"WISE" - Proverbs 3:7-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
From Sunday, August 19, 2018
Texts: Proverbs 3:7-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
“These are interesting times.”
I have used that phrase often lately. I’ve heard it from many of you as well.
In some ways, “interesting times” is a gentle way of saying what we really feel is quite harsh and maddening.
We keep talking about and thinking about Phil Hart and the changes he faces in his life without his dear Dot, whom we will all miss so much. What a great woman – strong and capable, gracious and kind, so devoted to so much good in this church and in the world. And she died – too young, too soon, too unexpectedly. This is perplexing, saddening, raising questions and uncertainty, forcing us to face life once again – striving to trust God and serve God.
“Interesting times” is what we keep saying about the news, . . . the Russia investigation, tariff wars, other issues, . . . . the world in flux. It is what we say instead of screaming something else.
“Interesting times” is a way a speaking about our days, these weeks, these months, . . . and all the things that are going on.
As you probably know, there are two words in Greek for “time”: there is chronos time – which is time that is measured, chronological times: minutes, hours, days, weeks, season. “Chronos” time ticks by.
The other word in Greek for “time” is “kairos.” Kairos time is not about a clock or anything measured. Kairos time refers to a propitious moment, a moment ready for action. Kairos time has to do with opportunity, not something quantitative but something QUALITATIVE. And in the Scriptures, Kairos time always has to do with the presence and purposes of God.
So, in these “interesting times” - of grief and confusion, of complexity and uncertainty - we have a passage from Ephesians that mentions “time” and the word here is “kairos.” Ephesians 5:15-20:
15Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In “interesting times” (chronos), as we live, as the days’ minutes and hours tick by, we have to remember that we are God’s people, and we have to make the most of the time (kairos), because all moments are filled with God, and God uses us always to bring about God’s promised reign.
“Be careful how you live, . . . not as unwise people, . . . but as wise, . . .making the most of the time.”
Here is how this verse appears in The Message, a contemporary translation: “Wake up from your sleep. Climb out of your coffins. Christ will show you the light.”
That is pretty forceful encouragement when we may be inclined, in these “interesting times,” to wallow in doubt and discouragement.
No. Scripture urges us: Wake up, climb out of your coffins. Christ will show you the light.
There is an URGENCY for us as faithful people to live a certain way, to make the most of every opportunity.
The poet Mary Oliver has a poem called MOMENTS. It goes like this: “There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled. . . .Like, telling someone you love them. . . .Or giving your money away, all of it. . . . .Your heart is beating, isn’t it? . . . You’re not in chains, are you? . . . .There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even possibly your own. (M. Oliver, Felicity, p. 9)
We are to wake up, be attentive, be WISE to the life and purposes, the focus and faithfulness that God wants from us. We are to seize the moment – “kairos time.” There is “nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life,” our lives.
Urgency is a prevalent theme in the Scriptures, and it is a primary point in this passage.
Then this passage shifts to a very important subject – worship and life together. Understand what the will of the Lord is – not debauchery, but life in the Spirit – life full of community, gathered, singing, serving.
Following the Memorial Service on Friday for Dot Hart, in the very crowded Chapel, a woman came up to me to thank me for the service. She had tears in her eyes. She said she grew up in the church but had drifted away. It had been many years. She wanted to say how deeply moved she was and how meaningful the church service had been – the music and singing, to prayers and the powerful sense of community. She said she has been missing all of this. . . . . I invited her to come back, to share in the music and worship and community. Another woman, not a member here, over-heard this conversation and chimed in, affirming that worship and singing, community and care, fellowship and support within the church remain crucial to her life.
This passage says, “be wise, . . . be filled with the Spirit. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, . . . making melody to the Lord.” This WISE activity puts us in a position to be showered with the grace we need. This WISE activity opens avenues for God’s love to pour into us, to strengthen us for the challenges that come our way.
We think we can get by just fine on our own. But can we? The Spirit, all through the Scriptures, works best when we come together, and sing, pray, share life, share heartache, gather around the table, eat together, work together, strive to grow together. It is not always easy. Life can get messy together. But, by God’s grace, we find encouragement and hope; we find life and light, especially in hard and interesting times, in collective worship, in community activities. This is how we redeem the time. This is how God equips us to live as God’s people.
