“Give Thanks to God”
Ephesians 5:15-20, August 15th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Listen to this writing from the Apostle Paul as speaks to us about being wise, taken from Ephesians, chapter five, verses fifteen thru twenty.”
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Having heard these wise words from the Apostle, let us consider how we might use his words in our lives today.”
“Give Thanks to God”
When we receive a gift, it is proper and polite to say thanks. But how do we give thanks, verses just saying the words, ‘thank you’? Ultimately, the Apostle’s message today, involves actions, which we might then take to express our gratitude. Clearly, we are being invited to sing songs and hymns of praise for all that God has done and is doing for us. Paul adds to his remarks by speaking of being wise, as he suggests that not being careful of how we live – would be unwise. Therefore, we are being told that giving thanks to God is the wise choice! Even as we seek to be wise, we need to be sensible about this. We first must clarify that we are, indeed, thankful, and grateful to God for the gifts which have been bestowed upon us. Therefore, let us start to clarify all that there is to be grateful for! How do we do such a daunting task, you ask! We could pass out some note paper and pencils and pens and we can each start a gratitude list! A very common practice by many motivational spiritual leaders, therapists, and support group leaders for sure, as well as pastors like myself! So, let’s begin reviewing the list I have put together for us. You can begin working on yours after the service, today.
First thing in the morning is a good time to start our list. Therefore, when we wake up, after giving thanks to our Creator for the breath of life, one might begin a list; even if one might begin to cough (as I often do,) thus needing to clear one’s throat of the mucous that accumulates in the night from allergies. After a few minutes, we then begin giving thanks that all is working in this miraculous and mystifying human body we live within. When was the last time you thanked God for the gift of life itself? A very precious gift indeed. On a cold morning it is good to have warm cloths to dress in, a blessed gift for sure. Here in Florida, we are typically grateful to have central air conditioning to cool our over heated bodies after a time outside in the summer heat. Yet, in the mornings, even a tropical morning, it can be refreshing to feel the cool morning air as we watch the sun rise-up in the eastern horizon. When was the last time you watched the sunrise? They can be so exhilarating to watch! With all the beautiful colors and if near water we can see the splendor unfold in the heavens and in the reflections brilliantly displayed upon the water. Once we finish our morning rituals, we fortunate ones, we are able to choose from an assortment of fresh clean outfits to put on. How precious that we do have some many choices, perhaps a whole closet full! What of the homeless ones? Where do they shower and keep their clean outfits? Oh, you are perhaps right they don’t have a fresh clean outfit to put on. How sad. As a child, I was blessed with my brothers hand me downs, which my mother kept clean and put away in the dresser near my bed, which had clean sheets; sheets which my mother had washed and then hung outside to dry in the fresh air. Yes indeed, my dear mom kept the sheets and my clothing freshly laundered on a regular basis. So very much to be grateful for as I grew up. Pray we all are so fortunate. Yet, sadly, we know that this is just not the case. Gratitude lists are so revealing. Can’t wait to read yours! The day has just begun. There is so very much more to write!
As we move our thoughts into the kitchen or dining area to have some nourishment to start the day, we may want to give thanks for those who were there to help make that possible. Milk was delivered and left by the front door in a glass bottle when I was but a lad. I remember seeing how the cream rose to the top. As my mom was always in the kitchen, I must give thanks for all she did. Perhaps there was someone special you remember? Choosing a favorite orange juice is always fun. My mom always served it with our breakfast. The local supermarket seems to have a large variety and amply supply most of the time. We are truly blessed here in Florida as we can so easily get it fresh. Surely, we ought to be thankful for the farmers and those that deliver and provide fresh oranges and vegetables to local stores! I sure hope and pray everyone is excited about completing their own personal gratitude list this afternoon or surely before next Sunday! Paul was seeking to instill in his listeners the wisdom of good living. Good living means we acknowledge the many people who make our day what it is. Thankfully, God has given us abundant gifts which we each have the opportunity to enjoy, use and thus pass forward to someone in our own circle of influence!
