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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville
Dr. Todd B. Jones
August 19, 2012 

Wisdom’s Way
1 Kings 2:10-12
Ephesians 5:15-20

What parent hasn’t uttered these words, and what child hasn’t heard them?  “Be careful, then…!”  This is exactly how our passage in Ephesians begins: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise.” What does it mean for the Ephesians to live a life of wisdom?  More to the point, what does wisdom look like in our lives?  None of us want to be unwise, or foolish, and today in our passage we are given a glimpse into what first century Christian wisdom looked like.  In six short verses Paul offers crisp, vivid counsel to this young, emerging church.  In effect, he is offering Biblical wisdom, much like the Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes offers wisdom in the Old Testament.

I think we would do well to lean in to listen, to overhear what it means to one very important leader of the early church to live wisely and well.  Let me lift up three nuggets of Biblical wisdom this morning for our benefit.

First, we are told, “make the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  The King James Version says, “redeem the time.”  One of the reasons the New Testament throbs with life and a sense of urgency is this notion that “the days are evil.”  By that Paul also meant that “the days are short.”  Theologians call this sense that time is running out an apocalyptic perspective on time, and to understand the New Testament authors, you must realize that they all saw time in this way.  They believed they were living in the last days, or the end times, and I have come to believe that this is not a bad way to live, for it counts all time as utterly precious, and in very short supply.  Foolish people waste their time, they mark time, they kill time, or bide their time.  Wise is the one who makes “the most of the time.” John Gardner said, “To sensible people, every day is a day of reckoning.” Truth to tell, we never know how much time we will be given.

Thomas Edison lived with a profound sense of this notion.  He even tried to get by on less sleep, hoping to buy himself more time.  He bragged that he rarely needed more than four hours of sleep, but people close to him also report that he would fall asleep in his workshop or at meetings throughout the day.  But I love what Edison said about time!  “Time is not a commodity that can be stored for future use: It must be invested hour by hour, or else it is gone forever.”  Immanuel Kant said, “The great rule of moral conduct is, next to God, respect time.” Truth is, you never know when that time will come for you when time will be no more.  I sat with my friend Jim Fleming on Thursday at Vanderbilt Hospital for over an hour.  Jim and Jane and I talked about all manner of things, including the struggle he knew he was facing to recover from his recent amputation of the bottom part of his leg.  We talked about serious things, we laughed about much.  We had a delightful visit.  Then I shared two Psalms with Jim and we prayed.  I said I would see him again soon as I left his room.  And I was dead wrong.  On Friday afternoon I got two phone calls telling me that Jim had died suddenly on Friday morning.  Isn’t that so often the way life is?

Make the most of the time you are given.  This is surely wisdom’s way.  I repeat often the prayer we use here at funerals: “Lord, we know not what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving Thee is always at hand.”

Secondly, we are called in this passage to worship and praise God.  Paul says, “Do not get drunk with wine … 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….”  It is a call to worship that Paul is sounding!  Wise is the one who makes time and space in life for worship and the praise of God.  Paul mentions singing as a part of worship.  I always remember Goethe’s word that “the highest can never be spoken; it can only be sung.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the nineteenth century, said, “When your heart is full of Christ, you want to sing.” It is a blessed and wonderful thing to have a song in your heart, and to sing out of a full heart with no worries that anyone is listening except God.  I always love the line my dear friend Bill Wood shared when he preached here on Kirkin’ Sunday eight years ago.  For twenty-seven years Bill was the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.  One Sunday a man came out after church and said, “I didn’t like that last hymn we sang – it was awful!” Bill replied, “Well, we weren’t singing it for you!”

Worship is “making melody to the Lord in your heart,” and wise is the person who learns how important it is to make room for worship in our busy lives.  William Temple said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.” Who doesn’t need that?

Finally, Paul says wisdom calls us to “give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We may lift our eyebrows at this one.  “Give thanks at all times and for everything!?”  But this is exactly what Paul says.  Nothing is more life-giving than to give thanks, and to cultivate the habit of gratitude in your life.  Mother Teresa said, “The best way to show my gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems with joy.”  To do this, you need to possess a radical notion of the presence of God in everything that calls us to give thanks “at all times and for everything.” This is the same perspective that led Paul to write to the Romans, “For we know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

In this passage, two truths are juxtaposed, and maybe they offer us some insight into the wisdom and power of gratitude in our lives.  On the one hand Paul tells us that “the days are evil.”  And then he enjoins us “always and for everything give thanks to God in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Christians are people called to affirm both of these realities.  “The days are evil.”  Who doesn’t notice this?  Violence breaks out in this nation of ours in ways we can scarcely comprehend.  I think I can no longer be shocked, and then I am once again.  “The days are evil.”  But we are not called by this to despair, to wring our hands and to say, “Ain’t it awful?”  We are still called to give thanks to God “always and for everything” because we know that God is good.  Last Saturday night at Hunter Oldacre’s and Mary D. Bartoe’s wedding, this young couple had the wisdom to ask Hunter’s two grandmothers to read the two scripture lessons.  That meant that Alice Ann Barge read the 100th Psalm.  I don’t ever want to forget how it sounded to hear Alice Ann’s gracious, loving, Southern lilt reciting the words of the 100th Psalm in the King James language.  “Know ye that the Lord He is God.”  “For the Lord is good…,” she said.  I wanted to weep.

The days are evil, yes, but God is good.  And when God created this earth, God declared that it was “very good.”  And this good God promises to redeem, reconcile and restore this world one day.  And it is our joy and calling to live in grateful anticipation of this promise.  Wisdom’s way calls us “to give thanks always and for everything.”

I love what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about this!  From a prison awaiting his execution by the Nazis, he wrote, “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give.  It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison to what we owe others.”  Of course, we owe everything to God, so it is wise and life-giving to give thanks to God “always and for everything.” I love the phrase that we use in the call to prayer in Holy Communion: “It is meet, right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Lord God.”

Christians are called to be people whose lives are marked by gratitude.  Is your life marked by thanksgiving?  Wise is the one who grows in gratitude all his or her days.

Take these wise words home with you today and live into them: 

1.     Make the most of the time you are given.

2.     Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3.     And give thanks to the Lord, always and for everything.

This is wisdom’s way!

Amen.

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