Shopping the Edges

Growing up my mother, who can be a bit of a health nut, taught me a principle of grocery shopping: “shopping the edges.” If you picture in your head right now the layout of your familiar grocery store you can easily confirm that “the edges” are where you find your produce, fresh meat, in-house bakery, dairy, and natural organic free-range eggs. In other words, the healthy stuff. The aisles, on the other hand, are where you find all canned, boxed, processed, and frozen items, some of which have names that suggest that the manufacturers aren’t even aware of the true identity of the contents or, at the very least, they desire to hide it from consumers. The idea is that even though it typically costs more money and the expiration dates are much sooner on edge items (some aisle items are meant to get us through a nuclear holocaust, it would seem) shopping the edges is worth the expense and more frequent shopping trips, because the sustenance is more substantial for long-term health and well-being.

With the approach of tropical storm Isaac gulf-coasters are once again throwing around ominously familiar phrases like “cone of concern” and “3 day supply.” When Liz and I took part in the local Walmart raid to get our 3 day supply (back when we were in the cone of concern) I noticed a phenomenon. Virtually NO ONE was venturing to the edges. The general practice of what my mom taught me we should do was being abandoned. No one would dare stock up on milk or eggs or premium meat with the potential of a power outage and ruined fridge contents. The middle aisles were being ravaged. Liz and I were devastated to find that the only Ramen noodle flavor left in full supply was shrimp. And who could blame? Chicken, of course, was long gone. And, yes, even Spam was a hot commodity.

This experience got me thinking. As I stood in the crackers and cereal bar aisle I allowed a convicting question to steal my attention away from the BIG Cheez-its. What do I do when a spiritual hurricane hits the radar? What preparations, or more often reactions, do I make in order to weather the storm? And the answer hits me. I go for the Spam. I hate Spam! I’m not even sure what it is. But I eat…something, something quick and easy that is at least considered food in order to make it and keep going. I call to mind that memory verse (usually overgeneralized or out of context), I consider that $12.95 pop-Christian paperback on the New Item rack that is culturally relevant and promises to solve thousands of years worth of human dilemma, I say that token prayer, I read a chapter of scripture after which I have no idea what I read, and I hope that once the dust settles I can get back to shopping the spiritual edges. But spirituality is different. Faith is different. It isn’t about putting just enough spiritual gas in the tank of the soul to sputter to the next exit. Spiritual hurricanes are not just more frequent than ones in nature. I would argue they are constant, even if they may change. And instead of preparing a 3 day supply in case of a power outage, faith acknowledges that divine electricity is never in short supply, much less in danger of being knocked out. If anything, divine assistance is strongest when the storms are raging hardest.

I recall what Jesus did during the most ravenous hours of temptation, fasting and prayer. Instead of hitting the spiritual Spam, He clung more tightly to the disciplines. He kept to the edges. Do we?

Sermon: “Wake Up…And Sing”

I preached this sermon this morning. Here is the full manuscript. Granted, I preached it twice and neither was verbatim from the manuscript. To hear the sermon, click on the “Listen to Sermons” tab above, follow the link, click on “Ephesians” under Sermon Archives to the right, and scroll down the page to the sermon preached at 9:30 or 11:07. It should be posted by sometime tomorrow or Tuesday.

Text: Ephesians 5:11–20

INTRO

Today is our last sermon on the book of Ephesians. My sermon title this morning is “Wake Up…And Sing.”

I wonder if you actually find it possible to give thanks for “everything.” I mean forget the fact that you don’t. Just imagine if you could. Could you? Could you honestly give thanks for everything? Can we express gratitude for a tragic accident? Is it right to be grateful for the death of a neighbor we despise? Are we to thank God for things that happen that are just evil? Or, do you think maybe Paul was implying that we are to give thanks to God the Father for everything good? See, I think what Paul may be getting at is that everything worth gratitude comes from the hand of God. So, we are to always, literally always, in every situation recognize that God is good and He is the giver of good and we have reason to be thankful.

How often do we, even Christians, find ourselves discontent with what we have been given? Or discontent with our situation? I’ve heard people complain about our jobs in a down-sliding economy in which our neighbors are unemployed, or worse, laid off after years of dedicated service. We gossip about our friends while many people are desperately lonely and even truly alone. But always in everything we are to give thanks.