As I have studied the scriptures, I have found we need to sometimes read between the lines. Paul’s writings are sometimes rather abstract, academic, and often theoretical, as we try to span the ages and cultures changes between the time of his writings and our own. He clearly writes to those early churches, like the one in Ephesus which his letter was first written for. He writes them trying his best to help them live their lives as he believes Christ would want them to live. Therefore, when Paul, tells us to live as the wise, we must stretch a bit and consider what the full implications might be. What is clear, is that Paul interacts with others all the time, even while in prison, which he clearly was for much of his ministry. With this in mind, it is important for us to consider how we affect others around us… even as we acknowledge those that have touched our own lives. Oftentimes we confuse the implications of our interactions without first evaluating how the connection has perhaps changed us, as we adapt to each of our contacts with others. Perhaps this will be easier to grasp if we consider a few practical examples.
Think about how the pandemic has influenced and altered your life this last year and a half. Logically, you will come up with a least five negative things that have touched your life. Sadness is surely one as we have witnessed so much suffering and death due to this virus. Conflict, due to disagreements with others about what has happened and what our response has been, is surely another. Yet, as in any world event, innovative new technologies are often developed to adapt to the situations which life has suddenly tossed our way. True in war, true in peacetime and true in world events such as the pandemic has created. Lock downs, masks, excessive strain on medical facilities and staff. Yet, even in a time of great conflict, there has been new innovative efforts by world agencies, all over the world, efforts by independent groups to develop vaccines to fight the virus and now the variants of the original virus! Likewise in world wars, flight, aviation, and transportation around the world took great strides forward that have clearly changed how we have developed during and after past wars came to an end. And, like all world events the actual changes have taken place at the local level, even as people’s lives are truly touched in one way or another. Creating a vaccine was only the first step. Distribution was a next vital part of the process. Now, we have learned that educating people, at every level of society, is a crucial part of this massive effort. Today, we are being pushed to realize, and respond to inadequate communications about every aspect of these efforts. Lives are saved and lost at every step and misstep along the way.
Paul knew nothing of the societies and cultures his writings would influence. He often talked about our individual relationships with God and the people of God. Paul told us not to get drunk, as he considered that evil from his point of view in history. Rather, he wanted to see people filled with the living Spirit of Christ! He wanted the Holy ecstasy of God’s power and love in our very beings to cause us to gather-together, as one, to sing praises to God. He tells us to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,” /Ephesians 5:19/ Paul, of course, goes on to remind us to whom we are showing our appreciation and gratitude to! We are giving thanks to God. Frequently, over the years, I have been called to visit with folks nearing the end of their earthly journeys; those who are nearing the kingdom of Heaven. I give thanks frequently, for this holy privilege. Truly, these folks give me more than I have ever given to them. Yes. I give of my presence, yet it feels like they receive the very presence of God’s love and living Spirit. I must confess, I am still baffled by these phenomena. Recently, I visited a man who is at heavens gate waiting and preparing to go to his eternal rest. He gave me the honor of being invited to his home, honored to be invited to say those last words when his family and friends bid their last farewell. Soon after I arrived, he began telling his wife how much better he was feeling, after I walked into his room. When such moments occur, I can only be humbled to realize God’s Spirit sometimes follows me as I allow God to take the lead in these visits. Alan Brehm, theologian, and writer says this for us to ponder. “The way of wisdom is a life filled by the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, serving in the strength the Spirit provides, adopting the attitudes inspired by the spirit, attitudes of joy and gratitude and humility and respect.” Seeking to be of maximum service to God, I have been able to serve the needs of others, even as they offer me their faithful understanding of God’s constant love.
William Loader, of Murdoch University, serving the Uniting Church in Australia, offers these words of wisdom. “Ultimately Ephesians has as its theme: coming together in a wholeness in which, connected to Jesus as one body, we seek to fill the whole of reality with God’s goodness.” There are many, like me, that witness to the wonders of serving the people of God. It is hard not to stand in the town square and proclaim the happenings, the miracles of God’s grace and mercy. My heart beats faster whenever we can offer from our hearts, singing songs and hymns of adoration, praise, and thankfulness for the fullness of God’s love. Truly, I give thanks for even the hurtful bruises of humanness which have brought me thus far. Listening to Paul’s message today, we all need to make the most of the ‘fullness’ of which life offers.