Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
~ Ephesians 5:15-20 (NRSV)
Have you ever gone to a birthday party, or a wedding, or a summer cookout, or even a funeral, and seen a friend or family member that you hadn’t seen in a while? That happens all the time, doesn’t it? And what do you usually say? “Oh, we should get together more often.” Right? But you usually don’t. Because when you see the person, you’re happy to spend time with them. You enjoy their company and you may even really mean it when you say, “We should get together more often.” But then the busyness of life takes over, and you just don’t find the time.
Unfortunately, the same thing happens in our relationship with God. We come to worship on Sundays and we feel good about our faith, but come Monday morning, the “busyness” of life takes over, and we get lost in the hustle and bustle. It’s not that we don’t want to spend time with God, or time thinking about our faith, or even time loving and serving our neighbors. But somehow, we just don’t make the time in our schedules.
Well, this fall we are going to start talking about daily practices that we can do at home with our families to stay closely connected to God and one another and to stay inspired in our faith. Today, from the book of Ephesians, we heard a little bit more of the letter that we heard last week. And in today’s reading, the author writes to churches about how to best live their lives. You see, the letters in the book of Ephesians were written when churches were new, so being a good example of Jesus’ followers to people outside the church was especially important.
Now, I’ve got a question for you. How might we be good examples of Jesus’ followers to people outside of the church today? Does anyone have an idea? (The congregation answers.) Those are all awesome ideas! But, I think that one of the best ways to show someone what it means to be a follower of Jesus is to start by being ﬁlled with the Holy Spirit, or what we sometimes call “the light of Christ.”
I know that this sounds kind of ridiculous, but I like to think of it as the “bug principle.” You all know what happens at night if you open a window or door with a light on inside. Moths and mosquitoes and bugs of all kinds come flying towards the light. Well, people are a lot like bugs, and they are drawn to the light too. So when we go out into the world trying our best to go out with a positive attitude and a helpful heart even though we are not perfect, we bring the light of Christ with us, and others are drawn to follow that light.
They won’t necessarily know why, but they’ll long for that positive energy and that sense of humility and kindness that you bring. And that is just the way that Jesus encouraged his disciples, and us, to carry the light to all the ends of the earth!
The problem is, how do we keep the light of Christ burning in us when we pull out of the church parking lot and someone cuts us off at Mount Hope Street? Or when we stop at the grocery store for a quick gallon of milk and the woman in front of us has to count out all of her pennies and then searches her pockets for the last ten cents while her baby is crying in the carriage? Or when all the free time that we thought we had gets filled up by the unexpected needs of others?
Well, my friends, the important thing for us to remember in each one of these situations is that we are in charge of our own lives. It is up to us to decide how to respond to the people and to the problems around us. And the truth is, the more grounded we are in our faith, the easier the unexpected bumps along the road become.
Looking through the eyes of faith, maybe we say a quick prayer for the person who cut us off, so that they will make it safely to their destination. Perhaps instead of being frustrated by the woman in the line in front of us, we realize that money might be really tight for her, and we slip her a few dollars to help her pay her bill. And maybe when our free time gets filled up by the needs of others, we take a minute to thank God for working through us in order to help a neighbor.
Friends, being filled with the Holy Spirit, carrying with us the light of Christ, and staying grounded in our faith like that takes work. It’s not always easy. Because every day we are bombarded by what the world tells us, while sometimes it’s only for an hour a week that we are reminded about our faith. And as you know, what the world tells us and what our faith tells us are usually two very different things. The world tells us to strive for success, to collect as many things and as much money as we can, and to worry about ourselves, always putting on a good show. But our faith tells us to be like Jesus’ disciples, who left their families and
everything they had to follow Jesus.
Folks, the big question is, how are we supposed to balance what our faith teaches us with what the world around us teaches? How can we be successful in this world and true to our faith? Well, I think it all has to do with staying connected to God and staying grounded in our faith so that we can make good choices in our lives.
In today’s scripture reading, we are told that we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we stay close to God. But staying close to God is kind of like staying close to our friends and family that we don’t often see, isn’t it? Because it’s easy to say that we’re going to get together, but sometimes we get too busy, and it feels like too much work, so we don’t. But the good news is that today’s scripture teaches us that we can stay connected to God and be ﬁlled with the Holy Spirit, not by spending hours in prayer and in Bible study and giving away everything that we own (though I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt!) but we can stay connected to God and filled with the Holy Spirit by singing songs and hymns, making music, and giving thanks.
Since moving to Middletown a few months ago, I have had lots of people ask me if I am getting tired of the hour-long commute. But I have to say, I love it! The commute has been an absolute gift to me. You see, I’ve made a playlist on my phone that I titled “Comfort and Hope,” and it is filled with spiritual music. So, as I’m driving, not only do I listen, but I sing, at the top of my lungs sometimes. And for that hour, I feel reconnected, refreshed, and closer to God. I find that as I drive and listen, I appreciate the world around me, and I have time to think about the things that I’m thankful for. I also have time to listen for God’s still-speaking voice.
Now, I don’t know if it’s the time, or the space, or the music, but somehow, my commute, which the world tells me I should detest, has become a time of utter joy and deep spiritual practice for me.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, look for ways to connect with God. Look for things that feed your spirit, and allow yourself to be filled with a love and a joy that you can’t help but share with others.
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!