A Sermon for 19 August 2018
A reading from Ephesians 5:15-20. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I’ll never forget the ministry moment from a few years back. A church member told me about a health scare they were undergoing. The situation had the potential to be quite serious and we both were pretty worried! Eventually the person let me know that the tests were back; it was just something minor a medication should alleviate. What a relief! . . . I can’t count the number of times in my life as a pastor that this scenario has played itself out. Nor have I tracked the numerous times when the news wasn’t so good. In nearly 25 years of pastoring close to 3,000 different people, it’s been a lot of awaiting scary test results and unexpected surgeries and emergency room trips and oncology visits and funerals and job losses and shattered dreams and heartaches. I don’t intend to make light of any one of our life-altering challenges. They’re all awful! They’re all unwelcome and every one of us just does the best we can to cope as we are able when the storms of life rage. Some days it’s easier than others. What sticks out about this one instance is the rest of the story. Grateful for the news that the health situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been, this person declared: “I am so excited to get to worship this week just to thank God!” . . . We could get all caught up in a debate over whether or not the response would have been the same had the test results turned out differently. No matter. “I am so excited to get to worship this week just to thank God” was a message that certainly stood out. . . . How often do any of us hear or say those words?
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God!!!” The test results were clear. My friend picked up the phone when I needed most to talk to someone. The paycheck came before the mortgage was due. The traffic was merciful when I was running late to get to my child’s school play. The principal let me into the class I really needed in order to graduate on time. I passed the test. The boss gave the raise. The hot weather broke. We could go on and on. And it seems quite a shame that we don’t more often. A lot of us come here to worship to see our fellow congregants. Or to enjoy the music. Or to do our duty as usher, or liturgist, or Fellowship Coffee provider, or maybe even just to be a warm body in the pew. O for a world – each one of us – every Sunday entering this sanctuary excited to say THANK YOU to God this day!
There’s an old hymn in the maroon Presbyterian Hymnal that some of you may know. It’s called: “Safely Through Another Week.” Interestingly, its tune name is SABBATH. “Safely through another week,” worshippers sing, “God has brought us on our way; let us now a blessing seek, waiting in God’s courts today: day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest; day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.” I love the line too about “Here afford us, LORD, a taste of our everlasting feast,” and “May Thy gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints; make the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints.” In 1774, John Newton wrote the words. In 1824, Lowell Mason completed the tune. . . . You may know John Newton, who lived a rowdy life and eventually got involved in the slave trade business – where he excelled. Then, one day in his travels; he learned of some Wesley brothers whose hearts were strangely warmed and henceforth were on fire with the Spirit of God. Before you know it, Newton underwent a life-changing conversion to the way of Christ. Eventually he wrote some words about it that were set to music and still inspire us as a most beloved hymn today. Newton’s infamous song is called “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.” . . . “Safely Through Another Week” and “Amazing Grace” for that matter, capture the kind of gratitude to God that the letter of Ephesians encourages.
“Make the most of the time,” Ephesians 5:16 purports, as you sing and make melody and approach our God with a perpetual attitude of thanksgiving. One commentator summarizes: Christians’ “primary obligation is to praise God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, G. Porter Taylor, p. 352). In fact, such thankful worship “redeems the time. It orients (us) to the Almighty and keeps our life in right relation” (Ibid.). Coming here to give thanks, that I’m-so-excited-to-get-to-worship-Sunday-just-to-thank-God attitude is the way we are created to live.
If you were here last week, you heard me say it then. All that we know points to the conclusion that the epistle of Ephesians was a letter that was circulated among the early churches in Asia Minor. Probably not written by the Apostle Paul, but by one trained by him. The writer knew that all Christians everywhere need the kind of encouragement given in this little New Testament letter. The writer knew that from the beginning of the church until now, so much can pull us off center each day. If it’s not the awaiting test results, then maybe it’s the pressures of work, or family, or friends. It can be a huge challenge to get through one day – let alone seven each week – with an attitude of thanksgiving intact. . . . Ephesians reminds: we were called by God to a great hope (Eph. 1:18). We were and are destined for adoption as God’s children (Eph. 1:5). We have an amazing inheritance from God: life here and now and forevermore! God’s grace has saved us (Eph. 2:5) so that today we can be set free from the ways of death. Right now, in this world, we can live – fully alive in joy – knowing our forgiveness already has been worked out! For all of us, Ephesians 2:11-22 assures, circumcised and uncircumcised alike. No matter who we are, regardless of the world situation into which we were born: we are members of the household of God! Precious. Honored. Beloved! . . . Thus: we are to live worthy of that gift (Eph. 4:1). To be renewed daily in the spirit of our minds to live in the likeness of our merciful God (Eph. 4:22-23). “Do not be unwise,” we hear in our reading for today. For our time is limited. Make the most of it by living filled with the Spirit of God! Giving thanks. Singing praise. Approaching it all in utter, excited thanksgiving! (Eph. 5:15-20). . . . Take note that not one single thing in the list of blessings in Ephesians has anything to do with our bank accounts, our physical health, or our life circumstances. Which is great news because all of those wax and wane throughout our days. Nonetheless, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. God’s mercy never comes to an end!” (Lam. 3:22).
We know that many have very heavy burdens to carry. The tests don’t always come back clear. We don’t always catch the break we’re hoping for. . . . Nevertheless, it takes 21 times to develop a habit. 21 days – just three short weeks of our lives , if it’s a daily discipline we’re seeking to incorporate. If we want to move from waking up each morning disgruntled, dejected, and depressed to living each day full of thanks – on fire with gratefulness, overflowing with gratitude to God – no matter the details of our lives! Do it 21 times and see what happens. . . . It has been written that “We shape our experience by what we bring to it, how we receive it, and how we are in the habit of responding to it. To a significant extent, mood is what we make it” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, Paul V. Marshall, p. 352). . . . We can be a people who approach each moment in great thanksgiving – not glibly, ignoring the realities of our lives. But with sheer grit and determination, we can give thanks – honestly, in all circumstances! And if we can’t yet, then at the least, we can pray for God to give us eyes to see that for which we can give thanks no matter what. Awareness of what has come as blessing after life has fallen apart. Patience to wait as long as necessary to catch a glimpse of the ways God will redeem even the worst experiences of life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us endeavor to be filled with the Spirit, giving thanks at all times, in everything. For our time is short. Come what may, may our lives proclaim: Thank you, thank you, thank you God!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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