“See the that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15).
Last Sunday in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he addressed two related topics, the essential characteristics of the life of non- Christians and the things which must be banished from the Christian life. Today his appeal to the Ephesians finishes with an exhortation to them to live like the wise. The times in which they were living were evil: public drunkenness; murder in the streets; wizards, sorcerers, witches, astrologers, palm readers and diviners of the entrails of animals provided misguided direction to the citizens of Ephesus. Those who were not Christians, found their happiness in filling themselves with wine and with other worldly pleasures. Paul brought to theEphesians a new hope for the future that was positive and uplifting. They found their happiness in being filled with the Spirit of God.
The early Church had a happiness that made people want to sing. The Psalms of David, which begin on page 345 of your Book of Common Prayer were chanted and hymns were sung making the Church a happy escape from the world outside. The instinct was to give thanks for all things and in all places and at all times. One could even give thanks for hell because hell was a warning to keep you living your life the right way. Members were dazzled with the wonder that God’s love had stooped to save them. It was a church that gave thanks because its members had an awareness of being in the hands of God.
The early Church was a church where people honoured and respected each other. Paul says that the reason for this mutual honour and respect was that they revered Christ. They saw each other not in light of their professions or social standing but in light of Christ and therefore they recognized the dignity of everyone. I am struck by the fact that no matter how much time passes and how much things appear to change nothing changes. In first century Ephesus people were concerned about public drunkenness and lewd behavior. Yet thousands of years later we read about people in this area who are arrested for drug use, DUI and sex acts in public. These people are trying to find happiness in worldly pleasures much like the Ephesians were doing, rather than finding happiness by being filled with the Spirit of God.
The search for happiness is not new, mankind has been seeking it from the beginning of time. Some have even suggested that Adam ate the apple Eve had picked from the Tree of Knowledge because he knew that a happy wife means a happy life. There are many dimensions to happiness but at its core is one’s own outlook and their own comfort with themselves. Many people seek happiness in things like possessions, money and travel. But the feeling or euphoria they get from things and experiences soon wears off and the person is left seeking another fix of happiness. We see this in some churches where in true concert fashion church goers are entertained. At services like this people have a good time singing and clapping along to upbeat praise music. But it is kind of like eating Chinese food where an hour afterward you are hungry again. These are all external influences that can only give short term joy to people. Studies on crowd behavior have found that the behavior of the crowd is heavily influenced by the loss of responsibility of the individual and the impression of universality of behavior or more simply stated doing what everyone else is doing. An expressive mob is any large group of people gathering for an active purpose. Civil disobedience, rock concerts, and religious revivals all fall under this category. This is the dynamic that is at play in large churches. The individual is lost in the crowd and in order to fit in conforms to the crowd behavior. If others say it was a great service the individual just agrees. In the early church congregations were small and often met in someone’s home, hence the term ‘my Church home’. In these smaller groups the individual, not influenced by the crowd behavior, is able to have his or her own personal worship experience. Real, lasting happiness has to come from within. And a real intimate relationship with God also comes from within. It’s an individual thing not a crowd thing.
Music has always brought happiness to people. Many great songs are based on biblical stories and Christian teachings. In 1965 the Byrd’s had a hit with the song Turn, Turn, Turn which is based on Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 verse 1 thru 8.
Hallelujah written and recorded by Leonard Cohen in 1984 used a lot of religious imagery, including references to some of the more notorious women in the bible all of whom are popular figures in songs. Some of the lyrics include; “You saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you” – this is a reference to Bathsheba, whose husband was murdered by the king so he could have her for his own. “She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair” – refers to Delilah, who cut off Samson’s locks that held his superhuman strength.
“Amazing Grace” is a hymn first published in 1779 by John Newton, an Englishman who worked on slave ships. On one voyage, they ran into a nasty storm and Newton thought the ship was going to sink. After they made it through, Newton became deeply religious and after reaffirming his faith he became a Priest in the Anglican Church. He wrote Amazing Grace based on his religious conversion, and how God saved him that night even though he was a “wretch.” Today it is one of the most recorded and played hymns in the world.
But nothing brings happiness to people more than being honoured and respected by others. Accepting people for who they are not what they have is a major failing of our society today.
Our challenge is to look past their possessions and see the person they are inside. Some of the people in the world today with the most possessions are the least happy and yet some who have the least are the most happy. It’s not about what they wear, the car they drive, where they live or the color of their skin. It’s about who they are inside. When you recognize people for who they are as a person you show true honour and respect to them. That’s what Christ did. He never failed to recognize people like The Leper in Luke 5: 12-16, the Paralytic in Luke 5:17-26, Levi the Tax Collector in Luke 5:27-32, and the Sinful Woman in Luke 7:36-50. The Pharisees were outraged every time Jesus would meet with people they believed that no Jew should ever give a moment’s notice to.
What the Church should do is to provide you with an environment where you can have an intimate relationship with God and share that experience with like minded people regardless of who they are or what they look like. The Church is the original safe space where everyone who lives by the word of God is welcomed and accepted. And a place where sinners can come to confess their sins and repent. A place where we can both individually and together thank God for all the blessings he has given us. And that is the core message in the Collect for All Saints Day that was read earlier today.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen