Sermon; 13 Pentecost/Proper 15B; Ephesians 5:6-20
As always in this series, we begin with a refresher: Paul may or may not have written this letter. This letter was written to a church or churches that may or may not have been in Ephesus. And it doesn't appear that there was a particular issue needing to be addressed as to why it was written. Which leads me to go back to the idea that the letter may have functioned as a catechism for early converts to the faith. Looking at it that way, it has the power to function as a catechism for people even today.
And we need to remember how Ephesians is structured – like a funnel. It begins with a discussion of the vast, cosmic God and his eternal plan to gather up all things in heaven and earth through Christ. It moves through the fulfilling of the Abrahamic covenant and God working through Christ to bring all humanity back to himself. It is in Christ that the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile have been broken down. It is in Christ that we are rooted and grounded, becoming the Church, the body of Christ. It reminds us of how we are to live. And it gives us examples of living together as Christians. Cosmic plan of unity fulfilled by Christ, reflected and lived by us.
Last week that funnel focused on specific examples of how we are to live as Christians: put away falsehood; don't sin in your anger; don't speak evil; be kind; forgive. I said that here in this place is where we practice what we preach. This is where we are rooted and grounded in love. This is where we learn to live lives worthy of our calling.
In this week's part of the funnel, we begin here in the Church narrowing from life in here to life out there.
Let no one deceive you with empty words. In Paul's time this was a warning against other lines of thought that countered the message of the gospel – Gnosticism being high on that list. It also was a warning against other . . . lax . . . ethical standards.
But this is always what Christians have faced: weak theologies, theologies that have a simplistic nature, or theologies that try to lure us into thinking we can have it both ways. It includes ethical behaviors that require strict adherence from some people while allowing or hiding our own ethical failings from those around us.
It also includes an admonishment to avoid those who would use religion as a club to separate, persecute, demonize, and otherwise marginalize those with whom you disagree. Know the message of the gospel and be strong in that knowledge. Not only avoid them, but do not behave as they do.
Remember, before the foundations of the world were lain, you were called to be holy and blameless. Before the light of Christ and the gospel found you, you once walked in darkness. But now that we have been found, like that lost coin or sheep or son, we are in the light.
Live as children of light. The fruit of light is all that is good and right and true. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but expose them.
Last week I mentioned protecting women and children from abuse, and said that men should be living examples of holy lives. This is one way we walk in the light.
I bring this up because this past week I read the story of the just-released report detailing credible evidence of sexual abuse by 301 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania against more than 1000 victims. That report also spoke of the organized cover-up by the church in that state.
This is as dark as it gets.
Shortly after I got here I put up several bright yellow posters with information on how to report abuse. A few people were upset with me for doing that. But what this report shows, and other recent incidents have shown, is that abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere. And as long as I'm rector of this church, I will work to ensure that it doesn't happen here. Walk in the light. Take no part in the works of darkness.
So be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.
Here the author is apparently appealing to ancient wisdom of Judaism as found in Proverbs and Sirach. This ancient wisdom is based in the theology that knowledge of God can be gained through the study of creation and humanity. It looks outward, rather than inward, and sees God active in all manner of places, times, and thought.
As Episcopalians we might correlate this to the famous three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Scripture is and should be the basis of all we do. Tradition is not only how we've always done things, but also refers to our faith which is handed over and delivered to each succeeding generation of Christians. It is the accumulated wisdom of the past which is double-tested: is it in accordance with Scripture, and can it be justified by right reason. And Reason is the third leg – that is, we think about Scripture and Tradition and how something may or may not be applicable for today.
As one example, Scripture upholds the practice of slavery. Slavery has been a traditional part of human society for thousands of years. After thinking about this particular institution, is it now reasonable for us to continue that practice? Consequently, we need to be wise, working to understand the will of God.
And then the author delves into other behaviors that help us with all of the above. Do not get drunk. He is not condemning the use of alcohol, but he is condemning its over-use. When you are drunk, you cannot be wise. When you are drunk, you are foolish. When you are drunk, you do stupid things that do not reflect the light of Christ; nor are those things good and right and true.
Instead of being filled with wine, be filled with the Spirit. Sing psalms, hymns, and make melody to the Lord. If we work to fill our lives with all that is good and right and true, if we work to live in the light, if we work to learn sound doctrine, then we will surely live in the wisdom of God and lead lives worthy of our calling.
We can't compartmentalize our lives into “church” behavior and “regular” behavior. This section of Ephesians is letting us know that there is no separation between different aspects of our lives. For us to live as children of light, for us to bear fruit that is good and right and true, we must work to live that way always. To do that, we need to use our reason to learn how our traditions can help scripture become relevant to our lives today. We need to look for wisdom in a variety of places. And, maybe more than anything, we need to reflect how we behave in here to the world out there.
Learn the faith. Walk in the light. Be wise. And maybe most importantly, don't compartmentalize; live out there like you live in here.