"Be Careful How You Live"
The Rev. Susumu Ando—August 16, 2009
In this morning's Epistle Lesson from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul admonishes his readers to be careful how they live. He points out three things: Be wise, do not get drunk, and be filled with the Spirit. We need to pay attention to these things, and do them as well. First, be wise. Paul says, "So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do." (Ephesians 5:15–17 NLT)
To Christians, being wise is very different from being smart, or educated or learned. Paul explains Christian wisdom in his letter to the Corinthians. "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20 NIV) "We do use wisdom when speaking to people who are mature in their faith. But it isn't the wisdom of this world or of its rulers, who will soon disappear. We speak of God's hidden and mysterious wisdom that God decided to use for our glory long before the world began." (1 Corinthians 2:6–7 CEV)
So, we Christians who know the wisdom of God through Jesus don't act as if we are wiser or better or more intelligent than other people. Rather, we are humble because through the wisdom of God we acknowledge our complete dependence upon God's redemptive plan where death is defeated by love on the cross, and life and love emerge triumphant from the grave. The wisdom of God always tells us not to listen to the wisdom of Wall Streets and the wisdom of Hollywood, but listen to the will of God, and do what the Lord wants us to do so that we can make the most of every opportunity for doing good to people, especially the sick, the oppressed, the aged, the disabled, and the dispossessed.
Second, do not get drunk. Paul says, "Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life." (Ephesians 5:18 NLT) You know, just last month, a drunken West Babylon mother with five children in her minivan plowed through wrong way traffic on the Taconic State Parkway in Westchester, killing herself, four of the children, and three men in another vehicle.
Last week, a newspaper reported that a drunken Mattituck driver with her 6-year-old son in tow crashed into a 15-year-old boy in Southampton. The boy suffered massive head injuries from the crash, is in a coma now, and likely brain dead. Yes, getting drunk will ruin your life, and many innocent people suffer by it.
Let me ask you a question. What do people do when they over-indulge and become drunk? They submit themselves to the power of the beverage. It actually takes over their personality, and they do things they wouldn't normally do. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote, "We drank for joy and became miserable. We drank for sophistication and became obnoxious. We drank for friendship and made enemies. We drank for sleep and awakened without rest. We drank for strength and felt weak. We drank "medicinally" and acquired health problems. We drank for bravery and became afraid. We drank to make conversation easier and slurred our speech. We drank to feel heavenly and ended up feeling like hell. We drank to forget and were forever haunted. We drank for freedom and became slaves."
Just being sober doesn't mean that you have been recovering. Without seeing where your strong desire for getting drunk comes from, your sobriety may be temporary. If you don't face emptiness in your heart, you may have a high risk to relapse or you may use other substances to soothe your emptiness such as eating too much ice cream or chocolate. Or you may endlessly buy goods in TV shopping or catalog shopping, and never be satisfied.
That's the reason why Paul says the third thing, "Be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18 NRSV). Don't read this Scripture on the wall, "Be filled with spirits." If so, you must be drunk. What do people do when they invite the Holy Spirit into their lives? They submit themselves to the power of God!
So, when you let the Holy Spirit fill and control you, "Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts. And you will always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:19–20 NLT) If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, worshiping is the core in your spiritual journey. Everything uttered in worship—the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs—is to be about thankfulness. Thankfulness lies at the center of the Christian heart because God fills emptiness in our hearts with God's love through Jesus. It is the power of the Holy Spirit behind our communal heartbeat.
My friends, be careful how you live. Do you seek the wisdom of God instead of the wisdom of this world? Don't fill yourself with spirits. The power of the beverage will control and destroy you. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Worship God by singing, and do the will of the Lord with thanksgiving.
Let us pray.
O gracious God, You tell us through Proverbs, "How does a man become wise? The first step is to trust and reverence the Lord!" (Proverbs 1:7 TLB) So, we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit to worship You and praise Your name this morning. Thank you for giving us this privilege. Above all, thank you for revealing Your love through Jesus on the cross. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.