August 19th 2018 Sermon by Pastor Galen Zook
How many of you have ever received a gift, but you didn’t know who it came from? Maybe it was a package you received in the mail with no return address label, or a gift given at a party with no card inside telling you who it was from. Or perhaps someone did something nice for you, but you had no idea who to thank.
As wonderful as it is to receive a gift like that, it can actually be really frustrating when you feel really grateful but don’t know how to express that gratitude.
Here in Ephesians 5, Paul makes it clear how and where to express our gratitude. Since everything we have ultimately comes from God, Paul says we should “sing and make music from [our] hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20).
This doesn’t mean that we can’t express our gratitude to people who do nice things for us, but we are to recognize that everything we have ultimately comes from God. Or, as the book of James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” (James 1:17).
So anytime we receive something good we know that ultimately it comes from God and it is good and right to express our gratitude to God.
These past few weeks as we’ve dug into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we’ve been challenged to “build one another up in love,” to “live in love,” and now, to “give thanks…in love.”
In these five short verses, the apostle Paul covers an eclectic range of topics – everything from wisdom, to knowing the will of God, to wine, drunkenness, the Holy Spirit, music, and thanksgiving. Talk about a seemingly random train of thought!
Wisdom is of course the thread that ties together our Scripture readings for today. In Psalm 111 we learned that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10). In 1 Kings, King Solomon asked for wisdom in order to judge justly, and God granted his request, giving him both wealth and honor in addition to wisdom.
And here in Ephesians 5, Paul tells us that we should live wisely, “making the most of every opportunity.” Paul equates wisdom with “understand[ing] what the Lord’s will is.” And somehow this conversation about knowing the will of God ends with singing songs and giving thanks to God!
What’s the Deal with all the Singing?
In a society where everything is all about the bottom line, where we’re all about productivity and getting things done efficiently, singing can seem like a trivial waste of time. From an outside perspective, it probably seems odd that one of the things we do every week when we come together in church is to sing songs. Don’t we have anything better to do with our time than singing these old hymns?
And yet, Paul seems to say that singing and giving thanks to God is a wise use of our time. That in fact it’s a much better use of our time than many other things we could be doing, such as, for example in verse 18, getting drunk on wine. Paul says that it’s precisely because we should live wisely and make the most of our time that we should be filled with the Spirit and sing songs of praise and Thanksgiving to God. Why is that?
We Were Made for This
Well, in the book of Isaiah, we learn that we were made to glorify God. God says that we were created for God’s glory (Is. 43:7). And so, if we wonder what the Lord’s will is, which Paul seems to equate with living wisely, it’s to bring honor and glory to God. When we give God praise, we are living into God’s purpose for our lives.
You see, if we’re really wise, we recognize that we were created for more than ourselves. We’re a part of something bigger, we’re a part of God’s grand design in creation to bring honor and glory to God. And so those who are truly wise spend their time living not for themselves, but living to bring God glory and praise.
In truth, there are countless ways we can glorify God, not just through singing. We can glorify God through our work, through our relationships, through serving others. But singing songs to God is a way that we particularly focus our thoughts and attention on God in a concerted way. Although we can and should honor and glorify God every moment of the day, all week long, it’s so easy for us to lose sight of our greater purpose and identity in the midst of our daily lives at work, taking the kids to school, making dinner, watching TV. In singing praises to God, we are reminded that everything we have comes from God, and we are prompted to give thanks accordingly.
Music plays a vital role in our spirituality. Music redirects our thoughts and attention away from the busyness of this world. It slows us down, and focuses our attention on God. The songs we sing in church remind us of God’s love and goodness and grace, and they give voice to the inner thoughts and feelings of gratitude that we have. Music provides an avenue for us to express our appreciation, love, and devotion to God. Music has the ability to move us beyond ourselves, to focuses our thoughts on the One who is worthy of all of our praise. Rather than an inefficient waste of time, singing to God is actually one of the wisest ways we can spend our time because it recalibrates everything in our lives around God.
Recapturing our Sense of Awe and Wonder
But singing songs in church is not just an individual experience between me and God. Paul says here that we should “[speak] to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:19).
I have to admit that this struck me as odd when I first read it. Don’t we sing songs of praise to God? Why does Paul say that we should speak these psalms and hymns to one another?
