was transformed from the “common” (the Law abiding Jew) to the “uncommon” (called by Jesus). Paul’s very life became the startling transformation from persecutor to proclaimer.
Just as being set aside, the “common” incense became uncommon, and thus a testimony of God and to God’s presence. So, too, Paul’s life became the transformative testimony (even without words) of what God can do for the world, if the world chooses to hear.
In your life, has there been any common thing that has become a symbol of God (or God’s presence) for you? Why?
Lord, you have called to follow you. Help us to be willing to be uncomfortable in that call. You have not called us to an easy life. You have called us to a fulfilled life in you. Give us your peace, mercy, grace, and most of all, courage, to be the light. Amen.