Sermon for August 19, 2012

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 15, Aug. 19, 2012

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:6-21

Sermon Theme: “Walk Carefully and Make Music”

(Sources: Anderson, Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 22, Part 3, Series B; Believer’s Commentary)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I taught English composition, students would tell me that the hardest thing for them to do was write a synopsis, which is a very, very brief summary that encapsulates the message of a longer piece of writing in a few sentences.

So I want to begin today by giving the gist of today’s sermon text in a very short synopsis. Here it is: In today’s text, Paul warns his children in the faith to watch carefully their manner of living. They are to live wisely and not be fools who are carried away with drunkenness and debauchery. The secret to wise living is to be possessed by God’s Spirit, who puts music in their hearts.

The synopsis gives us a broad view before we focus in on a practical and useful closeup.

Paul warns us to look carefully how we walk. Paul’s statement acknowledges that there are dangers as well as opportunities in this walk known as life.

First, let us take a look at the dangers. Since moral and spiritual pitfalls and mine fields abound, we need to wend our way with great care and precision. Yet we tend to walk throughout our life with great abandonment. Our text implores us to walk as children of the light in this world of spiritual darkness.

In the text, Paul says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.”

When Christ, who is the light that shines in the darkness, is in us, we too become lights for the world. Our text says that the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true, thus prefacing what Paul says a few passages later in Ephesians about the fruits of the Spirit, as the Spirit and the Light are the same.

You’d better believe that this dark world has many allurements and traps, carefully set by Satan, just waiting for us. He knows exactly what bait to use to appeal to our lust, our greed, our selfishness, our hedonism. I have heard many people say the day after a big party, “When I get drunk, I usually do something I am really ashamed of the next day.” That response comes from God’s natural Law written in our hearts. Faith keeps us directly connected to God’s will and to seek all that is good and right and true.

When Paul says, “Look carefully then how you walk,” he cautions us to be wise rather than unwise. The true biblical meaning of the Greek word used by Paul for “wise” implies a God connection. True wisdom can only be found in the mind of God, therefore God-less people can only be unwise, never wise.

In our earthly walk, we must make the most of our time (Paul sounds urgent when he says this), because opportunities missed are opportunities lost. That’s the second consideration for our walk on this earth.

We really need to heed Paul‘s urging us to make the best use of our time, because Americans do not do that very well. A recent study by Canadian Psychologist Piers Steele found that 26% of the American public view themselves as procrastinators. Founder of Pennsylvania William Penn once wrote: “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” And Irish actor Dion Boucicault wrote, “Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.” Yet God calls us to do exciting things.

Paul begins our text by saying, “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” Empty words waste time and accomplish nothing.

There is a story about a man who spent his whole life telling other people about the castle that he lived in . He described just how immense and wonderful this awe-inspiring castle was. So one day some people decided to go out and surprise that man and take a look at this castle that they had heard so much about.

But when they go there, much to their surprise, they discovered that there was no castle. Instead they found that the man lived in a shack. In our sermon text, we are admonished to consider how we actually live our lives, and warned not to deceive ourselves with empty words.

Empty words, as well as words that deceive, come out of the mouths of those who live in darkness, and sometimes out of the mouths of those exposed to the light come empty words. As our text says, we must try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord and take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Paul concludes our sermon text by essentially saying, you will know them by their music. In other words, the lives of those who do not know God are characterized by dissonance and disharmony, and that is also true of the life of the fool. The Child of Christ, however, has a melody in his or her heart and a song of praise and thanksgiving to God on his lips.

I once saw a plaque that said, “A friend is someone who hears the song in my heart and sings it for me when my memory fails.” Isn’t that what Christian love really is?

Along with spiritual songs, Paul specifically mentions psalms, the Old Testament songs of praise and thanksgiving, which were sung responsively in the Temple, in the synagogues, and in the home churches. We would call this liturgical singing or liturgy. Here we have scriptural support for such singing.

Liturgical singing is laced with alleluias, and it was St. Augustine who said many years ago, “A Christian ought to be an Alleluia from head to toe.” Thus our walking in the light propels us to joyful worship and, as Paul says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Martin Luther believed that the Word of God is enhanced with the aid of music to impress it on the mind and heart. Since ancient times, the psalms have been sung as God’s own Words given us that we might express the pains, the hopes, and pleadings of our hearts. Sometimes, plain words just don’t do it! They don’t express “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,” as Paul said in Romans 11.

Acts 13:52 says that the Spirit-filled life is a fountain, bubbling over with joy. For example, when Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit, he sang with all his heart to the Lord. Another joyful, spirit-filled song to the Lord was the Virgin Mary’s song, now called the Magnificat, which she sang during her visit to Elizabeth. It is now part of our liturgy, so that we too can feel the joy the mother of Jesus felt.

All of the songs in the Bible were motivated by a deep faith and deeply felt emotions. I have no doubt whatsoever that these songs were spontaneously sung by the people the Bible says sang them, that the singing flowed out of a Spirit-filled heart. For the most part, we don’t do that anymore, do we? Oh, a few people I know do. We have too many gadgets, and we listen to music on I-tunes rather than sing our own. I’ll bet that if Mary were living in today’s world, instead of responding with a song flowing out of her heart, she’d probably text five or six of her best friends on her I-phone!

Walking in the light of Christ is to walk as children of God with purpose. It’s the walk of repentance and faith. We live in the forgiveness of all our deeds done in darkness with no wholesome purpose, and we invite the world to the glorious light of salvation in Jesus Christ. That walk and that invitation are so joyous that we might just put down our I-phones and break into songs of thanksgiving to God and encourage one another in that life and walk. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.