Floods and Fires

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Isaiah 43:2

I’ve been thinking a lot about these words recently.  I hadn’t planned on it.  I never meant to.  I didn’t intentionally turn to them as if, as life happened, they came to mind and I sought them out.  Instead, there they were, popping up in the regular cycle of a reading plan someone else put together.  And now I can’t get them out of my head.

For our family, it feels like we are in a season of “floods and fires” that swept up around us with all the speed and intensity of literal floods and fires.  While anticipated, the passing this past week of Ang’s mother, Jean Bryer, has been, nevertheless, a shock.  After all, can you ever really be prepared to say goodbye to someone you love?  Late night runs to the hospital with my own mother and a pending surgery of my own in the midst of ongoing needs within our community and beyond, it can feel at times like the water is rising up around my neck or that fire is licking up around me.  It is easy to identify with the problem Isaiah is describing.

But there is also the promise and the possibility.

Isaiah promises that when we find ourselves passing through the floods and fires of life we will not be alone.  Grief and challenge has a way of isolating us and making us feel alone.  And yet he promises that in these times we are not nor will not be abandoned for God will be and is even now with us.  More than this, he is not simply with us in the sense of standing on the sidelines or waiting on the other side of them at the finish line.  Instead, he is with us in the midst of them.  And he promises that the floods and fires will not be the end.  They – death and destruction – will not be the final word, for they will not wash us away or so consume us that nothing remains.  Instead, the floods and the fires we face can be like the floods and fires the people of Israel experienced in the Exodus.  They can become for us, not a place of death and destruction, but of life and transformation.  As the people in the Exodus passed through the floods and the fires they were transformed from a group of nameless, distant, and disconnected slaves into a nation of connected and free men and women who bore God’s name.  In the same way, he promises that he will take us and use even these experiences to renew and transform us more and more into the children he has called us to be.  This is the promise and the possibility God presents us with in these moments.

Floods and fires.  We all are aware of the problem from time to time.  In those times, may God help us to know the promise and the possibility that is present in them as well.

  • Joe Welty

Thinking of You and God Together

“I asked him, sir – ‘Shall I tell him you are praying for him?’ and he said, ‘No. I am not exactly praying for him, but I am thinking of him and God together.’”

Prayer is something of a mystery to each of us.  It is not so much a mystery like who built Stonehenge or killed JFK or if the city of Atlantis ever existed.  It is not so much a mystery in the sense that we don’t know what it is or how it works or if and why it exists at all.  Instead, it is a mystery like the ocean or the cosmos or life itself.  In other words, we know what it is and can describe, at least in part, how it works, but no one can possibly exhaust all that it is or does or how it came into being in the first place.

Some years ago I came across the above quote in George MacDonald’s novel, Thomas Wingfold, Curate.  It is a quote that I have found helpful in giving words to something I have experienced about prayer for nearly as long as I can remember praying.  Sometimes my prayers feel direct and precise.  Sometimes there is a specific request and a specific need and a specific sense of urgency that gives focus to my prayers and keeps me coming back to a specific sentence– “Lord, please do _____ for _____.”  But other times … many times … the request, the need, and the sense of focus can feel lacking.  A person or situation I am concerned for comes to mind, but what they need or what I should pray doesn’t come with much, if any, clarity at all.  In these moments I find myself praying, but in a way that, in MacDonald’s words, doesn’t feel so much like praying for the situation or others as it does thinking of them while also thinking about God. 

There was a time when I thought this was the poorest kind of prayer – like I was lacking in some sort of faith, ability, or effort.  But now I see it much differently.

Thinking about others and about God together can be a fruitful way to pray.  It means thinking of these people you love and are concerned for while at the same time thinking of the One who both loves and is concerned for us.  It can be a fruitful way to pray when we don’t know what to pray.  In these moments we find ourselves thinking about that situation or this loved one while also thinking about who God is and what he has done and desires.  In these moments our thoughts of God and of the person or situation run side by side like the parallel rails of a railroad track – seemingly separate and never quite connecting.  And yet, as we find ourselves thinking about the other person and what they are experiencing while also thinking about God and what we have come to experience in him or know that we have been promised to one-day experience, we find the two connecting much in the same way as the railroad tracks appear to connect the further down the line we look.  So we find ourselves thinking about things like his love and grace or patience and justice and willingness to take the first step.  As we continue to think about these things we find ourselves praying that those around us or we ourselves might know or be able to demonstrate this sort of love or grace or whatever other trait it may be.  So it can be a fruitful way to pray when we don’t know what to pray because in time we find the words to pray.

