Are there any people here who are fans of the TV show Lucifer? The main character is Lucifer, played by Tom Ellis and he is the Devil – Lucifer Morningstar. But he got bored with running Hell and so he left there and now operates a night club in Los Angeles. But he falls for police officer named of Cloe and, through that relationship, becomes a consultant for the LADP where he helps to solve crimes – or more often just gets in the way.
Clearly there is no attempt here to follow the biblical witness – then again, when has Hollywood ever tried to do that – but I actually enjoy the show partially because it has a very interesting take on the Devil. In Lucifer, the Devil is not a tempter or an evil being. It’s his job to insist that people see themselves as they truly are and be made accountable for their actions.
One of the ways he does this is my using his mojo. What’s his mojo? His mojo is that nobody can lie to him. He has this little trick that, if he looks into eyes of someone and asks them, “What do you truly desire?” they have to tell him no matter what it is. And, of course, it is seldom what we might expect.
And maybe that’s a good question for all us today, “What do you truly desire?” Of course, you don’t need to tell me the truth and, unlike Lucifer, I cannot compel you to do so. You can pull the wool over my eyes if you’d like and you can even pull the wool over your own eyes if you want to but you can’t fool God.
WISE & UNWISE CHOICES
With that as a background, I want to read Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV):
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” That’s an interesting way to begin sermon so let’s dig into it and see where it goes. There are really two thoughts going on here. The first one has to do with the way we live. “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” What do you think about that? Are we careful about how we live? Do we seek to make wise decisions and avoid the unwise? What do you truly desire? And do we make the most of every opportunity? I wish we could all say, “Yes,” to that but we can’t. And as Linda read week from Ephesians 4:25 (NIV): “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor.” I don’t have to tell you what that means. We all know that we aren’t always wise and we all know that we don’t always make the most of every opportunity.
But nonetheless Paul write, “Be careful how you live and be wise.” When was the last time you did something unwise? I confess that when asked what I truly desire, my answer is often chocolate. For most people that’s not so bad but for those of you who know me well, you’ll understand why it’s a problem for me. The problem is that chocolate contains caffeine and I do not tolerate caffeine very well at all.
I did a funeral a while ago for a lovely woman who had live a wonderful life, was full of year and died surrounded by those who love her the most. What a way to live. What a way to go.
But among the things that Martha loved the most in life were chocolate truffles. And the family, to honour their memory of her, had bowls of chocolate truffles all around the visitation room. It was a lovely assortment of Lindors which I’ve always found particularly tempting. So there I am in a room surrounded by one of my deepest desires.
And so I had one and it was delicious. Understand that even I can normally handle one truffle. But it was delicious enough to have another and so I did. Before I know it, there were four chocolate truffle wrappers in my pocket and that was way over my limit. Was that a wise thing to do? Not really because about ten minutes later, I started to get all of the symptoms I always get when I overdose on chocolate. That is, I started in with blurry vision, heart palpitation and light headedness. Mainly I start acting like hyperactive four-year-old. And some of you are wondering how that’s any different than the way I usually act. But trust me, it is. So was it wise? No. Was it delicious? Yes. Would I do it again? You just never know. Fortunately, the funeral was the next day and the only lingering affect was the mild chocolate hangover I had in the morning.
What do you truly desire? To make wise or unwise choices? Jesus calls us to make wise choices.
THE DAYS ARE EVIL
Paul wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.” Don’t make stupid choices. Make good decisions. Why? That brings us to the second point. Paul goes on to write, “… because the days are evil.” Make wise choices because the days are evil.
That’s an interesting phrase too. Let me ask you. Do you think the days are evil? Maybe they are. When you turn on the news, what do you discover? I think you discover that there is lots of evil in this world. Oh sure, there’s good out there too but there is definitely lots and lots of evil.
Think about this. There are about 7.7 billion people on the earth. That, by the way has doubled since 1970 which is, by itself, rather unnerving when you think about it. But here’s the problem: 2 billion of those people – that’s over ¼ of the world’s population – suffer from one of various forms of malnutrition. Three million children die from the effects of malnutrition every year; that accounts for 1/3 of child deaths worldwide. And the really sad thing is that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. But in North America every day, truck loads of fresh produce are dumped into land fill sites because they peppers are the wrong shape of the tomato has a little blemish on it. Do you think that’s evil? I think it is.
