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Twelvth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, August 16, 2015

Under the Influence

Text: Ephesians 5:15-20

There is an expression with which we are all familiar. If it hasn’t happened to anyone we know, we certainly hear it with celebrities and sports figures. The expression is “DUI”: driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I’m not here to talk about drugs and alcohol so much today, as to talk about the influences under which we operate. For there are many influences that reach out and affect our thinking and our behavior. And God’s Word has something to say about the influence under which we ought to be operating.

We read this admonition in Ephesians chapter 5 today:

Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 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. [Ephesians 5:15-18]

This letter was written over 2,000 years ago to Christians living in a city in western Asia. The days are evil, it told them. But the message applies equally to us in 2015 in the world today. The days are just as evil, if not more so, than they were then.

• And the answer, the antidote, the cure, is to live as people who have God’s wisdom,

• to understand what the will of the Lord is,

• and not to be taken in by the world.

• The answer is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

• The answer is to live under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

These days are evil. To even say that will cause some people to label you a religious extremist. That is because they are not able to see the world with God’s wisdom. The wisdom God makes available to us through the Holy Spirit enables us to “understand what the Lord’s will is.” God’s will is that this world will be a vastly different place from what we see around us.

• It will be a place where everyone is devoted to God,

• and where our love for Him causes us to love one another.

• It is a place where God’s commandments are kept,

• and people live in peace and unity with one another.

• It is a place where there is abundance, and no one goes hungry,

• no one is neglected.

• It is a place where there is no pain or grief or dying.

• It is a place where the swords have been beaten into plowshares

• and the spears have been made into pruning hooks; and no one makes war anymore.

• It is a place where the lamb will lie down with the lion,

• and children can safely play over the den of the serpent.

When the world is not like that, the days are evil. They are evil, because the world is operating under the influence of one who opposes God. He is the one Jesus called the father of lies. And his lies have been believed. They were believed in ancient times, and they are believed today. The Bible is telling us not to fall for Satan’s lies, but to operate under the influence of the Holy Spirit—to believe and live by God’s wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives us.

It is easy to look back at the dark events in the past and say, “Those days were evil.” It’s easy to look at world wars and ethnic cleansing and the destruction of the World Trade Center and say, “those days were evil.” But with God’s wisdom, we can see that here in this nation, founded in liberty and justice for all, that very liberty has been twisted against God’s will, and these days are evil.

• All over the world, people are blowing people up by the hundreds and thousands.

• Terrorist organizations are performing atrocities in the name of religion.

• Millions of refugees are on the move, desperate to find a safe place to live,

• while citizens of many countries are fearful of what immigrants will do to their culture and their economy.

• We are bombarded on every side by false and confusing messages about

o   Sexuality

o   Gender identity

o   and people’s “rights” not to have to hear the name of Jesus in a public place, or

o   not to have to see a Bible on their commanding officer’s desk.

The days are evil. Don’t be taken in by them. “Do not live as unwise people but as wise. Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Be filled with the Spirit.”

What does that mean exactly, “be filled with the Spirit?” As we have already seen, it means to receive God’s wisdom. Jesus promised that He would not leave us as orphans, but that He would send us the Holy Spirit, to “guide us into all truth.” (John 16:13) The Holy Spirit will protect us from falling for Satan’s lies, and open our eyes to the truth. And, as Jesus said, the truth will set us free—not to the counterfeit freedom that Satan offers—not the freedom to be our own gods, but the freedom to be whom the one true God made us to be, and to live as He made us to live.

With that truth, with that freedom, comes a whole lot more. The Bible speaks of the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are the special endowments from God that empower us to participate meaningfully in His great work. First Corinthians Chapter 12 lists the gifts of:

• wisdom

• knowledge

• faith

• healing

• miracles

• prophecy

• distinguishing between spirits

• speaking in tongues

• interpretation of tongues

In other places, such as Romans Chapter 12, we see different lists of spiritual gifts:

• teaching

• leadership

• encouragement

• serving

• generous giving

• and mercy.

