The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity| Ephesians 5:15-21| October 9, 2016| 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
Instead of getting drunk on a Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday you should get to bed at a decent hour on Saturday, get up on Sunday morning and go to church. And when you go to church, you shouldn’t sit in the pew like a bump on a log. You should participate in the service. Sing! Open your hymnal and find the hymn and sing along with the rest of the congregation. St. Paul, the Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, tells us to sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord Jesus, always thanking God the Father in the name of Jesus.
Some people are under the mistaken impression that they cannot sing. Everyone can sing. I have been assured of this by experts in vocal performance. It is a myth that some people cannot sing. If they can talk they can sing. They may not be able to carry a tune very well, but that’s one of the benefits of congregational singing. If you have trouble following the tune, listen to those around you. If you’re off key a little bit, who cares? Certainly not God!
The purpose of the Divine Service is twofold: God serves us and we serve God. God serves us by speaking to us. He tells us what he thinks about life and death, good and evil, judgment and mercy, and many other important topics. He gives us spiritual treasures by speaking to us. He speaks forgiveness of sins to us. God preaches to us through the words of his minister. He feeds our bodies and souls with the body and blood of Jesus. He pronounces us blessed. He always sends us to our home justified. He never fails to serve us in the Divine Service.
We serve God in the Divine Service. We ascribe to him honor and praise. We say out loud what he has done for us. We confess the truth about him. We give our first-fruits in the offering basket to acknowledge him as the giver of every good thing we have. We sit, stand, kneel; we pray, praise, and give thanks. We speak to one another, we preach to one another in the singing of the service, and this is also service to God.
We belong to one another. This is why we submit to one another in the fear of God. The Divine Service is both an individual and a corporate thing. God talks to the church. He talks to individual Christians. The church praises God. Individual Christians praise God.
There’s a difference between the yammering of the obnoxious drunk in the tavern on Saturday night and the singing of the church on Sunday morning. When you get drunk you lose the ability to look objectively at your surroundings and to understand clearly what is going on. That’s why folks will often spout off and say foolish things when under the influence of alcohol. They rely on what lies within because they cannot see outside of themselves very well. Some confuse letting it all hang out with honesty. Giving free vent to what’s inside of one’s heart isn’t benefiting one’s neighbor.
Unfortunately, the hymns of the church are often no more than expressions of religious emotion. They are of no spiritual benefit. If you want an example of a good hymn, consider the Psalms in the Bible. The psalmist praises God for what God himself does; not for how the psalmist feels. Listen to this example, from Psalm 103.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Notice how the psalmist praises God for what God has done and is doing. He doesn’t just repeat words again and again as a spiritual mantra to get him into the mood. He explains why he is praising God and he points to specific benefits that God gives: forgiveness of sins, healing, redemption, and the gracious provision of all our needs of body and soul. That’s what a good hymn does.
The good hymns of the church teach the faith. When we sing a good hymn we are teaching and being taught. The hymn verse that introduces the “Christ for Us” broadcast each Sunday is an example of a good hymn. It is the first verse of “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” It goes like this:
Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor
Good works cannot avert our doom;
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone
Who did for all the world atone,
He is our one Redeemer.
This hymn praises God for what God has done for us. It clearly teaches and confesses the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s redemption. It praises God for what God has done. When we sing hymns like this we are being built up in our faith.
Now let me quote from a hymn that is much more popular than “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” It goes like this:
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
Do you see the difference? This popular hymn celebrates the religious feeling of the singer rather than the truth of the gospel. This hymn, and other hymns that celebrate religious feelings, are much more popular than solid, biblical, gospel filled hymns that teach the truth that God has revealed to us in Christ. That’s because people would rather sing about themselves than to be instructed by God. There is a difference between a hymn that builds us up in the faith and a hymn that fans religious feelings without teaching us anything at all.
St. Paul addresses this same topic in his Epistle to the Colossians 3:16 where he writes:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
The Christian faith is not a feeling that arises from within us. The Christian faith is confidence in the word of God that lies outside of us. Our text for today begins with the words:
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.
Wisdom isn’t found by searching our hearts for religious feelings and giving expression to them. Wisdom comes from understanding the will of God. God’s reveals his will to us in his word. To redeem the time is to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s word.
The days are evil. So writes St. Paul the apostle. He wrote in the first century and he wrote about the twenty first century. The days are evil because, first and foremost, the people’s hearts are callused against receiving instruction from God. Doctrinal ignorance and doctrinal apathy are vast – not just among the unchurched who would rather get drunk on alcohol than be filled with the Holy Spirit – but among church going people. This indifference to the truth is seen by the way churches have resorted to entertainment as a means of drawing people in and keeping their interest. The whole contemporary church growth movement is predicated on the assumption that Christian doctrine is boring and irrelevant.
That’s not true. It’s a lie reflecting the false values of this evil age. Doctrine is life. The pure and wholesome teaching of God’s word raises us up from death to life. That’s why we’re here this morning. That’s why we go to church. The heavenly teaching of God’s word penetrates our souls at the deepest level. The Holy Spirit enters in and brings life where there was death.
God’s teaching is centered on Christ. To know Christ is to know God. We know God as God teaches us about Christ. To know the teaching about Christ is to know God. That Jesus is true God and true man means that God is your brother. That Jesus lived his life as your substitute in perfect obedience to God’s law means that he has done your duty for you and has given you the credit for it. That Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world means that he has taken your burden off of you and washed away your sins by his blood. That the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are Christ’s true body and blood means that when you kneel at God’s altar and eat and drink God is graciously forgiving you all your sins, declaring peace with you, and guaranteeing you eternal life.
When you come to church and sing the liturgy and the hymns you are teaching yourself and others the gospel that our flesh denies, the world mocks, and the devil attacks, but which the Holy Spirit, who comes into our hearts, assures us is true. We sing, we learn, we are grounded in the truth that gives meaning to our lives here on earth and rescues us from hell.
The prophet Hosea addressed the same troubles the church is facing today. God spoke through Hosea, saying:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also will reject you from being priest for Me;
Because you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
The reason many people – especially among the young – don’t go to church is because they lack knowledge. They have been spiritually starved by the empty rhetoric of pop-spirituality that seeks the answers to life’s troubles on the inside where the problems are. As they search their hearts they find no objective truth, no permanent teaching on which their faith can rely. They flit from this false religion to that. As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:7, “Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The only thing they know is that you can’t know. So they live lives centered on their own feelings, appetites, and notions.
To redeem the time is to talk the talk of the Christian faith to our family, our friends, to anyone who will listen. It is to spend time in the word of God with our children, sing hymns together, pray together, and when we come to church to receive together in song, sermon, and sacrament the Spirit of truth who fills our hearts with thanksgiving to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.