BODY

What would you think is the opposite and the antidote to IDOLATRY? Would you believe it’s THANKFULNESS? Thankfulness! Or thanksgiving is the opposite and the remedy of idolatry.

If you read the section before our passage, one of the sins of darkness Paul addresses is sexual misconduct. The idolatry of sexual lust makes some other desired object supreme instead of recognizing the Creator at the center of life. (Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, 333) The antidote to idolatry is thankfulness – realizing that we have already been given all that we could want and all that is sufficient for us. It is fascinating and convicting to go back and read through the 10 Commandments with THANKFULNESS and IDOLATRY in mind.

A life filled with thanksgiving will find spontaneous expression in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, the things Paul lists in our passage. (Bruce, 381) Yes, we sing because our gratitude, our thankfulness pours out in song.

We sing…because we are so thankful…our words are insufficient. They need melody!

The verse that started me down the path of writing this sermon was actually 5:14. It is not entirely or cleanly identifiable as a biblical text. (Bruce, NICNT: Ephesians, 376) The words echo Is. 26:19, 60:1, and even Jonah 1:6. Just the words themselves are challenging enough to me. “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” But do you know what I discovered this week? Scholars lean toward agreeing that this is a portion of an old hymn. One scholar says it is “best interpreted as a primitive baptismal hymn, in which the congregation greets the new convert as he or she emerges sacramentally from the sleep of spiritual death into the light of life.” (Bruce, 376) Isn’t that rich! What if we sang this to everyone we baptized? “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Two things stick out to me about this possibly being a baptismal hymn: First, remember your baptism (from darkness to light, death to life) …and be thankful! We should all remember our baptism, or remember that moment when we felt freed in Christ, like we had come awake from sleep. Second, this is a hymn! SING! And we’re not just supposed to sing to God (ADORATION) but to one another as well (EDIFICATION).

Are you aware that some churches have what have come to be called “worship wars”? Some churches have battles about what kind of worship they are going to have. There are even services within the same church that battle over what type of music to play and instruments to use and songs to sing. Can you believe that? Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you used to go to a church like that. That’s why this church has four different services. We can worship any way we please. And if you don’t like one way, just go to another service. I can’t say I’m absolutely sure that’s the answer to the problem. But that’s our answer, and it keeps us from fighting. Worship is not about how we sing. It’s about singing period! Thank God we sing at all! Being a people who worship and sing praises to God is part of our witness.

ACTS 2:4, 2:13, 2:15
The believers were “filled with new wine,” their worship mistaken from drunken happiness.

Philo said: “Now when grace fills the soul, that soul thereby rejoices and smiles and dances, for it is possessed and inspired, so that to many of the unenlightened it may seem to be drunken, crazy, and beside itself.” Have you ever heard a drunk sing? What lack of inhibition! When we are filled with the Spirit of God and experience the gospel for ourselves we are overcome with ecstasy, overrun with thankfulness, and moved to sing! Believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit delight to sing praises because the praise is coming from that Spirit who is dwelling inside us and who has eternally been singing to and with the Father and the Son.

Not just thanks for some things but always for everything! 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 says, “16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How do we sing with thanksgiving in everything? Because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We sing in the midst of a world whose music has become a disaster. One of my favorite preachers, Ellsworth Kalas, shared the following in a chapel sermon while I was in seminary. I’m going to quote him because I simply can’t say this better, and the way he says it has moved me and left a permanent impression. Dr. Kalas says, “This world of ours is filled with the dissonance of hell. God meant it to be a place where all is music and beauty. And then we messed it up, so that so much of life now is marked by off keys, by people who are too low or too sharp, by people who hit the cymbals at the wrong time, by people who are just out of tune, some dreadfully out of tune. And it ruins the glory of the music that God meant our world to know. And then God sent music into the world in His Son, Jesus Christ. Wherever He went, He invaded the dissonance of the world and brought music.” (Sermon: “I Wish I Were Older,” Asbury Seminary Chapel, Oct. 30, 2008) This is absolutely beautiful.

WHAT SONGS ARE YOU SINGING? AND WHAT ARE YOU SINGING ABOUT?

