Commemoration of St. Athanasius, the man who stood against the world to proclaim that Jesus is one with the Father, of the same substance, God of God and Light of Light, who suffered much for that confession and refused to compromise it, thanks be to God! And today we have the joy of welcoming the participants in the LCEF High School Entrepreneur Competition. Welcome and best wishes to each of you as you persuasively share your bright ideas and good solutions!
Our liturgy today is the Service of Prayer and Preaching. Hymnals are under the chairs in front of you. We turn to page 260. Please stand.
Ephesians 5:15–21 (ESV): 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I hope you will pardon a redo of the text, but if I were trying to get its meaning into English, it would run rather along these lines:
Watch out how you're walking, not like blind lost fools who don't know where they're headed, but as people with smarts who know exactly the destination of this trip called life. So don't get side-tracked in all the diversions, because these days the diversions are massively enticing and they meet you at every turn. So don't be dummies. Grasp what the Lord's will is. And it's not getting plastered with wine (or anything like that), because that never furthers the journey, that's just a waste and you know it. Instead, let God intoxicate you with His Spirit as He keeps pouring Him into you and as a result you open your mouths and talk to each other and all kinds of music erupts: psalms and hymns and spirit songs, singing with your mouths but above all tuned in to the vibe of the Lord in your heart, so that thanksgiving resonates, literally rings out from you all the time and for every last thing to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and remembering in the fear of Jesus, —because He's the Lord, not you—to be humble and so dump your own agenda for others and adopt His.
Okay, so that's not a good translation. It's not even a paraphrase, but it's my best shot at getting us into the mind of Paul this morning.
Watch how you walk. Don't know about you, but I love walking, and do it most every single day. And I have a goal. Gotta get meet my vitality numbers. If I don't hit 10K, the wife and I will walk around the inside of our house in circles. Yeah, we're that silly. And Paul's pointing out how easy it is to do that in life itself. We forget where we're headed and end up going nowhere. Isaiah 35 is one of my favorite passages. It talks about where we're headed as coming home to Zion. And that's sweet. But there's more. I think Paul wants you to see the open arms of your Jesus, waiting for you. Waiting to hold you. Waiting to show you all that He died and rose again to give you. He's your goal. Those open arms. Stay focused on them, Paul is saying. And he knows how easily it is to forget that. To get distracted, diverted by all the sideshows, and so to waste what life is here for. Life is not here for you to down the third martini or smoke the fourth bowl of weed. You ever watch a person who's high or drunk try to walk, let alone dance with rhythm and grace? Me either. The Father's got something bigger and better for you than that or any other diversion of this life. He's given you Jesus. And to get you to your Jesus, the Father pours out the Spirit. Get drunk on Him, Paul says, swallow Him down again and again.
Can't help but wonder if Paul was thinking about the story that John tells in chapter 7, when the great day of the feast arrives and Jesus disrupts the liturgy right as they're pouring out the water. Are you thirsty? Then you need to come to me and let the one who believes in me drink, for as the Scripture say, out of His heart will flow rivers of living water. John adds: This He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.
Drink down some Spirit then. In the LXX of the 23 Psalm, the text doesn't say that my cup overflows, it says, and His cup of inebriation, how sweet it is! That's the Spirit!
And the Spirit he gets us going, moving, walking in step with Jesus and toward Jesus with music. He wants us sing it to each other. So don't be one of those lame Christians who plants their posterior in a pew and scowls in silence at the hymn book as music is coaxing you to move. Music is a we thing, not a me thing. All the verbs here are running in the second person plural. Y'all open those mouths and use them to sing God's Word into each other. Yes, you. You know who you are. The Spirit's vibes attune us to the beating heart of God Himself. You know, I said I like to walk. I've lately discovered Lindsey Stirling and her magic violin and now she's what I walk to most days and have you ever noticed how when you're walking with music, the music changes how you walk. You move your body in synch with the vibes that are washing over you. Paul says that's how it is with the Spirit and it shows up not just in what we say to each other and sing to each other, but he mentions two things that mark the person who is grooving with the Spirit:
Thanksgiving. Everything is gift. All the time. Never stops. The person whose heart beats with God and in whom the Spirit sings, that's a life that's got eyes open to see the gift that is Jesus to whom we're headed AND how all encompassing He is. In the twin letter to the one we read from today, in Colossians, Paul says everything hangs together in Him and that He is everything and in everything. The point of it all. The heartbeat of Jesus is the music of the cosmos; it rings through it all and was opened right there on the tree when He poured out His blood: I love you. I forgive you. You are precious to me. You are mine. Forever. I will never let anything separate you from me. It's the most amazing love song ever sung, and when you hear it and your heart begins to beat with its rhythm, you realize that His gifts shower down on you nonstop. And your life fills up and overflows with gratitude. If He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not along with Him freely give us all things? Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!
So thanksgiving, but also humility. The vibe of Jesus is humble. It puts the kibosh on using others, manipulating them, insisting on your own will and getting it by hook or by crook. That gets to die in the fear of Christ (which for some unknown reason the ESV softens to reverence; it's not reverence, it's phobos; fear like a phobia), in the fear of Christ we put ourselves in service to others and ask them: Tell me what I can do to help you here, what would be a blessing to you now? There's no fear here of being turned into a doormat. There's only the fear of not pleasing the One who went to the Cross for us, the One who is the Lord and who invites our lives into doxology also in the way we treat each other.
I think in this passage from Ephesians 5, Paul was hearing the melody and beat of Isaiah 35. We're marching to Zion. Marching home. Home to Jesus with His wide open arms. So no getting distracted by what's going on beside the way, all that's beside the point. And for heaven's sake, help each other along as we walk arm in arm by singing the songs that vibrate with the heart-beat of God in human flesh. A heart that began beating in the Virgin's womb, felt silent on Golgotha, but that now beats forevermore, filled with a love that animates this universe, inspires our song and calls us home to endless thanksgiving and humble service.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Hymn: 669 "Come We That Love the Lord"
For all who cry out for the healing of Christ upon their bodies especially Roger, Ruth, Allen, Jan, and those we name in our hearts…. Let us pray to the Lord: R.
For Pr. Roger and Amy James in Sri Lanka and for all missionaries that Christ would sustain them in the difficulties they encounter, fill their hearts with His joy, and make them lively witnesses to His resurrection, let us pray to the Lord: R.
For the work of LCEF in fostering a spirit of innovative service among the young people of the church, let us pray to the Lord: R.