Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Wise Man Walking
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As I read our text for this morning, the prison term, Dead Man Walking, came to mind. That was, in part, because our text refers to the life and conduct of a Christian as "how you walk", and in part because it is just the opposite. The "Dead Man Walking" is a man, condemned to death, walking to his execution. But this is not about a dead man walking, but a live man walking, or, one who walks in life and for life and to life eternal. That manner of walking is described in our Epistle as walking as a wise man, so, this morning, our theme is Wise Man Walking.
On some weeks, all three of our readings teach the same lesson, or build up to a single theme. This week is just such a time. Although our epistle lesson is the text, formally, all three lessons contribute this morning to the message about living the Christian life. The message is short and simple: being a Christian is not something we can do carelessly. It requires our attention and our will and our devotion. The Old Testament people tended to take God for granted. God's judgment concerning them is the Old Testament lesson. Jesus repeated that message and added a word of caution in our Gospel. Paul, inspired by God, urges us to understand the evil nature of our present age, and to understand the will of God so that we might continue to live in it. That is what we are calling, "Wise Man Walking."
The Old Testament lesson appointed for this day begins with pure Gospel - "I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name." With these words God describes His gracious choice. In this case He is speaking of is choice of the chosen people of the Old Testament. He was not sought by them, but He caused them to find Him. He chose them and revealed Himself to them, and made them His holy people.
The reading speaks about the Old Testament people, but it describes our situation as well. God chose us. He called us by the gospel and through the sacraments to be His own. It is the work of God, not our own effort that makes us His Children. He pictures Himself to us in the lesson as trying to get their attention, and ours, as though He were waving His arms in a crowd and calling out, "Here I am." He not only chose them, He worked hard at keeping the children of Israel focused on Him, even though they did not call on His name.
He then describes their conduct as His children. They walked in a way which is not good. He calls them a rebellious people. They did not listen to Him, but they followed their own thoughts. They decided what they thought was good and right, and utterly ignored His Word and His commands. He pictures Himself pleading with the people - He says, "I have spread out my hands all day long." It is an image of one man reasoning with another, pleading for sense and understanding. But they were rebellious, and would not listen and walked away from life everlasting into the judgment of God. This is a problem many who call themselves Christian today also seem to have.
Too many Christians today ignore the Word of God and go their own way. They claim the name, and they claim the promises, but they refuse to hear God's holy Word. They want to decide what God is like. "Oh, my God is not like that! *My God would never send people to hell. *My God would not reject me for doing this - - or not doing that! *My God would not condemn me simply because I didn't believe this or that doctrine! *I can worship my God better out in nature than in a stuffy church. *It's not like I've killed anyone or anything. *My God is forgiving, so it doesn't matter what I do or how I live my life."
Well, it mattered back in the days of Isaiah, and it matters today. They sacrificed to gods of fertility, gods of pleasure, gods of prosperity, and the like. What is the difference today? Many Christians still invest themselves in pleasure, in profit, in sensuality, and in many different things with more energy and interest than they invest themselves into knowing God or serving God. The Old Testament people thought they could get away with it. They thought that God didn't know, or God didn't care, or God wasn't really going to do anything. Everyone else did it, they reasoned, how could it be really wrong? Well, it was, and they found out the hard way.
The situation wasn't any better in the time of Jesus. He told the parable which makes up our Gospel reading today about it. The object of the parable was the Jews. They were the ones invited to the wedding feast. But, Jesus says, they were unwilling to come. When God sent His prophets to call them to the wedding feast, they paid no attention. God commanded His servants, the Prophets, to go again, and tell them all that God had done to prepare for the wedding feast, and to encourage and exhort and urge them to come. Still they would not pay attention. Some had business, some went to their farms, and still others beat the servants, mistreated them horribly, and even killed some of them.
That is the history of Israel. Jesus reminds them of it, and describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians as the rage of the King sending men to destroy those murderers. Then the King sent His servants out into the street, into the hedges which lined the roads to find the unwashed, the homeless, the poor - and the formerly ignored and worthless "little" people. He told His servants to invite them in. He did not look at their worthiness - those originally invited had proved themselves unworthy. The king called to everyone, through His servants. All were invited, both good and evil. The king intended to fill the wedding hall with guests.
We are those guests. We, the Christian Church as one sees it on earth today, are those worthless little people. We were called and chosen by God. He wants us to fill the wedding hall of eternity and join in the wedding feast of the Lamb. We are not invited because we are desirable, or attractive. We have not been chosen on the basis of our conduct - good and evil alike have been called and invited. God has chosen us in His grace.