Susan Pinker has written a book called The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier. Pinker says that in a very short time, we (human beings) have changed from group- living primates skilled at reading each other’s every gesture and intention . . . (changed from that) to a solitary species, each one of us preoccupied with our own screen. (Wow!) Pinker says, rather than focusing on our own screens, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for in-person, face-to-face interactions. It is these collective activities - where we participate in community, connect with others, sing, act, and serve together - that actually bolster our immune systems, send positive hormones surging through our bloodstream and brain, and help us live longer. Pinker calls this “building your village,” and she says, “building (your village) is a matter of life and death.” (see Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness, p. 140f.)
“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as WISE, making the most of the time.”
Last week, Sam Adams reminded us about the African phrase “UBUNTU.” We have lots to learn from the African culture. We can learn lots from the concept of UBUNTU. Here is how Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it: UBUNTU means my humanity is caught up, inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. We say ‘a person is a person through other persons.’ It is not ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It is rather, ‘I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.’ UBUNTU reminds us that we all belong to a greater whole, and we are diminished when we are not part of that greater whole. (See Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 352)
To be WISE, to make the most of the time, calls us to participate together in community, in caring, in worshipping and singing, in growing in gratitude and grace.
Those of you who were at the Memorial Service on Friday heard me talk about Dot Hart and “Strong back. Soft Front.”
Strong back means courage and conviction. Strong back means clarity about what is believed and what is important. Strong back means bravery in the face of challenge. Strong back means reliability and responsibility.
Soft front means kindness and gentleness. Soft front means grace, and graciousness, especially under pressure. Soft front means doing everything cheerfully, projecting joy and generating joy among others. Soft front means loving others, working always to make the world a better place.
We affirm and remember Dot Hart for her strong back and soft front. Many of these thoughts about strong back, soft front, are found in psychologist Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness. Brown reminds us that all too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love. Instead of having a strong back, many of us have a harsh, defended front, which mostly shields a weak spine. We see this in lots of people, even public officials. In order to maintain power and position, people lead with harshness, not kindness, with ugliness, not grace. People walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal a lack of confidence. But if we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, if we develop a spine that is flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that is soft, and open. What we want and need as individuals, as disciples, as God’s people living in community in the world, is strong back, soft front compassion, moving past fear, moving toward tenderness and kindness. (See Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness, p. 147f.)
“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as WISE, making the most of the time.”
Our first lesson from Proverbs reminds us to “honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce. . . . Happy are those who find wisdom and those who get understanding.”
I wonder if you have heard the story of what happened in Gettysburg, PA in 1913. Ken Burns highlighted this story in his documentary on the Civil War. Gettysburg, as you know, was the location of probably the most famous and certainly most gruesome battle of the Civil War. Gettysburg, 1913 would be the 50th anniversary of that battle. A large group of soldiers who fought that battle returned to mark the 50th anniversary. These soldiers decided to stage a re-enactment of Pickett’s charge. All the Union veterans up on the ridge took their places among the rocks, and all the Confederate veterans started marching toward them across the field below. Then the extraordinary thing happened. As the old men among the rocks began to rush down at the old men coming across the field, a great cry went up, only instead of doing battle as they had half a century earlier, this time they threw their arms around each other. They embraced each other and openly wept (see F. Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, p. 248).
We need to discover and embody that kind of WISE way. We need to be sincere in seeking always that kind of WISE life – filled with the Spirit.
As we think about our lives, our priorities, the “kairos” moments, we might think of the wars and skirmishes that we are involved in. What if we had eyes to see like those old men saw – WISE - as they fell into each other’s arms on the fields of Gettysburg?
There is always an urgency about the times. Be WISE. Be filled with the Spirit. Build community. Sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs. Be grateful. Strong back. Soft front.
None of the issues that we have, none of the complexities and concerns of these interesting times are beyond God’s reach or beyond God’s redeeming.
Be careful how you live. May we, by God’s great grace and Spirit, always to be WISE. AMEN
Prayer of Commitment: Holy God, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to love and serve you, with wisdom and grace, that is to abide forever. We seek that way following Jesus. AMEN
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on August 19, 2018. This is a rough manuscript.