Let’s bring it to a more personal individual level. Scott Peck was a theologian and psychiatrist who authored the book The Road Less Travelled which became an international best seller. He once wrote of a 15 year old teenage boy he was working with. His name was Bobby. Bobby was increasingly troubled after his 16-year-old brother killed himself with a .22 rifle.
Peck tried to probe Bobby’s mind, but got nowhere. Searching for ways to establish a bond, he asked what Bobby had received from his parents for Christmas. “A gun,” Bobby said.
Peck was stunned. “What kind?” he asked.
“A .22,” was Bobby’s reply.
More stunned, he asked, “How did it make you feel, getting the same kind of gun your brother killed himself with?”
Bobby answered, “It wasn’t the same kind of gun. It was the same gun.”
I think that’s evil. Does anyone really think that there is no evil in this world? Look at the divisions we see, the divisive politics, the hyper-partisanship of our society, the poverty that still exists in such an affluent society as ours If anyone thinks there is no evil, then they just need to get out more.
I could go on but you get my point. The days were evil 2,000 years ago when Paul first wrote to the Ephesians, they are evil now and they’ve been evil at every point in between. And evil will continue until Jesus returns in glory at the end of the age to complete the kingdom that he began when he first walked this earth.
What do you truly desire? To choose evil or choose good? Jesus calls us to choose good.
WHAT ISN’T EVIL?
The days are evil but do you know what isn’t evil? I can’t find very many references in the Bible to say that people are evil. I’m not saying those references aren’t there because they might be but, try as I might, I can’t think of one. Can you? The Bible might call many things evil. It talks about the evil one who is the devil. It talks about resisting evil. It talks about people who do evil things. But I don’t know of any verses that say that people themselves are intrinsically evil.
Do you know why that is? It’s because all people are capable of being redeemed by the blood of Jesus. All people can have their sins forgiven. All people are eligible to enter the kingdom of God through faith in Christ. Evil can’t do that. Evil cannot enter God’s perfect kingdom and so people themselves cannot be evil.
One of the big problems in the Church is that we sometimes we forget that. We look at people as if they are evil. And we treat them as though they are evil. And by treating them as though they are evil, we also treat them as though they are beyond God’s redemption. And do you know what that is? It’s just bad theology because as it says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV), “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” If God wants all people to be saved then God made it possible for all people to be saved which means that while people might do evil things, they themselves are not evil. Please get that straight in your minds.
But do you know what we do when we treat others as though they are evil? We turn them off to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We make it difficult for them to be saved because of our actions and our words and our inability to see them as God’s creations, worthy of God’s love and capable of being washed by the blood of the Lamb. Yes, people might do evil things but they themselves are not evil. And we have to stop treating them as though they are.
Instead of treating them as evil, do you know what we are supposed to do? We are called to love them. No matter what someone does, no matter what actions they might take, no matter how heinous their crimes or how grave their sin, God commands that we love them. And I mean that word when I say it. God commands us to love. That doesn’t mean that they are free to do whatever they want. All of us must be held to account in one way or another. But God’s call to love is a non-negotiable, non-debatable imperative. We are commanded to love. I’m not saying that it’s always going to be easy because, as we all know, some people are a whole lot easier to love than others but no one ever said that faith was going to be easy. And no one ever said that it would be easy to follow Jesus. But to follow Jesus we need to love others just as God loves us.
What do you truly desire? To treat people as though they are evil or to love them? Jesus calls us to love them always.
FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
I just want to close off with a final point. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NIV) says this: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Don’t treat people as evil. Instead love them. And understand the Lord’s will. And then it goes on to suggest a few things that we can do if we really want to make wise choices. First, it says don’t get drunk. Note that it doesn’t say not to drink wine. That’s something else that we sometimes get mixed up in the Church. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wine or any other alcoholic beverage. And I’m not trying to justify my own behaviour because, as many of you know, I have chosen not to drink alcohol but it doesn’t bother me if you do. The Bible never says that drinking alcohol is evil or sinful. What it does say is that we are not to get drunk because when you’re drunk, it just makes is so easier to make bad choices.
