Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ephesians 5:15-20 Pentecost 13

Walk carefully through your Christian life—it could be blessed and joyful, or it could be sad and painful.  It’s a beautiful walk, but there are many dangers, and it is easy to step off the path and go astray.  Walk carefully.
When I lived in Arizona, I took many beautiful hikes through the desert and through the mountains.  To be safe on those hikes, I had to be prepared, and walk carefully.  Before I left I would study the map so that I could be sure of where I was going, and how long it would take.  If it was a longer hike, I would take more water.  If it was up in the mountains, I might bring long sleeves for cooler weather.  I educated myself about the route, so that—hopefully—nothing would take me by surprise.   I would continue to educate myself along the way, taking out my map from time to time to make sure I was still on the right path—a wrong turn in the desert can be deadly. 
Those were fun hikes.  The scenery was beautiful, and the walk was peaceful.  I enjoyed those times.  There were a few times, however, when I didn’t plan very carefully.  A couple times I didn’t do my homework on that particular hike, and it turned out to be more than I was ready for.  Then there were a few times when I didn’t brink enough to eat along the way, or didn’t bring enough water.  As I walked my body grew weak and mild dehydration started to set in.  Now, if you’ve ever been dehydrated, you know that it takes the joy out of life.  The mountains may be beautiful, but you don’t notice it.  It may be peaceful, but you feel anxious and stressed, because your body doesn’t have enough water.  When you go hiking, it is very important to be educated about your route and to stay well fed and hydrated.
It is the same way in your Christian life.  This is a dangerous path, with many evils.  It is very important to be educated.  “Know the Lord’s will,” Paul wrote.  Also, you need to stay well fed and hydrated.  “Be filled—not with wine or other food and drink; but be filled with the Spirit,” Paul tells us.  Do this, and it will be a joyful, blessed walk.  You will…

Theme:  Make the Most of your Christian Life.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:15-20
1.  Be well educated.
“The days are evil”
Just like I had to look at the map when I went hiking, you look into the Bible to be educated about your Christian life.  Know what God’s will is.  He warns you of the dangers along the way—he has warned you of your sins and the things that would lead you away from him.  He has taught you to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. As you go on your way, continue to make use of God’s Word as your guide.
The Bible teaches us to avoid the dangers of these “evil days.”—for instance, the danger of being careless and losing your way.  On a hike, you should check your map every once in a while, and maybe even a compass.  In Christian life, you should constantly study God’s Word and apply it to your life, so that you don’t forget what the right path of Christian life is.
On a hike you need to be careful about wandering off to check out interesting little things.  It might look like fun to climb to the top of that point, or go check out that waterfall.  If you get too caught up in the side tracks, though, you might not ever get to where you were going.  God’s Word will catch you when you get distracted and wander from the path to heaven.  Life has other joys that consume and lead us away from Christ; such as cars, boats, motorcycles, restaurants, sports, books, movies, games, or the career that will get you those things. The Bible catches you in the act—“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated in the heavenly realms,” Paul writes in Colossians.  Be educated about what the Lord’s will is.
There is another danger—the danger of disenchantment.  You see how others have strayed from the path, and the journey has become long.  The journey itself loses its joy, and you wish it were over.  The joy of the hike and the anticipation of your destination are replaced by the agony of the steep hills and hot sun.  Isn’t this what life is like?  The older you become, the more you become disenchanted about this whole idea of Christian life.  Nothing does any good, because so many people are becoming worse and worse.   There isn’t much hope for your journey to get any easier, either—it gets longer and longer, and you wonder if you are ever going to get to heaven. The joyful anticipation of heaven and the joyful task of Christian living are replaced by pessimism and depression.  What your life becomes is not the glorious walk God intends it to be.  Be educated in what the Lord’s will is—here he says “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Be educated, and you will see when your faith is not healthy enough to stand up to the evils of our day.
Christian life is a dangerous road, but God intends it to be a safe and joyful journey.  Be educated by God.  But in order to keep our way and keep our Christian joy along the way, we are also going to need to stay well fed and hydrated.  If you don’t, it won’t be a pleasant journey.  If you are dehydrated and famished while hiking, the mountains and desert flowers will no longer beautiful.  The fresh air will no longer enjoyable.  You may stumble or wander from the path.  What are you going to reach for when your life is like that—when the joy is gone, and when it gets painful?
Some turn to drink, others to drugs, and others to food.  Some immerse themselves in the battle against unchristian government or the battle against unchristian teachings—after all, it feels good for a while to fight for what is right.  But then the high wears off and you are worse than before.  Where will you turn when the joy of life is gone?  All of what I mentioned is poor food for the soul.  It might seem good at the time, but actually it harms you in the long run.  So that you can make the most of this journey, you need good food for your soul.

2.  Be well fed.
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.”
If you were to fill up on beer while hiking, or coke, or cotton candy, it might taste good and give you joy for a little while.  Drink enough beer and it might make you very happy.  It won’t last though.  Soon you will be worse than before.
In a very similar way, alcohol, drugs, food, and all the other worldly things that give you joy when you’re down will actually hurt you more in the long run.  You need better food.  Paul tells us not to get drunk on wine to make us happy, but to drink deeply of the Spirit instead.  The Holy Spirit has better food and drink for you to keep you happy and healthy on your journey.
In the reading from Proverbs he invites you to be strengthened by his words in Scripture.  “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding,” God says. 
In John 6, Jesus explained that he is our food.  The Holy Spirit feeds us with the things Jesus said and did for us, so that we will be strong on our journey and live forever.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Drink deeply of the Holy Spirit.  He has given you Jesus in a way you can take with you every day.  You can buy a Bible for five dollars.  Think about that.  Five dollars, and you can have God tell you every day that you have eternal life because of what Jesus has done for you.  It doesn’t matter what happens, because you can open your Bible again and find that Jesus’ words are still there, unchanged, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.”   God’s promise remains unchanged and untouched by all the evil of the world.  In your baptism the Holy Spirit has given you the unchanging promise that you will live with Christ.  Baptism is so unchanging that, even if you would fall away and miss out on those blessings of baptism for a while, you could come back and find that God is still there for you in your Baptism to forgive your sins.  In the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit feeds you with Christ.  Whatever happens in your life, you have Christ again, and everything that his sacrifice means for you.   Your glorious future with Christ is given to you with that bread and wine, still in mint condition, untouched by all the troubles of life.  In his Word, in your Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper you have a little slice of heaven.  God is for you and you are with him, and nothing can touch that.  These daily reminders of your life and future in Christ will give you joy and fill your heart with song. 
God promises blessedness to the person who fills up on him:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”
Whatever happens, you will be able to sing and praise God.  People might think you’re out of your mind, as if you had been drinking, but you’ve been filling up with a better drink.  You are full of the Spirit.
You only have one opportunity to walk this desert journey of life.  Don’t waste it in drunkenness, pessimism, depression, and indifference.  Make the most of it.  Represent Christ as you go.  The Holy Spirit has educated you with the Word of Christ and fed you with the grace and forgiveness of Christ.  As you go, make the most of every opportunity to represent him.  Remember that you are the body of Christ.  You are Christ’s hands and his mouth on earth.  You will not have many opportunities to reach out when people will listen.  Know what to say and recognize when to say it.  Don’t waste time wandering off the path into drunkenness, materialism, and professional ambition—be alert to the opportunities, and be instructed so you will know what to say.  So that you will be strong enough to make the journey, to take the opportunities that come, and to do it with joy, fill up on the good food from God.  Be educated by God, and be fed by God; and you will make the most of every opportunity as you walk wisely in the Lord.  Amen.