First Congregational Church August 16, 2015 12th Sunday after Pentecost Ephesians 5:15-20 “Making the Most” Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It was roughly thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection that the apostle Paul, most likely from a prison cell, wrote a letter to the non-Jewish church in Ephesus. It was written to help the people understand that in God’s eyes, heredity and religious practice weren’t important when it came to God’s love. Paul also reminded his audience that since they now belonged to Christ, they had to start living their lives differently. They were to distance themselves from immorality and strive for spiritual purity. It was “how” they were to live their lives, that by their actions non-followers of Christ would recognize them. Knocking on people’s doors and leaving leaflets was not what Paul had in mind.
Ephesians 5:15-20 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Bob. There are so many topics one could pick out of this passage. If I recall correctly, it was the book of Colossians was one that was assigned in seminary as our first year preaching text. And sure enough, I got the one with psalms, hymns and songs. The seminary I attended was a Baptist General Conference school, which means more conservative, so when I showed up to preach in slacks, shirt, green jacket and silk necktie with piano keys running down it, I’m pretty sure they didn’t really know what to make of me.
Incidentally, I think that the differentiation between the three types or music is between subject matter, depth and audience. Having thrown that early sermon out, I sort of remember that psalms were specific to those from that Old Testament book or other direct scripture passages, hymns are deeper, with more theological meat in them, sung in praise to God, like “Holy, Holy, Holy,” or “Rejoice, the Lord Is King.” Spiritual songs are those that are more personal in nature, like, “I Love You, Lord,” or “Jesus Loves Me.”
It struck me, reading the passage this week again, how the same part popped out,”of speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit.” This time, my brain went for conversations using only song titles: “On the Road Again,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” “I Will Follow You,” “I’m In a New York State of Mind.” So I’ve just given you all the example of how you can come up with your own musical conversation, when the sermon is really bad, using hymn titles right in front of you.
Or perhaps you might could become more attuned to using hymn titles in regular everyday conversations, like the one Sunday, a pastor asked his congregation to consider giving a little extra in the offering plate. He said that whoever gave the most would be able to pick out three hymns.
After the offering plates were passed, the pastor noticed that someone had contributed a $100 bill. Extremely grateful, he wanted to personally thank the generous person before the whole congregation.
A quiet, elderly widow shyly raised her hand. The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly she made her way to the pastor. He told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and asked her to pick out three hymns. She looked over the congregation and pointed, “I’ll pick him, and him and him.”
Or, as it says in verse 6, “making the most of every opportunity,” there was the Sunday morning when a preacher was completing a temperance sermon: with great expression he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river.” With even greater emphasis, he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river.” And then, finally, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and throw it into the river." He sat down. The organist then, very boldly, began the prelude to the closing hymn #365: 'Shall We Gather At the River.’"
More seriously, I don’t know that I would agree with Paul’s statement, that the days are evil. I would be more apt to say that the days are. Whether they are evil or not is not the point as much as our reaction to them. And yes we do well to be wise and do God’s will.
So the question becomes, I think, how do we live wisely and understand God’s will? Paul answer is simple —“be filled with the Spirit,” which can be equally vague. To accomplish that, Paul gives us a stunning analogy. It’s like being drunk on wine. (For those of you suddenly sitting a little straighter, don’t get all excited..Paul doesn’t include this prohibition on getting drunk because that is such a terrible sin, but because it is such a helpful comparison. When a person becomes drunk, they come under the influence of alcohol. They lose control of their mind and body, so that they act differently than they would if you were sober. When we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit; when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we acted differently then when we aren’t filled that way.
While Paul doesn’t give us the exact manner in which we become filled with the spirit, he does tell us what the results are. These words may sound like commands, but they are really descriptive participles, as the grammar people say. People filled with the Holy Spirit are speaking people, singing people and making music people, and giving thanks people.
Those who are filled with the Spirit speak to one another in a distinctive way. It’s like when two people are standing in front of you, speaking in Swedish or Russian or even pig Latin. It makes you want to magically learn that same language so you can understand what you don’t get. We may not know exactly what Paul means, but we get the impression. Our conversation with each other should be like music.
Stan Mast, from Calvin Theological Seminary, suggested that “our relationship with God must literally be filled with music—“singing and making music in your heart to the Lord.” He went on to say, “What a wonderful way to characterize our walk with the Lord—not grim duty, not costly sacrifices, not reluctant reverence, not fearful distance, but heartfelt singing.”
That’s a very nice thought, unless you’re having a really bad day, like when you are on vacation and the other person in the boat with you has been catching fish all day, and you’ve merely been fishing and the chauffeur. I’m sure many of you understand that feeling, the other person has been catching nice walleyes all day, you’ve been battling the wind and motor so that person could have a good time, but golly-gee-whiz, it would be nice to have more to your credit than a small perch and two lousy pike.
So you make the most of your choices - to grumble or make music. It’s sort of like taking life’s lemons and making lemonade, but with a song, you can make up imaginary costumes and Broadway scenery.
Two gall-darn pike, and a small perch, it just wasn’t my day. Changing the lures, using fresh bait, things weren’t going my way.
The wind was a blowing, the sun was hot, nary a fish had I caught. And then, a tug - fish on.
Three stupid pike, and a small perch, it was looking quite bleak. This was supposed to be the place, and the gut bucket reeked.
I valiantly kept up my chin, again by the church was where to begin And then, the tug - fish on
Four fetid pike and a small perch Five bleeping pike, and a small perch
In the interest of time, you can mentally fill in the final chorus and big finish when I finally caught a walleye and could finally go home. None of us are Rogers or Hammerstein, but “Little Shop of Horrors” isn’t a title that sounds like the fame it has received. Who knows? Your song - about your day - could bring an offering to this church that would surprise all of us!
Making the most of this heat and humidity allows for long, comfortable visits in the shade with a cold beverage at hand. Or this weather allows for making the most of that investment called a boat or lawn chair and beach cooler.
Even when we are unwise and foolish, we have the opportunity to make the most of the situation. Even when you are standing in the boat when you should be sitting, even when you are getting into the boat and you should be waiting on the dock for the other person to sit down and you end up dumping the boat and most of the contents into the lake, and after assessing any injury, and after laughing hilariously, you realize the valuable reminder you become for other people and the sermon illustration is perfect because it’s yours and real.
It’s an ordinary day. It will probably be - by most accounts - an ordinary week. But ours is an extraordinary God who enables us to learn and relearn, to sing or make a joyful noise, to live our lives making the most of what lies in our path. So shall we pray?
Gracious and Great God, we are grateful for passages of scripture like this one today, that we are reminded to live within rules so we don’t fall out of boats, and yet, live life to overflowing. For those times last week when we didn’t live up to our identity as your children, we ask for your forgiveness. And for those times when we know we did well, thank you for the reminder of keeping perspective, so that our heads don’t become too big. In whatever ways you may need us this week, we ask for your clear guidance and encouragement, that we may make the most of those opportunities and sing full on, whether silently or aloud. For all these things and all the blessing you bestow so graciously on us, all your children say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.