But why did Paul place this first in the list of things that we should consider if we want to make wise choices? He did it because it leads into the next line. He wrote that rather than being filled with alcohol, we should be filled with the Spirit. So if you’re going to be filled with anything, be filled with the Spirit. If you’re going to get high on anything, get high on the Spirit. If you’re going to let something influence your behaviour then turn to Jesus.
And then Paul gets really specific. If you want to dwell upon the things of God, here’s what you should do. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord and give thanks to God for all things. In a nutshell, what this means is that if we are filled with the Spirit, we will dwell not upon the evil things of this world but rather upon the holy things of God. We will seek to fill our hearts, our minds and our bodies not with things that lead to debauchery but things that bring us closer to God and to each other.
So, in the end, it comes down to this; what do you truly desire? That’s a good question. What choices will you make? Will they be wise or unwise choices? Do we choose to follow the evil of this world or do we follow the way of Jesus? Do we fill ourselves with things that lead to sin or do we fill ourselves with things that lead to life and holiness?
The choice is ours. Jesus calls us to choose wisely.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We walk this earth day by day receiving blessing upon blessing. We offer our thanks for your many gifts given freely to us out of your generousity and grace. We praise you, O God, and thank you for the beauty of summer, for bright flowers and rustling leaves, for clean water and refreshing swims and road side fruit stands.
Father God, we offer our praise to you in morning and in the evening, in our homes and at work, everywhere, without hesitation or reservation! When difficult times arise, you are our refuge and strength. Thank you for the assurance that we are never alone. We can depend on you when our own resources come to an end. You are worthy of praise and adoration and we will honour you with our thoughts, words and actions, acknowledging who you are and what you have done for us. God you have given us the summer breezes, the fluffy white clouds in the sky, the beautiful flowers in our gardens, the birds singing in the trees and the warmth of the sun. Everything we see reminds us of your awesome power.
We pray for a world in which good triumphs over evil, in which love triumphs over hate and peace triumphs over hated. We pray for a world of your making, O God. We pray that you would transform our hearts as the first step of transforming the world in which we live.
We pray for our brothers and our sisters who suffer from illness or who are recovering, remembering especially Mark, Gary and Carol.
We pray for the poor and hungry. We pray for victims of war; keep us kind and compassionate. We pray for those who are sick at home or in the hospital. We ask that you touch them with your healing spirit. We pray for those who mourn the loss of a loved one. Grant them healing and wholeness. Grant them your peace. We pray specifically for Canadian soldiers in many parts of the world who continue to put themselves in harms way for a greater good and more peaceful and just existence. And on this day, we remember, especially, the Dieppe Raid that is being remembered later this week. Remind us, O God, that even though military people may far away, they are defending us here right now as they always have. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
August 15, 2021 / Pentecost 13 / Proper 15
2 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111; John 6:51-58; Ephesians 5:15-20
CALL TO WORSHIP
Out of the depths, we call to our God
who hears our pleas and answers our cries.
Out of the depths, we wait for our God
whose love is unfailing and mercies endless.
Out of our need, we seek the one who meets all need.
Into our lives, the Saviour comes.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy God of Earth and Heaven, we come into your presence seeking words of encouragement and blessing. We are so thankful that you have extended your grace to us though we have neither merited or earned your favour. By your grace, we live life on earth to the very fullest. By your mercy, we accept the renewed hope of eternal life. Rain upon us with your unfailing love as we bow before your throne of glory. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
In the midst of your blessings there is the reality of our sinfulness. We were made good but we fall far short of your perfection. As we grow more mature in you, we will not be deceived, for your truth will become ever stronger within us. Expose everything that we do to the light of your word, correcting any areas of sinfulness, and strengthening the rest. Help our lives to be lights and beacons of your salvation. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The great deceiver is set to bring us down from the grace of God. But nothing in heaven or on earth has any power to separate us from God’s love given to us in Jesus Christ. Hear the Good News of redemption. Receive the life that only Jesus brings. We are forgiven. We are free. Alleluia!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The heavens are filled with the wonders of God. Our lives are gifts given to us by God our Creator. Our offerings to God are in gratitude for the countless blessings that come to us everyday. We thank you, O God. Amen.
The great and wonderful love of God moves in our hearts. It shines through our words and actions. May we so live that all that we do and say will give glory to the One whose glory is everlasting. Let us go and live our faith to the fullest.