And it can be a fruitful way to pray when the words to pray never seem to come.  Those times do come when even after we pray we feel no more certain about what the person or situation needs or how we should be praying for them.  But as we think about others and God together we are reminded of ultimately Whose help is needed and Who’s example leads to life and Whose hands we entrust each other and ourselves too.  So while it may not feel like the railroad tracks ever quite connect in our minds, we know they lead in the way that is true and that they are connected at each step along the way.

So not sure what or how to pray?  Maybe try thinking about others and God at the same time and see where it leads you.

  • Joe Welty

ADVENT IV: PRINCE OF PEACE

In this season of hope we call Advent, we will prepare ourselves for Christmas by reflecting each week on the words of the Prophet Isaiah,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the governments will be upon his shoulders,

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:6

Prince is not a word we hear or use very often. Typically, when we hear this word it is referring to either an enigmatic 80’s rock star or a secondary character in a Disney movie, not someone with the initials “H.R.H” in front of their name.  On the rare occasions that we ourselves use the word, we are using it either positively for someone who has done something generous and thoughtful for us or negatively for someone who has done something selfish and thoughtless for themselves.  Like I said, it is a word we don’t tend to hear or use very often.

This is one of the luxuries of the modern age.

For much of history this was not the case as princes were very real people with very real power over others.  A prince was someone who was special and set apart – it was an office one was born into not a role you aspired to or applied for.  And a prince was someone who was important and powerful – there were long lines of people whose titles and livelihoods and even lives themselves depended on the will and whims of the prince they served.  And a prince was someone you put your hopes in – yes, your hopes for the present but also your hopes for the future as you hoped they might one day possess all of the good but none of the bad of the present monarch.

But this was rarely the case.

There are few stories of princes who were truly different than those who went before them.  Many of the princes fulfilled Samuel’s warning to the people of Israel when they asked for a king.  Samuel’s warning was essentially, “He will take and take and take.”  So he will take your crops and money and land and labour.  He will take your sons for his army and your daughters for his home.  You will always give and give and give and give.  And he will always take and take and take.  After all, the greatness of his name is measured by the monuments and the military victories that come never at the cost of his sweat or blood but always someone else’s.  Because princes always take and take and take not give and give and give.

But Isaiah spoke of a very different sort of prince who was to come.

Yes, like any other prince this one is special and set apart.  Yes, like any other prince this one is important and powerful and someone we can put our hopes in.  But he will be unlike any other prince because he is one who gives and gives and gives – the greater serving the lesser for their gain and good not his own.  Isaiah spoke of one who would not just be a prince like any other but rather the Prince of Peace.  This is to say that his rule and reign will be one that is characterized by peace.  Peace between us and him.  Peace between us and God.  Peace between us and each other.  Peace between us and the planet we live on.  He is a prince who makes this sort of peace possible by both setting an example for how this peace is achieved and by knocking down whatever barriers might stand between us and each other.  This child born in Bethlehem is the Prince of Peace who has given himself for us and for our gain and good not simply his own. 

May we experience him as our Prince of Peace as we seek to walk in the way of peace he leads us in.

  • Joe Welty

Advent III – Everlasting Father

In this season of hope we call Advent, we will prepare ourselves for Christmas by reflecting each week on the words of the Prophet Isaiah,


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,Prince of Peace.”

-Isaiah 9:6

I am writing this as I sit in a waiting room.

As a father of four, I have sat in a lot of different waiting rooms.  Fortunately, this waiting room is at a vehicle licensing centre where my oldest is taking her driver’s license road test.  I am sitting here with the usual butterflies in my stomach, hoping that the next time I see my daughter it will be with a smile on her face and not tears in her eyes.  While it is uncomfortable to wait, I know there are a lot worse waiting rooms I could be sitting in – I have sat in a few of those over the years as well.

I am a father and I try to be the best father I can be.  This has meant early morning basketball practices and late night hockey games. This has meant bracing for blind lane changes and for children who want to talk long after my own bed time never mind their own.  This has meant learning to handle long hair and young hearts with a little more gentleness than I may have handled my own over the years.  I can’t say that any of these things have come naturally so much as they have come willingly.  After all, I am a father and I love my children.  This is what I signed on for.

