Living in these evil days
Ephesians 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Edith Rockefeller McCormick, the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, had great wealth, a high social position, and a small army of servants.
When they were hired, those servants were given one absolutely unbreakable rule: they were never, I mean never, allowed to speak to McCormick. To the best of anyone’s recollection, only once was that rule broken. That was when McCormick’s young son died of scarlet fever.
Word of the boy’s death reached the McCormick’s summer retreat at a time when the family was in the midst of hosting a party. After some discussion, the servants decided the tragic news was something that had to be shared with their mistress. One of them was elected to speak to the lady. Respectfully, the servant approached, leaned forward, and whispered the news into McCormick’s ear.
There was a long pause after which McCormick nodded her head. It was her way of saying she had understood the message. And then, with the news of her child’s death echoing in her head and heart, Mrs. McCormick did something most unusual. She continued the party … She continued on as if nothing had happened.
Unusual? Most definitely! How can a mother remain unaffected and act indifferent while she hears the news that her young son had died?!
And yet, how often don’t you and I appear unaffected and act indifferent while we hear of all the evil around us? It seems like every week we hear of another video portraying the murderous atrocities that happen in Planned Parenthood slaughterhouses. The news is disturbing and the graphic nature is nauseating. Yet, for the past four decades, we knew what was happening to these infants … and we did nothing about it.
Though the majority of Americans and the majority of states in America approve of God’s design for marriage, we have seen that the simple majority in a single courtroom can change all that. We know what God says about marriage, yet we remain silent. We let our feelings for our gay family members and friends influence us more than the straightforward words of our Almighty God and Creator.
“The days are evil,” St. Paul warns the Ephesians. The city of Ephesus was a major commercial center. It was the ancient world’s version of the tourist and pilgrim markets. The great temple of Artemis – considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – was in Ephesus.
Ephesus was plagued by paganism, sexuality, hedonism, greed, and idolatry. Basically, Ephesus was a microcosm of everything that we experience everyday living in America.
The Christians living in Ephesus were constantly under attack by the devil, who was trying to lead them back to their empty, former lives. All around us, the devil is still attacking. Churches, which were once religious citadels are rotting from the inside out with false doctrine and permissive teachings. Marriages are under assault. Families are being torn apart. Our children are being sexualized and manipulated and brainwashed by music and movies and media.
We are in danger. The danger is that we aren’t going on the offensive. We aren’t taking the fight to the devil. We aren’t even on the defensive. We aren’t warding off the attacks of the world. We haven’t taken St. Paul’s warning to heart. We have allowed ourselves to become indifferent. We are apathetic to the evil munching on a salad while discussing the best way to sell baby parts, like parting out an old Dodge Dart. We are lukewarm to the beheadings of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. We are uninterested in taking up arms as Christian soldiers to fight against the government and courts that threaten to remove more and more of our Christian freedoms.
Our young people have already been infected by their parents’ apathy. Sadly, I hear it all too often, “I don’t have to worship God in church. It isn’t important for me to recite memory work. I don’t have to respect my parents or curb my tongue or sing God’s praises or share the good news about Jesus. Pastor, I don’t have to do any of those things as a Christian.”
Do you want to know my answer to those wayward souls? I tell them, “You’re right. You don’t have to do any of those things. But do you know who else doesn’t do any of those things? Pagans. Unbelievers. Atheists.”
St. Paul is encouraging the Christians in Ephesus to live differently than they did before. They are to respond to God’s grace. But if we consistently refuse to respond to God’s amazing grace, then do we still have saving faith in that amazing grace?!
“Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, be careful! The days are evil. Only the wise recognize it and know how to triumph over the evil that would drag them down into hell itself. We stay close to the source of wisdom and to the power contained in God’s Word. We sit down to dine at Wisdom’s Feast (Proverbs 9:1-6). We are refreshed in the baptismal waters that wash away all that we’ve done wrong that day. We are renewed as we eat the Bread of Life as we digest another sermon and relish another Scripture reading. We are strengthened as we partake of the Sacrament of the Altar.
St. Paul gives us one specific example of foolish living – drunkenness. The world encourages us to seek the next “high” by getting drunk. Then alcohol becomes our master, and sexual sins can be the result. We are living the worldly lifestyle that is no different from the rest of the unbelievers around us. At the party, after the volleyball game, at the wedding, no one can tell who are the Christians and who are the non-Christians. That’s just the way the devil wants it!
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is a good “high” to be had. But it isn’t in alcohol or illicit sex. “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is your Counselor and Comforter. He gives joy in the midst of sorrow and suffering. He calms you when you are in the hospital and comforts you at the cemetery. He heals the wounds in your marriage and gives peace in your workplace. He brings us to a spiritual “high” that has no regrets and lasts forever!
How do we triumph over evil and remain wise and faithful while doing it? We read the Bible and sing it. That’s worship. What we do here helps you out there.
We can look at the lives of the people in our pews and see that evil has infiltrated their homes. We can look at the children at WLS and see the darkness that shadows them from home to school. We can look at the teenagers who are attending Shoreland and see the pain of being raised in broken homes.
You are in the right place. The children are in the right place. Our teenagers are in the right place. Christ is overcoming the evil. Christ is shining His light. Christ is healing their broken lives. When we are in church and our children are in our Lutheran schools, they can hunker down and be protected from much of the evil and darkness and pain that pervades our society.
However, that is not the main reason why we come to church or send our children to a Lutheran school. Christ is in His house of worship. Christ is in our Lutheran elementary school and Lutheran high school. We not only experience Christ here, but we take Him with us so that He can chase away the shadows and scare away the devil and remove the pain.
The days are evil. But Jesus is the One who proclaimed that evil was defeated when He marched down to hell, pounded on hell’s gate, and preached to the demons and hell’s prisoners.
The days are dark. But Jesus is the One who is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. He was born in darkness and died in darkness so that He might be reborn and resurrected to live in the light of the Easter dawn.
The days are painful. But Jesus is the One who removed the pain of the leprous, the lame, the oppressed, and the outcast. He is the One who understands real pain when He endured the cross, its shame, its torture, its hellish payment for sins.
Friends, people are starved for real Christianity. They are not necessarily impressed by traditions, labels, logic, majestic buildings or family loyalties. They do notice when your words match your actions. They do pay attention when your doctrines influence your lifestyle. They do notice when your Christianity is real, authentic, and genuine.
That’s what St. Paul is talking about with the Ephesians. Paul warns that light and darkness cannot exist together, just like evil and righteousness cannot be present in the same place. So, we Christians ought not be living a life of compromise and concession.
Do not let your life be exemplified by the sad reaction of Edith McCormick.
Instead, moved by the Savior’s sacrifice, you need to hear and act on His words. The Holy Spirit has called you and kept you in the faith. He has washed you in baptismal waters, fed you His body and blood, and nourished you with the Bread of Life. Because of what God has done – and continues to do – our lives are changed. The old has gone and the new has come.
Out of gratitude for Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, His commitment and crucifixion, we who have been called out of darkness ought to avoid living in the twilight. It’s a lesson for our generation. We, Christ’s people, are different. We are living in evil days. But that doesn’t mean we have to condone or participate in the evil. We are special and unique. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live separate from the sinful world. Let us live these days showing to all our identification with the Christ who has saved us. Amen.Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.