I have to confess, we live with a two-year old who watches videos of nursery rhymes. So many days, the songs running through my head are “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.” But what if instead I began to take them captive and sing about what my Savior has done? “Run, run, run the race, pressing toward the goal”…or maybe sing about Someone much more significant who will be coming around the mountain. “He’ll be riding on the clouds when He comes.” He’ll come from the East, and the world might not notice at first but eventually none of us will be able to deny it. “And finally the voice I have followed for life has a glorious face that is lit up with light.” (lyrics to “Come For Me” by Charlie Hall)

There is value in music to offer empathy in the human experience. That’s why the angst and attitude of Kurt Cobain revolutionized a generation of teenagers with a new genre of grunge rock. But do we also experience God and encourage one another through life? And if so, do we sing about it?

What is at stake? IDENTITY and BEHAVIOR

Paul describes this Spirit-filled worship that contributes to the community’s sense of identity and unity. “The spiritual songs, the praise, and the thanksgiving all help to shape believers’ attitudes and to form the community’s [character],” and thus, their conduct. (Lincoln, 349)

There is a story in Acts 12 of Peter in prison. I want to read it to you. I’m just going to read 4 verses of it.

Acts 12:6–9 (NIV):
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.

John Wesley is the founder of Methodism. His brother, Charles, was a great hymn writer. Charles was so moved by this story and felt a personal connection to this experience that he wrote one of our famous Methodist hymns about it. The fourth stanza of “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” goes like this:

4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

When we sing these words, we shape our own behavior. We acknowledge our identity. Are we freed from our imprisonment? Then, do we act like it? Do we really follow Christ out of the dungeon every day? Are our hearts truly free? Yes. We experience it. We are thankful. We sing about it. We go forth to live it, following Christ.

You know, the whole book of Ephesians really has one major theme in my estimate – UNITY. It seems that everything Paul writes about in this letter to the Ephesian church is pushing them to unity. Music and singing can be a means of grace that makes the Body of Christ one. When we sing and make music together, singing to God and even singing to one another, we unite ourselves. We set aside differences and disagreements and secondary issues to sing the truth: that we all have something to be grateful for. And that singing takes us into the very presence of God together.

CONCLUSION

Have you experienced the freeing presence of God? Was your spirit long imprisoned, bound by sin, only knowing darkness and night to one day be awakened to your dungeon filled with light, your chains falling off, and feeling your heart set free? Have you risen, gone forth from that dungeon of darkness and emptiness to follow Christ? Has He done something specific for you that you can honestly be thankful about? And was that thing so good that you don’t just want to talk about it, you want to sing about it? Sing to Him? Sing to others who share the same song? I daresay He has done this for us all in one way or another. The question is whether we will wake up to see it and be moved to sing about it.

Some of you are thinking, is the application of this sermon really to go sing? Yes, go sing. With thanksgiving always and in everything, let us be a singing people in the earth, singing about Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. And come back next week, because we’re going to be doing a lot of singing. And some of you will be participating from the stage. It’s going to be marvelous. God bless you. Let’s sing.

“Wake Up…And Sing” SERMON NOTES

The lectionary text: Ephesians 5:15-21

But I’m feeling drawn to 5:14:

“Awake, O sleeper,

And rise from the dead,

And Christ will shine on you.”

I like N.T. Wright’s segment division – 5:11-20 “Light and Darkness” with a focus on singing (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters)

GRATITUDE –> We sing because we are so thankful our words are insufficient. So we add melody!

Hymns, psalms, spiritual songs…giving thanks

5:14 echoes Isaiah 60:1 and possibly 26:19

Not just sing to God (ADORATION) but one another (EDIFICATION)

1 Cor. 14 refers to singing and other aspects of worship service that are not clergy-dominated, but everyone!

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NIV): “16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

5:14 is not entirely or cleanly identifiable as a biblical text. (Bruce, NICNT: Ephesians, 376)

The words echo Is. 26:19, 60:1, and even Jonah 1:6

 “but the echo, especially in Greek, is a distant one. The quotation is a tristich, best interpreted as a primitive baptismal hymn, in which the congregation greets the new convert as he or she emerges sacramentally from the sleep of spiritual death into the light of life.” (Bruce, 376)

ACTS 2:4, 2:13, 2:15

The believers were “filled with new wine,” their worship mistaken from drunken happiness.