These are gifts from the Holy Spirit which empower faithful believers to live together and play a role in the great reversal God is going to bring about. Satan’s lies are destined for destruction, and God will obliterate all the effects they have had throughout history. And through the gifts of the Spirit, we, His followers, will participate in that momentous work.

And what kind of people will we be if we operate under the influence of the Holy Spirit? That is what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit.” We find that in the Letter to the Galatians. Galatians contrasts dramatically the life under the influence of sin, versus life under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. [Galatians 5:19-21]

Wow! Who would want to live in a town like that? That is the world around us. When we look at it through the eyes of wisdom from God, we can see that the days are evil. But now listen to what it goes on to say about living under the influence of the Holy Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. [Galatians 5:22]

Wow, again! That’s where I want to live. And that is what every Christian congregation can be. That is what our communities could become, if we all lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Love: a genuine concern for one another. An unselfish willingness to jump in and be there for one another in times of crisis. Genuinely wanting what God wants for that person, and being willing to do what you can to make it so.

Joy: the ability to live in celebration and hopefulness. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we don’t carry anxiety around like a dark cloud—we rejoice in the Lord, regardless of our circumstances. Yesterday, the Light of Christ Women spent the whole day at a retreat talking about joy: what it is, how you cultivate it, and how it changes your life. “Rejoice in the Lord always,...Do not be anxious about anything,” the Bible says. (Philippians 4:5) That joy is a gift from God, and it shines forth from a family of Christians like a bright light to the world.

Peace: A Spirit-filled group of Christians is at peace with one another. Their life together is not spoiled by dissensions and factions, disunity and strife. That peace is another bright light to the world, saying, “something special is going on here.”

Patience: We put up with each other happily. Yes, we have our quirks. Yes, we say things without thinking. Yes, we let each other down. Yes, we still have a long way to go in our journey toward being like Jesus. But the Holy Spirit gives us the patience to live in harmony. When you see that patience at work, you know the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit.

Kindness: We go the extra mile for each other. We say a word of encouragement when we could have just sat quietly. We offer to take each other to the airport or the doctor. We help each other with our perplexing computer problems. We donate school supplies for kids who can’t afford them. We welcome visitors from Uganda into our homes. This is the fruit of the Spirit. These are not tasks we are supposed to perform; these are signs from God that we are operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Faithfulness: Is there any quality that better describes God in His relationship with us? He never leaves us, never forsakes us. He always keeps His promises. He listens to our prayers. He comes to our rescue. And He never lets anything separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. To the extent we can be said to be faithful, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Goodness, Gentleness and Self-Control: These are qualities we admire so much in Jesus—the motivation and the ability to do the right thing. We leave no one damaged by our words or our actions. We touch people’s lives with care.

The Fruit of the Spirit is Christian extremism, because it is extremely different from the world around us. People have imagined such a world for hundreds of years. They call it “Utopia.” This is the way they think the world will look when we get everybody educated and fed and gainfully employed. But without the Holy Spirit, it will never happen. The Fruits of the Spirit are not the way things will be when the world’s economic and social problems have been solved by smart people. They are the outworking of the Spirit of God in those who know Him, love Him, and surrender their lives to Him—people operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday at their retreat, the women of our congregation used the African Bible Study method to focus on the scripture. According to this method, you ask three questions as you read the passage three times.

• First, what word or phrase jumped out at you?

• Second, where is this passage touching your life?

• Third, what is this passage calling you to do or be in the days ahead?

As I apply this method to today’s text from Ephesians 5, I find that:

The phrases that jumped out at me are:

• The days are evil.

• Do not live as unwise people.

• Be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This scripture is touching my life at the point of the family of Christians I live with called Light of Christ Anglican Church, and the blessing it has been to serve here as pastor.

And third, what do I hear this passage calling us to do or be? I hear it calling us to be serious Christians. God has gathered us together for His purposes. And He is calling us to be serious about our faith, serious about our ministry and serious about our life together, day in and day out. How we interact is not simply for our own benefit. It is what God intends to use to reach the world and transform it. The only way we can be what God calls us to be is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And if we are, we will blossom with His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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