Being a father has also meant dealing with change. As my children grow, my carefully perfected swing-pushing and toboggan-pulling skills are no longer needed as they once were.  Instead a different set of skills are needed.  As they continue to grow towards adulthood, I know the day is coming when they will no longer need me.  When it does, I hope they will want me in their lives as I have always wanted them in mine.  As I look further ahead still, I know the day is coming when our roles will be reversed and it will be I who need them just as they once needed me.  And eventually, the day will come when I will ultimately step out of their lives completely just as they once stepped into mine. This is what it means to be a father.

Everlasting Father.

God says,“If you want to know what I am like… If you want a picture of how I see you and you should see me … then picture a father. Picture a loving parent who is present and available.  Who wants and seeks the best for you.  Who watches over you.  Who cares for you.  Who is always available for you.  Picture me in this way.”

Except there is a difference.

Our father’s fall short in ways both great and small. We push when we should have pulled or are distant when we should have been present.  And we grow old and our energies and memories and even ability to be present at all will sag and fade before being extinguished altogether.  Iwrite this is not to diminish our importance so much as to recognize our limitations.

But God is different.

God is our Eternal Father.  He is always present with us.  There is nothing beyond His control.  He does not change nor will we outgrow our need for Him.  He is our Eternal Father who loves us endlessly.  So let us turn to Him like a Father and enjoy Him just as he, incredibly, enjoys us.  And let us continue to find our hope in Him,our Eternal Father.

(P.S.  She passed!)

  • Joe Welty

Advent II: Mighty God

In this season of hope we call Advent, we will prepare ourselves for Christmas by reflecting each week on the words of the Prophet Isaiah,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

There are few moments in life as hope-giving as the birth of a child.  For nine long months we waitas bodies swell and first heart beats and kicks and turns are felt.  We treat each change and movement as a sign to be read and interpreted.  “Look!” we say, “She knows your voice and loves it when you talk.”  And, “Did you feel that?  This one is going to be a runner… or a boxer.” And even, “He doesn’t want to move or come out yet.  He must be stubborn like his father.”

And then the moment comes when child is born. If you have had the privilege of that experience, it is one you never forget.  You look down and see this beautiful,peaceful, perfect child.  In that moment you can’t help but be hopeful.  Hopeful for who this child will be.  For what they will do.  For what they will see and experience.  For what you might see and experience together with them.  In terms of hope-filled moments few can compete with the birth of a child.

Sadly, that hope-filled moment doesn’t last forever.

Sleepless nights and teething pain.  Health concerns.  The turbulence of the teenage years.  The uncertain starts and stops of setting out on their own.  Quickly we are reminded of how fragile this hope is too.  It is not that these moments drive away our sense of hope for this child we love so much as it tempers it with the recognition of just how little control either of us have to bring about this hoped for future. The desire is there but the power simply isn’t.

Perhaps it was a moment like this that Isaiah penned the words, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  Perhaps it was the announcement that the Queen had just given birth to a child – a son and heir to the throne – that first inspired him to write.  Perhaps it was the hope that comes with a new birth – the hope that this prince’s rule might be different than the corrupt and evil rule of his father, Ahaz.  Perhaps this is where he begins. 

But it is not where he stays never mind where he ends.

Instead of ending with his hopes for this child and what his reign might be like, he looks further ahead. He looks ahead to one who is not just another child like any other – that is, one who may rule with wisdom and power and love and peace only for as long as they are able.  Instead, he looks ahead to one who will be called a child and yet “Mighty God.”  He looks ahead to Jesus who would come and rule with the wisdom and power and love and peace of God himself.  He looked ahead to this one who incredibly, impossibly, and inconceivably would be God himself living and present among us.  One whose power and reign is not tempered by the frailties and limitations all other children experience.  One whose desire for us and our future is there but so also is the power to bring it about.  For ultimately our hope is not just in another child like us who will repeat the cycle of what has already been.  Our hope is in the child unlike any other.  Our hope is in God himself who, coming as a child, has the power to write a new story in us altogether.

  • Joe Welty

Advent I: Wonderful Counselor

“For to us a child is born,

In this season of hope we call Advent, we will prepare ourselves for Christmas by reflecting each week on the words of the Prophet Isaiah,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

-Isaiah 9:6

Wonderful counselor.