I think the reason Paul says this is because it’s so easy for our senses to become dulled, for us to lose our sense of awe and wonder. It’s amazing how quickly we get bored.
Think about something that used to fill you with awe and wonder that you now take for granted.
I can still remember the first time I flew in an airplane and saw the clouds from up above. I was 10 years old, and my family was flying to Mexico. To me, seeing the clouds from above was the most amazing sight in the world. I remember loudly exclaiming to all of my family members, insisting every 10 seconds that they look out the window. “Look, now the clouds look like cotton!” “Look at the clouds now, now they look like marshmallows!” “Look, I can see the ground beneath the clouds! Isn’t that amazing?”
For many of us, that’s how it felt when we first encountered God. Maybe you didn’t grow up going to church and you heard the Gospel for the first time as a teenager or adult. Or maybe you grew up going to church, but at some point in time you had a life-changing encounter with God. You were struck with awe and wonder at God’s love for you. Maybe you came to a point of desperation and in need of God’s healing or forgiveness and you felt God’s love and mercy wash over you and make you new. You were amazed and in awe of God. God’s grace was the most beautiful, amazing thing ever, and you wanted to share it with everyone around you! You wanted them to experience God’s love and mercy for themselves!
But in time, that initial excitement and sense of awe and wonder often fades away.
I only fly a few times per year, but now when I do travel by air, I rarely take notice of the clouds. Usually I read a book or try to take a nap on the plane and I barely glance out the window at all. Somehow over the years I’ve become inoculated to the grandeur of the clouds from up above.
But recently I was on a flight and I overhead a child, about the same age I was on my first flight, who was having the same reaction to the clouds that I did when I first flew in an airplane. At first, to be honest, I was slightly annoyed. I was probably trying to read or take a nap and this kid was being disruptive. But he was so excited and persistent, that eventually I looked out the window, and it actually was pretty amazing! I started to reappreciate the beauty of the view, and the amazing wonder of flying higher than the clouds.
Coming to church, fellowshipping with others, singing songs of praise to God can be kind of like that. In church we interact with people from many different ages and stages of life, many different spiritual backgrounds. We worship alongside people who have been followers of Christ their whole lives, and others who have just come to faith in Christ recently, and maybe others who are still seeking truth. And we all need each other. We need to help each other recapture our sense of awe and wonder of God’s love, mercy and grace. Sometimes we might get slightly annoyed by each other. But we need each other, to remind ourselves of who God is, and of who we are in Christ. Coming to church, fellowshipping with others, singing songs of praise to God is a way that we can remind each other of our who we are and why we’re here on this earth.
The Worship Cycle
I’ve noticed an interesting cycle in worship, when we honestly and truly bring ourselves before God. Worship often starts with gratitude for something that God has done for us, or perhaps a recognition of God’s love for us. Our gratitude naturally flows into love and appreciation for God. We think about how wonderful and amazing God is and we give honor and glory to God.
But the more we think about God’s goodness, it eventually leads us to compare ourselves to God. And we recognize how unworthy we are of God’s love, and how far short we fall in comparison to God’s love and mercy.
This recognition of our sin (how we’ve missed the mark) and inadequacy leads us to repentance (to turn away from our wrongdoing). We’re led to ask for God’s grace and mercy. When we repent, we realize that God is always willing to extend grace and mercy to us, and so we feel God’s love, mercy and forgiveness wash over us anew. This of course leads us right back into praise and worship, and the cycle continues.
Invitation to Respond
This morning I want to invite us to enter into that cycle of worship in whatever way you feel led. Some of you may be overwhelmed with praise and thanksgiving to God. Let this next song be a way that you express your gratitude to God. Others of you may not be at that place. Maybe there’s something going on in your life, and you just really are struggling to praise the Lord. Maybe you need prayer for a particular situation in your life. During this song and during the Prayers of the People afterwards, I want to invite you to fill out the prayer request card in the insert in your bulletin. Or if you want, you can even come forward to the altar to prayer. I would be happy to pray with and for you.
As we sing, let’s sing our praises not only to God, but let’s also remind each other of God’s love and grace and goodness. Let’s work together to recapture our collective sense of awe and reverence for God. Let’s live into our identity and purpose as children of God. And let’s give God the glory and praise that God is due!