This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, August 19, 2012.
15 So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. 16 Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times.17 Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will.18 Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: 19 speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.
Ephesians 5:15-21, Common English Bible (emphasis added)
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
This morning we’re continuing our reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Just to remind you, Paul is deeply concerned about divisions within the community of faith. Paul spends the bulk of the letter reminding the Ephesians of their common faith, Lord, baptism, and purpose. Last week, we talked about Paul’s reminder to the community that in order to restore unity among the people, we must choose our words carefully. He writes:
Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say… Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ…
Or, in the words of my mother—and, perhaps, yours—“if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
This week, Paul reminds us that the time we live in is full of evil. The world is desperate to hear, witness, and experience the Good News of Jesus Christ. Therefore we must move past our petty quarreling and seize the day so that we might redeem the time in which we live: offering an “evil” world glimpses of God’s kingdom.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, encouraged everyone who would dare follow in the Methodist way to examine each and every day of his or her life. In his work, “A Collection of Forms of Prayer, for every day in the week,” Wesley provided a model that included morning and evening prayers coupled with reflective questions to help process the day. He encouraged Methodists to consider the following questions every morning:
- Did I think of God first [in the morning] and last [before I fell asleep]?
- Have I examined myself how I behaved since last night’s retirement?
- Am I resolved to do all the good I can this day, and to be diligent in the business of my calling?
The evening questions differed from day to day, but you get the point. Methodists were, if Mr. Wesley had his druthers, to examine their life each day in order to make sure that each Methodists was doing all they could do for the glory of God in the time they were given. They were encouraged to seize the day—all of it—for Christ’s sake in doing the will and work of God. It was this reflective process, lived out in private devotions and small groups, which helped the Methodist movement embody the kingdom and transform the world.
I wonder how we, today, stack up to Mr. Wesley’s vision for the people called Methodists. Be honest, how often do you examine your day? I’m not asking you if you keep a calendar that you review each morning. I mean, how often do you examine how you spend your time? How often do you take stock of your day to make sure that not one second is wasted in fulfilling your Christian duty to grow closer to both God and neighbor?
Can you imagine how different the world might be if every “serious” Christian, as Mr. Wesley put it, evaluated their day and tried, with God’s help, to live each day according to God’s will? I can’t help but think that if we’d all seize the day for Christ’s sake spending all our time growing in love with God and neighbor—making all that we do all day long suited to that purpose alone—the world would be a little bit more like heaven and a lot less like hell.
We live in a world full of evil: war, hatred and violence, economic and social stratification. We live in an evil time full of temptations that divert us from growing in faith and love toward God and neighbor. There are diversions that keep us from being good stewards of our bodies, our resources, our relationships, and our world. There are diversions and temptations all around. “These are evil times. Because of this don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will.”
While the times we live in may be evil, you are not. You and I, we were created in the very image of God. We were created good. Sin—the choices we make and the things we do which drive us away from God and neighbor—has hidden that image. But, it’s there. Jesus the Christ came to uncover and restore that image within every human being.
The grace of God offered through Jesus Christ helps us move past our mistakes and wrong choices so that we can see the God-given goodness within ourselves and others. “So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. Take advantage of every opportunity” to do good and live the life you were created to live: the life Jesus revealed within us.
Live in a way that honors your Creator.
1-2Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
3-4Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.
5You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.
6-7Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that.
8-10You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.
11-16Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.
Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!
So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!
They are evil times which means there are plenty of opportunities for us to do good: to enact God’s will and offer a broken and desperate world glimpses of God’s kingdom.
SO, “take advantage of every opportunity…don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will.” Seize the day for Christ’s sake! so that an evil time might be redeemed by the power of God at work through us. Seize the day! Do all the good you can every second of every day! And, we will surely see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.
Friends, as you go forth from this place, wherever you go, whatever you do, take every opportunity to do good. Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Focus all your energies on growing in love with God and neighbor! Do this and, I promise, the world in which you live will begin to look a lot more like heaven and a lot less like hell. Amen.
 Ephesians 4:29, 32, 5:1-2a, Common English Bible (CEB).
 John Wesley, “A Collection of Forms of Prayer, for every day in the week.” in The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed. Complete and Unabridged, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 209.
 Ephesians 516b-17, CEB.
 Ephesians 5:15-16a, CEB.
 Ephesians 5:1-16, The Message.
 Ephesians 5:16a, 17, CEB.