From time to time we all find ourselves in need of a counselor.Sometimes the counselor’s task is to console  us in our times of grief.  Other times it is to serve as a council to us when it is an outside voice of direction and guidance that we require.  Sometimes we experience a counselor in the professional, clinical form that the word has become synonymous with.  Many times we experience it simply in the informal and maybe even unexpected form of a friend across a coffee shop table or apparent on the other end of a phone line.

And what makes a good counselor?

A good counselor is one who is approachable and knows when to listen and when to speak.  They are people with the soft touch of love and compassion wrapped around the firm core of wisdom and accountability.  A good counselor possesses the skills needed to direct a conversation and can demonstrate empathy for the person sitting across from them.  All these skills make a good counselor.

But what makes a wonderful counselor?

A wonderful counselor – the very best kind of counselor – is one who has walked through what we are facing and has come through again on the other side.  A wonderful counselor doesn’t just demonstrate empathy – the ability to imagine what it is like to stand in your shoes and to suggest how you might keep standing through whatever it is you are facing. Instead, a wonderful counselor knows first hand what you are going through feels like because they themselves have experienced it and know what it is that got them through to the other side.  It is common experience that makes a wonderful counselor.

When Isaiah looked ahead to this One who was to come, he didn’t look ahead to a good counselor but a wonderful one. 

And what makes Jesus a wonderful counselor?

Among everything else about who he is, Jesus is one who doesn’t have to imagine whatever it is that you are going through.  Instead he is someone who knows first hand what it is like having been, in the words of Hebrews, “tempted in every way” and able “to sympathize with us in our weakness.” Whatever it is that we are experiencing, we find in Jesus someone who has experienced it as well.  So is it hunger or poverty or the brevity and fragility of life?  Is it rejection or abandonment by those he loved?  Is it being mistreated or misunderstood?  Is it the experience of loneliness or of not being listened to or even abandoned by God?  Jesus experienced all this firsthand even crying out to God in anguish that this cup of suffering he was about to drink from might be taken from him only to be met by the silence of God when he was told no.  We can turn to Jesus in our times of need not because he might be able to understand what we are facing and point us in a way that will get us through.  We can turn, instead, because he has experienced it and come through on the other side.  This makes him able to be our wonderful and very best sort of counselor indeed.

  • Joe Welty

Hope in an age of Hopelessness

“In a world bereft of meaning, there’s no point in pretending to be hopeful.”

This is the title of a recent essay penned by Canadian author and cultural commentator John Semley. It is a wide ranging essay that tries to connect the Philadelphia Flyers new mascot, Gritty, and internet memes and motivational sayings printed on coffee mugs to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report forecasting “an actual environmental apocalypse [that] seems both imminent, and entirely our fault.” After inviting us to connect the dots with him and take it all in, Semley observes, “The essential condition of our age is one of meaninglessness. And not just meaninglessness, but an earned,utterly validated meaninglessness.” Likewise, he says of us in our current state that the question moving forward “is not how to live, but how to die. Andmore pressingly, how to die well.” And where does he go with all this? After all this gloom, does he offer any ray of hope? Any ray of light in the midst of all the darkness? No. Instead of offering us hope, he cautions us against what he calls “the addiction of hope” – hope itself being an illusion to be seen through or a vice to be overcome. Instead he challenges us “to embrace nothope, but hopelessness” if we are going to make any “new, potent, potentially earth-changing forms of meaning.”

Hopelessness. It is not just limited to one essay written by one essayist in one newspaper.  Instead,hopelessness has become something of the spirit of the age. Once the domain of a few radical philosophers, hopelessness has gone mainstream. It is there in the news we follow and the books we read and the movies we watch. It feels like there are few if any recent books or movies that are not set in some sort of post-apocalyptic or dystopian world. Some times the hero lives to keep fighting. Other times they die as the author wants us to be confronted with what they see as the brutal reality of our world. Even a movie like Star Wars is not immune. The original Star Wars movie that launched to popular success wastitled, A New Hope.  In it the heroes of the story fight the Imperial forces and overcome in clear and dramatic fashion.Forty years later the next movie in the franchise picks up the storyline letting us know that the rebellion was a failure and everything is pretty much exactly like it was before with a new empire in place and the former rebels once again in hiding. So even this new hope leads to more of the same. Not even Hollywood is so optimistic they could see a future that is different from the past. Like I said, hopelessness has become the spirit of the age.

