Don’t Be a Stranger: “Filled to Overflowing”


Background Text: Ephesians 5:15-20
St. Martin United Church of Christ
Rev. Terry Minchow-Proffitt

This morning we finish up our summer sermon series. We’ve swept across the book of Ephesians. Every Sunday we’ve looked at the mystery of God’s church and how we can participate in such a mystery.

The “mystery” I mean is the endlessly unfolding nature of what God is doing as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The church is a mystery in this way. God is The Mystery in this way. You are a mystery in this way. The world around us is a mystery in this way. If we think that we have all of this “down,” or all figured out, we are sorely mistaken. Because God is alive and afoot in our hearts and our world, making things new. We trust this, but not easily. We read the news, then practice resurrection. It takes lots of practice. God is our abundance. We are filled to overflowing with God’s gracious presence.

Seeing life and living life as bounded by God’s unfolding Mystery is another way of saying what we claim to believe as a part of the UCC: God is still speaking. If God is not still speaking, then all we’re doing is rehashing what’s already been said and done. There’s no surprise. We’ve “been there and done that” so let’s go there and do it again the same ole way. Ad Infinitum.  Ad Nauseum. But if God is still speaking, we have an adventure on our hands and the future is much more than scary—it is downright hopeful. We try new things; we do old things in new ways.

Just before today’s passage begins, as a sort of preface, he quotes an early hymn, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine in you!” This is a Call to Worship. It’s also a call to love. Worship and love are the key ingredients to participating in what God is up to in the world. They fill us to overflowing.

Then he writes: “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but making the most of time, because the days are evil.” I don’t know how you define evil, but Paul tells us that living a wise life is the best antidote to evil. In general, with the exception of the occasional sociopath or psychopath, I don’t think people set out to be evil. But I do think that people who do not practice resurrection, people whose thoughts and actions are not immersed in worship and love, can end up opening the door to evil and sin. And much of that is not boogie-bear evil, but simple immaturity. Christian maturity, by contrast, is not about doing more and more for God. As Eugene Peterson puts it: “It is God doing more in and through us. Immaturity is noisy with anxiety-fueled self-importance. Maturity is quietly content to pursue a life of obedient humility.” It’s really more a question of priorities: How can I shift from working for God, to God working in me? This is the Spirit of wisdom. It’s flat-out wise.

Let me put a finer bead on things. One that is practical. Paul says, “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Over 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drugs in 2017. These are all overdose deaths. That’s more in one year than were lost in the entire Viet Nam War. This death toll is more than the peak death totals from H.I.V., car crashes, or gun deaths. This is an epidemic. It is hollowing out America.

Drugs can make you feel better. They can. They ease the pain, and they can ease the pain of living. They give you a temporary escape from reality. Sometimes they give you a vacation from being yourself.

Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, once said that religion is the opiate of the masses. What he meant was that church too often helps people escape the bitter reality of their lives. They focus on heaven and give up on the world.

We do not come to church to escape reality, but to face the world: to remind ourselves that life is larger and deeper and wider with God. Life is grounded in uncontainable love. And the more of this grace we let in, the more we refuse to live without it. We come to church not to escape the real world, but to remind ourselves of what’s truly real—a life based on God in Christ. We come together to catch a glimpse of what it means to be, as Peterson puts it, “present, attentive, and receptive” to what God is doing through us. This is downright smart. Wise, you might say.

But wait, there’s more! Paul tells us that we’re not here to get drunk, to get another fix, to escape life, to be entertained. We are here to be “filled with the Spirit.” And the clearest sign of this happening is whether we’re making music together, whether there’s a song in your heart, whether your gratitude is growing for the gifts of faith, hope, and love. Filled to overflowing, we live out of such abundance.

Sure, we all have our reasons for attending St. Martin. And I’m grateful for every one of them, no matter how mixed the motives might be, because at least you’re here. But I hope and pray that what you find when you get here is a witness to a new reality in Christ, a reality that is more real than a world that is deluded, disillusioned and, well, unwise in its living. Faith is not a narcotic adventure, but the real deal. The life of faith is where you don’t escape yourself or the world, but you learn to worship God and love the world, to face it, to face God with a song in your heart and increasing gratitude. Here, we wise up, we wake up, we rise from the dead and Christ shines in us. Christ is the true food and drink for our lives. Amen.