Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-20
Today super heroes are a big deal. In the past ten years there have been twenty movies with marvel super heroes released, and there is no end in sight. Moreover, these movies are wildly popular. For instance, so far four of the top five highest grossing movies of 2018 are super hero movies. It is easy to forget that this was not always the case. In the mid-90’s, after the abysmal bombing of the terrible Batman and Robin super hero movies were thought to be dead and done. It did not help that the handful of superhero movies released during this time, like the Shadow and the Phantom, were forgettable and terrible. During this dead era for the super hero genre, there were a couple of bright spots: most notably the 1999 release of Mystery Men. At this point Mystery Men is fairly obscure. It is a comedy movie of a group of outcast with questionable special abilities. For instance one of the characters could turn invisible only when no one was looking at him. Over the past couple of months, I have actually been thinking about this older movie quite a bit. It has been in my thoughts because one of the main characters is Mr. Furious. Mr. Furious’ super power is that he gets really, really angry. That is it. He just gets full of a lot of undirected rage. This has been on my mind recently, because it seems like today there are a lot of people who can claim the title of Mr. (or Ms.) Furious. A lot of people are really angry right now, and statistically speaking several of you are part of that group. A 2017 survey found that 68% of Americans get angry about something they see or hear on the news at least once a day. What’s fascinating is that the percentage holds true across the political spectrum. In the past, those who identified with the party in power tended to be happier, but not now. Now the majority is angry daily, and I feel like in the past year that percentage has probably only gone higher. Perhaps, what the survey really shows is we need to just turn the cable news off more often. It can be easy to get angry at the things we see on the news. It can be easy to view the cacophony of current events with rage-filled cynicism. It can be easy to fill like everything is falling apart and that the world is on fire. Yet to give us some perspective, all the way back in 1989 Billy Joel reminded us all that “We didn’t start the fire. It’s been burnin’ since the worlds been turnin’ “
This morning’s scripture gives us a bit more perspective because it dates back a little bit further than twenty nine years when Paul urged the Ephesians to make the most of every opportunity “because the days are evil.” It can be easy for us to think the world is worse than it has ever been, but that is not really true. We live in a broken and fallen reality. The fire has been burning since sin entered the world, and it will burn until Jesus comes back. That does not mean we should take a nihilistic, “nothing really matters” approach. We should absolutely resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. However, we also need to avoid becoming like Mr. Furious. We need to avoid being consumed by impotent rage, helpless fury, and joy-crushing cynicism. Paul’s message to the Ephesians is relevant today, because the days are evil. When confronted with everything, we can’t stop the feelings, but we have do have some choice and agency in what we feel.
The entirety of Ephesians is worth reading, because it is Paul’s encouragement to live as faithful Christians in an unfaithful and unfriendly culture. It is full of advice and directive that are both practical and deeply spiritual. The letter to the Ephesians would have been truly life giving words to the struggling church of Ephesus. Our current culture is moving towards being post-Christian both in belief and in demographics, but our experience does not hold a candle to what the Ephesians endured. The attitudes that non-Christians tend to have today towards the church is most often indifference and at worse sarcastic cynicism. However, the Ephesian church was in hostile territory. Culturally, the Christians were an extreme minority. Ephesus was a city that was devoted to the Greek God Artemis, and it had a large temple dedicated to her. The city was fiercely devoted to the worship of Artemis. In the book of Acts when it was thought that Paul’s preaching would somehow threaten the continued well-being of this temple, the entire town got caught up in a riot. In just a few years after this letter was written, the church of Ephesus would experience true persecution. It is fair and accurate to say the church of Ephesus experienced dark days that felt evil. This is why Paul urged them to be very care how they live, not as unwise but as wise and to make the most of every opportunity.
So what does that mean? In days that are evil, how do we live as people who are both wise yet also faithful Christians? I think perhaps the better way to look that is to consider what unwise living looks like, and there are two unwise ways of thinking we can fall into. The first one, the problem that seems to be endemic today, is to be consumed by anger and cynicism. Being cynical often leads to assuming the worst about everyone, and the most cynical of people will even try to spin that as being wise. Naturally assuming the worst in everyone is a negative attitude that feeds anger and creates a polarized us vs. them attitude. An attitude that is tragically far too common today.
It would not have been hard for the Ephesians to fall into an “us vs. them” way of thinking. It may not have been too far from the truth for them. They really were a small group and the majority of their culture was against them. However, this is the exact kind of attitude that Paul warns about when he told the Ephesians to make the best of every opportunity. The opportunities that Paul is specifically referring to are opportunities to share the gospel. The opportunities that the Ephesians and by extension us, are supposed to make the most of are the opportunities to communicate the love, forgiveness and acceptance of God. The only way we can effectively share that message with people is by having love and compassion for them. Quite simply put, we cannot show care and compassion for people who we assume are and treat like our enemies.
The second unwise attitude is the exact opposite. If the first unwise attitude is to get angry, bitter, and cynical when confronted with evil days, then the second is to put our head in the sand and ignore it all. This unwise attitude is to sit and sip coffee as the world burns, all while saying this is fine. Paul gives an example of how the Ephesians were tempted to take this attitude when he urged them not to get drunk on wine. Trying to bury problems at the bottom of a bottle has been a phenomenon in humanity for a long, long time. Today we have a lot more tools at our disposal than alcohol if we want to ignore the evils of this world and deaden ourselves to the problems around us. The truth is that if we switch off the news but instead watch a Fixer Upper marathon or play Nintendo for twelve hours that does not do anything to make the world a better place. We may not be angry all the time, but we choose to deaden the feelings with entertainment. If the vast majority of our time, energy, and resources is going to keep ourselves comfortable and entertained then we are honestly not making the most of every opportunity and we are not being very careful then in how we live.
So in order to live wisely in evil days we need to avoid giving ourselves over to feelings of cynicism and we need to avoid deadening our feelings all together. So then, what should we do? In the midst of all that is happening, when the days are evil, and the world feels like it is on fire, what should we be feeling? In this morning’s scripture Paul answered that question for the Ephesians when he wrote, “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The feeling that should define us in dark times are hope and joy.
I really love the phrasing Paul used in this morning’s scripture: “make music from your heart to the Lord.” The idea of making music from one’s heart, really conjures up the image of a musical where people just break out in song. In fact, in the Sound of Music Julie Andrews really captures this feeling well when she sings, “The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears.” Having our heart filled with music means we have internalized and we feel deeply that which we sing about. Singing songs to the Lord should just flow out of us because it is based out of a feeling that we cannot stop.
Even if the days our evil and even if the world feels like a dumpster fire, we should be able to sing with courage to the Lord. We can hope, because we know that the light of Christ as come into this dark world, but the darkness cannot and shall not overcome it. We can have hope because we know that sin has been defeated once and for all, Jesus in his might power has broken every chain and can frees us from the sins and wrong choices that so easily entangle. We can have hope because death has been defeated and the grave has lost its sting. Once this hope has taken root in our hearts, then brothers and sisters how can we not sing from the depths of our hearts to the Lord in Joy? Because we are filled with joy then sings our soul, our Savior God to thee, how great thou art. Because we are filled with joy then we should be able to sing about amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. We should be able to sing because we’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts. Where? Down in our hearts to stay!
Because of Jesus we have an infinite source of hope and a wellspring of joy. The way that we live as wise is that we do not allow the darkness of the world drown out the light of our hope, and the way we make the most of every opportunity is to let our word and actions share the love of Jesus with joy. In the midst of evil days, this should be the feelings that define us, and this should be the feelings we face the darkness with. Instead of being cynical and cast ourselves into us vs. them factions, we should have compassion on lost souls, because they need Christ just as much as we do. Instead of ignoring the pain in the world around us, we should roll up our sleeves and try to make this world better. We should do this because we have hope in a source of goodness and light that no amount of evil can overcome.
May love of Christ give us a hope that is down in our heart, and may that lead to a feeling of joy that can’t stop. Today, 68% of people find the news as a source of anger, so let us introduce people to the good news that isn’t fake. May they experience the good news through us and through the way we show them love and compassion. May they know it is real, because our hope and joy is authentic. It is so easy to be pessimistic and cynical about this day and age, so may we be wise and confront the problems of this day and age with a hope that is grounded in the greatness of Christ. Being so grounded, may you be full of joy as we constantly encourage one another and give thanks to God the Father for everything.