This is the sermon I preached Sunday, Aug.16 at St. Timothy's and St. Mark's. The text is Ephesians 5:10-20.
One of my seminary professors, Dr. Marty Stevens, told the story of her experience at church in Gettysburg one Sunday. She was talking with a woman who had retired from teaching at the seminary. Full of enthusiasm, Dr. Stevens asked this woman what she was expecting God to do this Sunday in worship. The bewildered retired professor said she didn't know. She didn't come to worship with any particular type of expectation. All she did was come to church. She asked Dr. Stevens, "What do you expect?" Dr. Stevens replied, "I expect miracles!"
What do you expect when you come to church? Do you believe God is real and his presence is here in this place and everyplace we go? Do you simply come to church with no expectations or do you expect miracles? I have a feeling that many of us have gotten so used to the routine of coming to church that we have gotten into the rut of not expecting anything to happen. We need to move ourselves both individually and as a congregation out of our doldrums and into the land of the miraculous.
What expectation do we bring with us? Do we believe God is real and his presence is here in this place and everyplace we go? We read that amazing, miraculous things took place in the time of the early church. The stories we read in Acts and elsewhere may make us scratch our heads. Miracles happened then. Why don't they happen now? Do they happen and do we actually recognize them?
In our sophisticated 21st century way of thinking, do we try to explain the miraculous and supernatural as ordinary, everyday, technologically accomplished things? We've all geared the expression that you can't see the forrest for the trees. Let's take that analogy one step further. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in trying to unexplain the supernatural that we don't even see the leaves on the tree. We are so driven to naturalize the supernatural that when a miracle happens, we don't recognize it and we miss it.
Miracles don't have to be flashy to be a miracle. The conception of a sperm and an egg into a human baby is a miracle. A teenager in the ghetto not taking drugs, that's a miracle. Doctors working on cancer patients, that's a miracle. A special needs child learning to read, that's a miracle. A single mom graduating from college, that's a miracle. Now of course, we have the flashy examples. Someone with a brain tumor having the tumor disappear. Someone walking away from the most horrific car accident. People showing love where one would expect hate.
Today's reading from Ephesians concerns wisdom. Having wisdom is the foundation for everything in this passage. We are to be wise concerning God's time, God's will and God's Holy Spirit.
We are called to be wise, but what does that mean? At times we look around our world with all its modern technology and think it is a sign of wisdom. We are amazed at what we can see from outer space. However, that is not wisdom. It is a sign of knowledge and humanity's ability to create. Knowledge discovers if we can do something. Wisdom asks, should we do something?
We are to be wise regarding God's time. We live in a culture that makes us feel there is never enough time. We constantly rush, with every moment of time dedicated to being connected and productive.Multi-tasking has become the normal way of life. We have to bring our cerll phones with us wherever we go, so we are in constant communication with work, with others and with our children. No longer do we have quiet time to ourselves. Gone are the days where we simply can do one task at a time. This is not how life was meant to be. How does texting and driving work for you? Not a good combination, is it?
There are times we tell ourselves that we have all the time in the world, that one day there will be time for for relaxing, time for relationships with others and time for God. The reality is if we don't make the time now, it is never going to happen.
How often we say to one another, "I don't have the time!" We say to our children when they ask, to the needy when they beg, to neighbors when they seek our help, "I don't have the time." Yet time is really all we have. We cannot make it or demand it. Time is a gift, from the Lord, but we can waste it. When it is past, we cannot replace it.
If you don't take time to smell the roses, the rose will be gone. If you don't take time to look at a beautiful sunset, by the time you get off the phone, you missed it. If you don't take time to develop a friendship, that classmate will have graduated and moved away. If you don't take time to ask someone out for lunch or for a cup of coffee, you've missed an opportunity to start a friendship. If you don't take time to play catch with your child they'll be grown up before you know it. So, before we move on, dear Jesus, help us embrace time and share it with others in your love.
We live only because Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. We are called to make the most of this precious gift of time. God calls us to be good stewards of time, so that opportunities to do justice and to love boldly are not missed.
We are to be wise, regarding God's will. It does not mean that God is sending us off on an endless search to discover which car or house God would like us to purchase. True wisdom is the ability to be discerning about knowing and doing God's will. This happens by developing a set of spiritual senses that are the result of the transformation and renewal of the mind and heart.
How do we do that? We read God's word, pray, worship with others, seek the advice of others and are nourished by Christ's body and blood. Just like we need to spend time with people to get to know them, we need to spend time with God to get to know him. When our hearts are in tune with our Lord's, we will know God's will. When faced with a choice or a decision, how do we discern if we are doing God's will? One way to tell is if the choice gives us a peace or a calming effect about it. If the choice is going to make us anxious or uneasy, it may not be the direction God wants us to take. Another way to discern what is God's will is will the choice bring about unity and love or disunity, fragmentation, anger or hatred. If the choice does not lead to love, it is not God's will.
God's will is much greater than we can imagine. The first chapter of Ephesians declared the will of God is to bring all things together in Christ. That is God's goal. Later in Ephesians (3:10) Paul insisted that God's intent for the church is to be a witness of God's wisdom to all the spiritual forces of the world. To "understand what the will of the Lord is" means to live lives in order for everyone and everything to be reconciled to God.
We are to be wise regarding God's Spirit. Paul teaches that God's people are to be filled with the Spirit, rather than with wine. There were cults at that time that used wine to bring them to ecstatic experiences. Paul was attempting to distinguish the Holy Spirit-induced ecstasy of the early believers from frenzies of pagan cults. Paul wanted to be sure that believers in no way partook in behavior like that of these cults. Outsiders understood the worship of early Christians as being similar to these cults. Remember in the Book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost how the disciples were accused of drunkenness, even though it was only morning?
The Holy Spirit plays a central role in our reading and is clearly linked to the worship of the Christian community. The New Testament church was clearly a charismatic church which had great openness to manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the community. These activities flowed from being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Believers lived with the conviction that God was truly present and constantly at work among them through the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit opened wise mouths, gave wise hearts, granted strength and sustained "body" energy for the faithful living of godly lives.
Our Lutheran heritage can also combine with an expectancy that God is actually going to do something in the midst of the gathered community of faith. We Lutherans tend to be quieter in our response to God than our charismatic and Pentecostal brothers and sisters. This does not mean that our service needs to be outside the realm of Lutheran liturgical practice. Paul made it clear to believers of his time, that behavior during worship is an important part of no longer walking as the Gentiles do and of keeping on the right path as God's children.
Because of our relationship with God, with one another and with our community, we are moved to thanksgiving. The radical understanding of gratitude envisioned in Ephesians, forms the very center of Christian response to the good news.
Because of God's Spirit working in us, through us and around us, we can give “thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).)