Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15
August 16, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:6-21
Sermon Theme: “Be Wise, Not Unwise, and Live a Life of Celebration and Thankfulness”
(Sources: Brokhof, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Online Sermon Humor; Online Stewardship of Life Jokes; Personal Email; “The Kingdom of God Is A Party” by Tony Campolo.)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, we continue to mine the great reservoir of advice that is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, starting a couple verses from where we left off last Sunday. In today’s text, Paul offers us four exhortations: One, don’t associate with those who live in darkness (he’s referring to the pagan gentiles, who live in mental and moral darkness), but walk as children of light; Two, be wise, not unwise; in other words, live as a people of wisdom; Three, Avoid drunkenness and debauchery (something the heathens in Ephesus were known for); and Four, live a life filled with celebration and thankfulness.
Paul is speaking to his readers as the Body of Christ rather than as individuals. You know congregations take on a demeanor, a personality. Just as the heathens in their temple had a demeanor of debauchery, each Christian congregation takes on a demeanor, usually a Christ-like one, but not always.
Using picture language, we could describe some congregations as “mustangs”; some as “weasels”; some, “chickens”; some as “greedy hogs” and some as “well-mannered sheep who follow Christ.” The list could go on.
Some congregations say by their actions who they are: “Here at First Lutheran Church, we welcome all denominations, — but mainly we prefer twenties and fifties.”
When Pastor Johnson moved to town, the local community service club honored him at a dinner. To have some fun, members tinkered with his name tag, listing his occupation as “Hog Caller.” Everyone at the dinner snickered as the name tag was presented to him with fanfare.
Pastor Johnson just smiled graciously, stood up and said to the assembly, “I am usually called “the Shepherd of the SHEEP, . . . but I guess you know your people better than I do.”
Paul wants us to be people of light, people of wisdom. But before you dash out and go enroll in college, we need to understand what Paul meant by that. Our Old Testament lection for today helps us to understand what being wise, or what “true wisdom” really is. “Wisdom” and “knowledge” are not the same thing, — you can have knowledge without having wisdom.
Our Old Testament text from Proverbs helps us there. It says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” “Wisdom” is knowledge PLUS a solid connection with God. Knowledge without a right relationship with God can never be wisdom, because Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom.
The Reverend Doctor Nathaniel C. W. Hedgewood, seminary professor and author of theological books, was hired to preach at an annual Baptist Revival. At the end of the service, the Reverend Doctor greeted each person at the door. One of the older ladies in the congregation shook his hand and said, “Sir, when they told me we were having one of those professor types to peach our revival, I was not expecting to get much out of it. But may I say that for a PhD, you preach like a man with no education at all.”
Let me sum up what Paul’s letter teaches.
First, Paul says not to associate with those who live in darkness. I think he should qualify that more, and say, ‘Unless you are a strong Christian, don’t associate with those living in darkness.’ Certainly seasoned Christians need to witness to those in moral and mental darkness. Most of the congregations in Paul’s circuit were made up of recent converts, and there was certainly the danger of converted pagans returning to their pagan ways. Paul wanted the congregations to understand how their lives in Christ were different from their previous life.
Second, Paul says, ‘Be wise, not unwise, that is, live as people of wisdom. Yeah. Easier said than done.
There’s an old Middle Eastern Proverb which echoes Paul’s advice; it goes like this:
“He that knows not and knows not that he knows not; he is a fool – shun him!
“He that knows not and knows that he knows not; he is simple – teach him!
“He that knows and knows not that he knows; he is asleep – wake him!
“He that knows and knows that he knows; he is a wise man – follow him!” God sent us some of those in the form of Paul, Peter, John, Luke, etc.
Believing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Paul would want us to begin with the knowledge of, and faith in, God’s Son Jesus whose death on the cross was propitiation of our sins.
Third, avoid drunkenness and debauchery. This was a necessary admonition to the Ephesians and others in the Circuit, because one of the most loved pagan gods was the Greek god Dionysius, called “Bacchus” by the Romans, the god of wine and fertility. Worshipping him included over-indulgence in wine and sex with the temple prostitutes. Christians drank wine, but in moderation, and fornication and adultery were forbidden by the Ten Commandments.
Fourth and last, live a life filled with celebration and thankfulness. Avoiding drunkenness and debauchery does not mean becoming the “frozen chosen,” as Missouri Synod Lutherans sometimes have been called.
In a time when so much of what Lutherans, Catholics, and other denominations do in worship is dry, drab, and dull, we have to be reminded of what the Bible teaches and what Tony Campolo wrote about in “The Kingdom of God Is A Party.” Of course, it’s not the kind of party that went on in the Temples of Dionysius and Aphrodite in Asia Minor in Paul’s day. No. It’s not drunkenness and debauchery!
In “The Kingdom of God Is A Party,” Tony Campolo points out that when Jesus first came into this world, He proclaimed that He had come so that our joy would be abounding. In describing His kingdom, He said it was like a wedding feast, and He was the bridegroom. It was a celebration, like the one in which He performed His first miracle, — changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Jewish wedding celebrations, like the one Jesus participated in, went on for days.
Campolo also reminds us that when people repent, give themselves to Jesus, and become a new creation, Scripture says in essence that there’s a party in heaven, because the angels gather together and celebrate the rebirths!
He reminds us, too, of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the wayward son comes home and tells his father he is no longer worthy to be called his son, that he has sinned against heaven and his father, Daddy says, ‘Put a robe on this kid, put some rings on his fingers, barbecue a fat calf, we’re going to party.’
Campolo continues with Zacchaeus and many more examples, with the point being, “The Kingdom of God Is A Party!” But not the kind held in the Temple of Dionysius!
Paul says in our text, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God, the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Mosley said he once saw a poster which read, “A friend is someone who hears the song in my heart and sings it for me when my memory fails.” And for the Christian, the song in our hearts is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God. That’s the way the Body of Christ works! So, be wise, not unwise, and live a life of celebration and thankfulness. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.