“If the Spirit is the source of their fullness, then, instead of songs which celebrate the joys of Bacchus, their mouths will be filled with words which build up the lives of others and bring glory to the living and true God.” (Bruce, 380)

WHAT SONGS ARE YOU SINGING? AND WHAT ARE YOU SINGING ABOUT?

There is value in music to offer empathy in the human experience. That’s why the angst and attitude of Kurt Cobain revolutionized a generation of teenagers with a new genre of grunge rock. But do we also experience God and encourage one another through life? And if so, do we sing about it?

Rev. 4:11, Rev. 5:9, Rev. 5:13

“A life filled with such thanksgiving will find spontaneous expression in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Bruce, 381)

Yes – we sing because our gratitude, our thankfulness pours out in song.

Thankfulness/Thanksgiving is the opposite and the antidote to IDOLATRY.

If you read the section before our passage, one of the sins of darkness Paul addresses is sexual misconduct…

“Instead of the latter’s recognition of the Creator at the center of life, the idolatry of sexual lust makes some other desired object supreme.” (Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, 333)

It is fascinating and convicting to go back and read through the 10 Commandments with THANKFULNESS and IDOLATRY in mind.

Scholars lean toward agreeing that v.14 is a baptismal hymn. That is wonderful! 2 points:

1)      Remember your baptism (from darkness to light, death to life) …and be thankful!

2)      It’s a hymn! SING

Philo said:

“Now when grace fills the soul, that soul thereby rejoices and smiles and dances, for it is possessed and inspired, so that to many of the unenlightened it may seem to be drunken, crazy, and beside itself.”

Have you ever heard a drunk sing? What lack of inhibition! When we are filled with the Spirit of God and experience the gospel for ourselves we are overcome with ecstasy, overrun with thankfulness, and moved to sing! Believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit delight to sing praises because the praise is coming from that Spirit who is dwelling inside us and who has eternally been singing to and with the Father and the Son.

Not just thanks for some things but always for everything! (Eph. 5:19-20; 1 Thess. 5:18) Because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

What is at stake? IDENTITY and BEHAVIOR

“The Spirit-filled worship which the writer enjoins also contributes to the community’s sense of identity and cohesion that he is attempting to foster. The spiritual songs, the praise, and the thanksgiving all help to shape believers’ attitudes and to form the community’s ethos” and thus, their conduct. (Lincoln, 349)

J. Ellsworth Kalas shared this in a sermon in chapel during my time at Asbury Theological Seminary:

“This world of ours is filled with the dissonance of hell. God meant it to be a place where all is music and beauty. And then we messed it up, so that so much of life now is marked by off keys, by people who are too low or too sharp, by people who hit the cymbals at the wrong time, by people who are just out of tune, some dreadfully out of tune. And it ruins the glory of the music that God meant our world to know. And then God sent music into the world in His Son, Jesus Christ. Wherever He went, He invaded the dissonance of the world and brought music.” (Sermon: “I Wish I Were Older,” Asbury Seminary Chapel, Oct. 30, 2008)

This is absolutely beautiful.

Share the story from Acts 12:6-9 – Peter, asleep in prison, awakes to the dungeon lit up with an angel; his chains fall off, and he is set free (and/or Acts 16:16-33 – Paul and Silas singing in prison)

Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”

               4. Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
               fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
               thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
               I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
               my chains fell off, my heart was free,
               I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
               My chains fell off, my heart was free,
               I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Have you experienced the freeing presence of God? Was your spirit long imprisoned, bound by sin, only knowing darkness and night to one day be awakened to your dungeon filled with light, your chains falling off, and feeling your heart set free? Have you risen, gone forth from that dungeon of darkness and emptiness to follow Christ? Has He done something specific for you that you can honestly be thankful about? And was that thing so good that you don’t just want to talk about it, you want to sing about it? Sing to Him? Sing to others who share the same song? I daresay He has done this for us all in one way or another. The question is whether we will wake up to see it and be moved to sing about it.

CONCLUSION:

Some of you are thinking, is the application of this sermon really to go sing? Yes, go sing. With thanksgiving always and in everything, let us be a singing people in the earth, singing about Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. And come back next week, because we’re going to be doing a lot of singing. And some of you will be participating from the stage. It’s going to be marvelous. God bless you. Let’s sing.