The King in the parable provided each guest with a wedding garment. It was, we are told by scholars, the custom in Jesus' day to do that. In a society where everyone typically owned only one suit of clothing, if you wanted them dressed nicely, you provided the attire. Our attire for the Wedding Feast of Christ with His bride, the Church, is the white robe of Christ's righteousness, earned by a life of sinless obedience to His Father. It was given for us by His death on the cross for our sins and in our place. It is the gift of God to all who are called and who present themselves at the door of the feast, which is the Christian congregation, here on earth.
But in the parable, the king found one man without the wedding clothes. He had been given the garment, but He was not wearing it. In other words, he refused the gift and the hospitality of the King. It was a great insult to the king, and meant that the man had no business being among the guests. In the parable, the King's response was to take great offense, to cast the man into the outer darkness - always a symbol of judgment and the place of divine wrath. The man was bound hand and foot. There was no hope of escape. He was sent to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, meaning profound sorrow and regret. That is the picture of the 'so-called Christian' who will not wear the robes of Christ's righteousness, who will not deliberately be the Lord's, who will not be what God has called him or her to be, or live the life that God has called him or her to live. Such an individual is a 'dead man walking'.
Jesus concludes the parable with the words, For many are called, but few are chosen. He means to communicate that there will be many who think they are going to the wedding feast of eternal life who are not actually going. The reason they are not is not God's capriciousness, but their own refusal to be God's people, to believe God's Word, and to take God utterly seriously. They wanted something else: to work it out themselves, or they have decided that what God teaches is either incorrect or insignificant, and so they go their own way. They are wrong, and the outer darkness of hell awaits, where there is no glory of God to light their days, only supreme sorrow and agony, and sincere and consuming regret.
Paul picks up our theme in Ephesians, beginning with the only appropriate word, Therefore . . .
Therefore, be careful how you walk. In the light of the truths of the Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel - and of all that has come before this point in the Epistle to the Ephesians, live carefully and deliberately as God's child. There are few specific rules laid down in this passage, but the earnest exhortation to be careful - to live deliberately as God's chosen ones. Do nothing without thinking it through. Be the kind of person you know God would have you to be. Do what you are clear from God's Word is godly for you to do.
Paul continues, Do not walk as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, however much time God may give you, because the days are evil. We live in evil times, among evil people. We face temptations not only to sin, but also to ignore God, temptations to take things for granted, and to assume that we have nothing on earth to fear, except perhaps a terrorist pilot or a failing economy. But we do have reasons for fear, real reasons for deep fear - the devil, the world, and our own flesh. What seems "just natural" to us is not usually good, for our natures, outside of Christ, are sinful and hungry for evil.
So, Paul tells us, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And what is the will of the Lord? [Our salvation.]. . . He has bought you back at the price of His own blood and death on the cross. He has redeemed and rescued you from sin, not freed you to further sin and corruption. He has freed you to serve Him, not to serve the lusts of your own flesh. Paul contrasts the two situations by saying do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. Two different kinds of fillings, one is wasting away, the other is being filled for salvation. Two different kinds of spirit. How appropriate that we, like the ancients, refer to alcoholic beverages as "spirits." Paul is saying, don't get filled with spirits, but with the Holy Spirit. That is the part of a wise man walking.
One result of this filling with the Holy Spirit is that we hold forth the Word of God to one another, speaking psalms and singing hymns and spiritual songs, making melody and singing praises to God, giving thanks always for all things. Coming to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in prayers and thanksgivings and praises. And acting towards one another as if the other were just as important as we are, or perhaps more. Dealing with one another as those who have been chosen by Almighty God as the precious ones of the earth.
Being subject to one another in the fear of Christ means always dealing with one another - that is, fellow believers - from the foundation of our faith and on the basis of what we know by God's grace. We are, each one, chosen for life. We are, each one, paid for by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for us and for our forgiveness and for our salvation. We are the chosen of God, bought and paid for with the blood of Christ and precious beyond price. And we are to deal with each other as such. We are to deal in love. We are to deal with one another in humility. We are to deal with one another in honesty. And we are to repent to one another and forgive one another, just as we have - and the brother or sister in Christ has - been forgiven!
Therefore, be careful how you walk. Walk as wise men. Learn the lesson of Old Testament Israel. They took it all for granted. They did what seemed right to them. They misunderstood God's patience and figured that how they walked before Him no longer really mattered, and they were dead wrong. Learn the lesson of the man who was invited to the wedding feast, but chose not to wear the garment of the forgiveness of sins - righteousness and holiness which has been freely provided for Him - the wedding garment. Instead, trust in the Lord with all your heart, and walk carefully as God's Child, living deliberately in His blessings, forgiveness, and love, and be that Wise Man walking.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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