The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity| October 9, 2011| Ephesians 5:15-21| Rev. Rolf Preus
See then that you walk cautiously, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:15-21
Last Friday I stood at the book section in the Sam’s Club in Fargo as Dort was doing a bit of shopping. I saw a book with an interesting title, The Jesus Mission, so I picked it up. It was written by a fellow named Steven K. Scott. The praise heaped upon the book on the outside cover was effusive and extravagant. This book will change your life! Famous people like Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck endorsed it. So I opened the book and began to read on page twenty seven.
I cannot quote verbatim from the book because I was unwilling to spend the $12 it cost and I didn’t have a pen on me to copy down what he wrote. But I remember what I read because I’ve read it before. Scott conceded that we are saved by faith, not by works, but then proceeded to define faith as if it were a good work, thus teaching that we are saved by our works after all. Steven Scott is a very successful businessman who knows how to succeed in life. His book, The Jesus Mission, is a book on successful living.
Christians are regularly misled by such successful living books that twist the gospel into the law and place Christians who are set free by Christ’s blood back under the tyranny of the law from which the Holy Spirit delivered them. By defining faith as a good work that we do they destroy faith. The Holy Spirit works faith. We don’t. The Holy Spirit works faith by means of God’s word. The Holy Spirit makes us God’s children, bringing us to faith by the washing of water and the word. We are born again by water and the Spirit. The faith that the Holy Spirit effects in us is a living thing that receives the gospel by trusting in it. To be filled with the Spirit is to be delivered from all confidence in ourselves. To teach faith as if it is a good deed is to deny the faith and to quench the Holy Spirit, no matter how popular it is with the public.
There is the life of a fool and there is the life of a wise person. The life of a fool is a life lived in obedience to our desires. The life of a wise person is a life directed by the Spirit of God. St. Paul illustrates the difference between these two lives. He illustrates the life of a fool by the sin of drunkenness. He illustrates the life of a wise person by the singing of psalms and hymns that give thanks to God in the name of Jesus Christ.
Drunkenness is the sin of a fool. Listen to Solomon’s description of the drunkard:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.
Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
“They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”
Proverbs 23, 29-34
Solomon also writes:
Wine is a mocker,
Strong drink is a brawler,
And whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Proverbs 20, 1
St. Paul includes drunkenness among the works of the flesh and states plainly that those who practice these works will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Nowhere does the Bible say it is a sin to drink. The Bible says that wine is a gift from God that makes the heart glad. When Jesus did his very first miracle he changed water into wine at a wedding, showing his approval and blessing of both marriage and the drinking of wine and other alcoholic beverages. It is wrong to teach, as many do, that drinking alcohol is a sin. St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink.”
There are no dietary laws in the Bible for us Christians to follow. We may eat red meat, deep fried potatoes, and raw oysters. We may drink beer, wine, and bourbon. We may not get drunk. That’s a sin. We may not be gluttons. Gluttony is also a sin. We may enjoy what God has given us to enjoy. We may not do so in service to our own appetites. We enjoy whatever God gives us to enjoy as God’s children.
Think about what you’re doing! We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. How can you love God in this way when you give yourself over to the power of a foreign substance that controls you and makes you say and do foolish things? Think about what you’re doing! Use the time God has given you wisely. Don’t conform to the ways of a dying world. What does that kind of lifestyle offer you, anyway? Temporary sensations that leave you empty, depressed, and broke.
Ah, but even as the self-help gurus who turn Christianity into a means of sanctifying the accumulation of great wealth do so by twisting the gospel into a list of principles for successful living, just so the anti-drinking legalists insist that the way to combat drunkenness is to demonize alcohol altogether. Isn’t it interesting that among those groups in our country who are the least tolerant of moderate alcohol use is the highest rate of binge drinking and alcohol abuse? Among those who use alcohol responsibly there is a much lower rate of abuse. Making up rules to make people good doesn’t make them good.
Only the Spirit can do that. And he doesn’t do that by laying down the law or by initiating twelve step programs. He does that by bringing us the forgiveness of sins that Jesus purchased with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. And we are filled with the Holy Spirit, not by doing this or yielding that or resolving the other thing – no, we are filled with the Holy Spirit by hearing and believing the gracious words he speaks to us.
We who have not loved God with our whole hearts receive comfort in our hearts from the forgiveness of sins that the Holy Spirit pronounces upon us in the gospel and in the absolution. We who have not loved God with our whole lives receive new life – new and eternal life – in the life-giving body and blood of Jesus that enters into our bodies as the medicine of immortality. We who have not loved God with our whole minds receive a new mind, a new wisdom that surpasses the fleeting wisdom of this age, when the Holy Spirit replaces our folly with the wisdom of the cross.
Oh, God won’t criticize material success! But we don’t need to read books by millionaires to understand true success as Christians! We sing our songs and from the great hymns we have inherited from our fathers we confess to one another the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
Many people think that the choice of hymns to sing is purely a matter of person preference and taste. That’s not true. The great hymns we sing are hymns that set forth the truth and praise God for what he has done and is doing for us through Christ our Savior. In our text for today St. Paul speaks of hymns that give “thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The greatest hymns are the hymns that focus on the saving work of Jesus Christ and tell God and one another what Jesus has done. They extol Christ’s obedience and love and righteousness that are ours through faith. They glorify the true and only God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They confess the true faith with the Church of all ages. They teach us the faith. From the psalms of the biblical psaltery to the hymns of the early Church, the Reformation, and the age of Lutheran orthodoxy, the great hymns of the Church have glorified God by teaching the gospel of Christ’s atoning death and the forgiveness of sins for us sinners who need the forgiveness and salvation that Christ alone can give. They glorify God by teaching us.
They do not celebrate our goodness, our devotion, our feelings, or our accomplishments. They are vehicles of God’s grace because they faithfully confess it and teach it to the world. They are not written as means of making us feel good about being religious. They are written as means of assisting us to sing to God and to one another the saving works of our God.
Compare the great hymns of Paul Gerhardt, Martin Luther, Thomas Kingo, and many others in our Hymnary/hymnal to the popular songs that brag about how pious the singer is now that he has stopped doing all the bad stuff he used to do. The popular version of Christianity marketed today is grounded in self-serving self-centeredness as much as is the habitual drunkard who thinks that getting high is what life is all about. True wisdom, true religion, true piety, and true worship set aside wallowing either in our sins or in our achievements and focus instead on the singular achievement of Jesus Christ bearing our sins on the cross and washing them all away by his blood.
There is the ground of our thanksgiving! There is the source of our song. There is the melody that we sing in our hearts day by day as we face down past sins and face future challenges with confidence. No, we aren’t confident that we’ll make a million dollars or achieve what the world calls success. We don’t need that sort of thing. We are confident that the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us, who fills us with the love of God, who applies to our consciences the forgiveness of sins, thus liberating us from judgment and freeing us from death – will keep confirming us in the true and saving faith until the day we die and are translated into heaven where we will enjoy perfect fellowship with God forever and ever. Now that’s something to sing about! Amen