And yet it is into our hopeless age as much as any other that we hear declared the words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” There is reason to hope because all is not lost.  There is reason to hope for the darkness will not last forever. There is reason to hope because even now the first rays of light have broken through declaring that the future does not need to look like the past. And the source of our hope does not rest on an idea for a cause or our ability or the ability of a billionaire tech executive to figure it all out. Instead, our hope is found in a child born in a manger 2,000 years ago. The One who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. The One who is not our fleeting dream but our firm and lasting promise that God is with us and will continue to be with us both now and at the end of all time. And the One who can transform our age of hopelessness into an age of hope.

  • Joe Welty

Broadway-First Baptist Church Remembers

To see World War I Memorials, click this link  WW1 Memorials

To see World War II Memorials, click this link WW2 Memorial

Today is November 11. Today is Remembrance Day – the day that marks the end of the First World War almost exactly 100 years ago to the hour. As you look around, you have probably noticed at least a few of the 43 different memorials that we have set up throughout the sanctuary. They are memorials for individuals who absence we want to recognize.

Before we begin our service of Remembrance, let me talk a little bit about the memorials you see scattered around you.

Thisis an idea we borrowed from Letty Lawrence, a local fabric artist who has madesimilar memorials to this that are hanging throughout the city on lamp posts nearthe homes where the soldiers who served and died, lived. What we have done isput together memorials for each of the 43 young men from our congregation whoserved and died during both the First and Second World Wars. There arememorials for those who served when we were Broadway and First Baptist and for later when we were Broadway-FirstBaptist. Each memorial includes their name and date of birth and a brief descriptionthe person as we were able to piece it together from old personnel records andnewspaper clippings. I would say it was absolutely fascinating to do this, butthe word fascinating seems almost flippant considering what we are talkingabout.

It feels like I have spent this past week with many of these men … these boys really. After all this time, what can I tell you about them?

I can tell you a couple of things.

I can tell you that Broadway volunteered – we volunteered early and we volunteered often.

Everyone Volunteered. No one was conscripted, in large part I believe, because there was no one left to conscript by the time 1917 came and the Military Service Act was passed.

We volunteered early.

One of our members was among the first. Shaver Eadie, a recent widower and father of adult children, was on one of the first shiploads of troops that Canada sent in October of 1914. A handful of other people signed up for service in the days just before or just after their 18th birthday.

So we volunteered early.

And we volunteered often.

It is said that 61% of all draft eligible men in Manitoba enlisted in the War – a number that far exceeds the national average and even the next closest province, Alberta, which was just over 50%. Our congregation’s numbers certainly reflected this. If there were any draft eligible men left, they would have been few and far between.

And everyone volunteered.

They came from all over. British emigrants. A young kid from Iceland. An older man from New Zealand. The Winnipeg born son of what one paper called “an early pioneer family.” They were business owners, students, labourers, and even the son of a transplanted, wealthy, East Coast American family. They were idealistic young kids and students. They were young husbands and fathers and grieving widowers. They were green farm kids and hardened veterans of previous wars.

They were everyone.

And their service came with a terrible toll especially during WW1.

Of the at least 38 men we know served in WW1 at least 30 are confirmed to have died. There are four who died on the same day – April 9, 1917, a day of some infamy in Canada as it was the day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. And it is not just Vimy. Three others died on September 15, 1916 in the Battle of Courcelette which is part of the much bigger and more terrible Battle of the Somme where eight of our kids were killed. As you look across the room you will find familiar names like Vimy, Ypres, the Somme, and the Final Hundred Days (though with so many volunteering so early, that weren’t many left for the advance on those last 100 days).

Butthe toll was terrible – WW1 must have felt more like a reaping of everyone and everything than a selective sort of choosing.

And the Wars were indiscriminate.

A kid like Lloyd Glover signs up 11 days before his 18th birthday and is gone just 24 days after his 19th and an old veteran of the Boer War like Alfred Matthews is killed just before his 40th. The kid is killed in the big and terrible Battle of the Somme. And the old veteran? He is killed in skirmish so small that it doesn’t even rank a footnote in the history books. Or there is someone like Arthur Claydon who would earn a Distinguished Flying Cross for an act of skill and bravery on one day, only to be shot down and killed a few days later before the paperwork for his medal could begin to be processed. Or James Stout who signs on to play trumpet for the band and still doesn’t get to come home.

You Could survive for years through the horrors of Ypres, or the Somme or Vimy orAmiens only to die in the final few weeks of the war. The war didn’t care. I’m Sure it must have felt like a gaping mouth that was ready to consume any and everyone who fell into it.

So there is all this and yet one more thing I can tell you which is how deeply our congregation was touched.

With The memorials in place, you can get an idea of how many empty seats there might have been on any given Sunday. It touched the oldest and most established families here – the last names of those lost being the same as those who first met here and committed to building this place just a few years earlier. And it touched people who were new to this community as well – people who from all I can tell, barely, if ever warmed a pew before they were off and gone.

And even our building itself cannot escape being touched by the events of those days.

You may be familiar with the story of our building. In the spring of 1914 the decision was made to tear down the small wood structure we had been meeting in and to replace it with this much larger and impressive one. You may know the story of how the original building was torn down in May and the new building began to take shape that summer only to be put on hold at some point in August or September when the war broke out and workers and resources and money disappeared. Remarkably the work was completed shortly enough after for the first service to be held here on the second Sunday in November – or exactly 104 years ago today as well.

I came across an additional connection I didn’t know. One of the founding members of the church was a man named Ebenezer Claydon. Ebenezer was a deacon and also a builder who ran the company Claydon Bros General Contracting with his partner and brother, Arthur.

It became Ebenezer and Arthur’s job to build this building.

Shortly after completing this building, Arthur enlisted along with many of the workers who laid the beams and the bricks all around us. Arthur, like so many others, would not return. I doubt he was here long enough for one of the pews to become “his.”

This building is built for the glory of God. And it also reflects the context it was built in.

So it was … we have been … deeply touched.

So we remember these people and events and sacrifices this morning.

I CAN’T DO IT

“I can’t do it.” This is a familiar refrain in our house. It is used often by my kids about homework, household chores, and getting up for school in the morning.  I can’t blame them for it – I used it lot as a kid too.  I still do.  There are still times when a task comes up, a project needs to be planned or executed, a conversation needs to be had, or a potential conflict needs to be stepped into and this familiar refrain comes quickly back to mind. And no, it is not typically spoken so clearly or brashly as it once was.  But it is there, lingering somewhere in that space between my head and my heart. There are just some things that feel beyond our ability to do them.  Thankfully, I was recently reminded that, when these words come to mind, I am in good company.

“I can’t do it.” The Apostle Paul uses these words for the task that we as Christians have been given.  In 2 Corinthians 2 he is writing in a very personal way about the very personal and very practical challenges of being a less than perfect church in a less than perfect world. As he writes, he is aware of the personal and moral and spiritual conflict that can exist within the Christian community – and not just conflict that can but does exist in the community he is writing to. He is writing in part to try and mend fences between himself and this group of Christians after a series very difficult series of conversations. As he writes, he is also aware that this is the very community who is also given the task of being Christ’s witness and presence in the world. He speaks of how Christians are to be like “the aroma of Christ” – that is, people should be able to “catch the scent of Christ” on us like we might catch the scent of a loved one’s perfume or cologne on their jacket or in the room they just left. And this aroma is to be “the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere,” a scent that for some will feel like an experience of life and for others like a reminder of death. This is no small task.  And Paul recognizes this is especially no small task for a less than perfect church like Corinth with its less than perfect leader like himself.  So Paul writes, “Who can do this?” Or, to read a little between the lines, he is saying, “I can’t … we can’t … do this!” That is on our own this is simply too much. It is simply impossible.  So what can or what should we do instead? Paul suggests that instead of perfect, we should pursue sincerity.  He says that rather than focusing on trying to be perfect, we should instead focus on being sincere. So we should speak honestly, genuinely, sincerely about what we have come to find and are continuing to find in Christ in the midst of all the imperfect ways that we live this out on our own and together.

“I can’t do it.” These are welcome words because I can’t be enough on my own nor can we be enough together. We can’t be perfect friends and family members, perfect parents and children. We can’t be perfect Christ-followers and church leaders, perfect hosts and caregivers and witnesses and worship leaders both in our congregation and beyond. We can’t be a perfect church. But we can be a sincere one. One who sincerely points to the One who is perfect and whose grace is more than enough for our imperfections. And when we do this with sincerity, Christ’s “aroma” has a way of lingering on us.

  • Joe Welty