I preached this sermon last week, and unfortunately the service didn’t get recorded with sound. A service without sound isn’t much use so we deleted the file. I’m publishing this, a bit late I admit, for those who have been following our sermon series on Ephesians. Back in the days before BBC iPlayer it was so annoying when your programming of the video recorder didn’t work and you missed an episode of a series you were following. I don’t think I blogged the other sermons I preached in the series – but I do have tomorrow’s lined up ready to go. If I have time next week I will put the others on here.
We are at the penultimate week of our digging into Ephesians. I’ll be producing a sheet with the summary diagram on one side and the list of what we are on the other.
You are – or I am…. Chosen, reconciled, strengthened, part of the body of Christ, the new humanity. So what is it this week?
Have you ever been drunk? I have to admit, I have. On a couple of occasions when I was much younger, very drunk. These days, as many of you know, I do enjoy a glass of wine.
But the enjoyment that a glass or two of wine can give you is nothing compared to the enjoyment that comes from being filled with the holy spirit and having a wonderful time of worship with others.
Being in large gatherings, like spring harvest, or in the late 1980s I went on the March for Jesus and was part of a huge congregation in the NEC where we learnt a new hymn: Shine Jesus shine, and a few others. Such Love really touched me on that occasion. The Holy spirit was definitely among us.
Songs of Praise – no, not just the TV programme, but any gathering where we sing our favourite hymns is a wonderful occasion. We had one at St John’s last week, and the next 3rd Wednesday at All Saints is going to be a Songs of praise with hymns chosen by the congregation.
Quite a few of the hymns chosen were those that people said they wanted at their funerals, as well as other reasons given and that made the time of worship more special. The hymns meant more because we knew that they were especially chosen by one of us.
Those of us with Christian faith, who have put our trust in Jesus, are not immune from the trials and tribulations of the world. We face serious operations and illness, we cope with redundancy and unemployment, and we go through the valley of the shadow of death and bereavement. We have all gone through this pandemic and have varying degrees of hesitation about getting back to normal, or being in large gatherings, including going down to the pub.
Our Ephesians reading continues Paul’s over-view of what the Chrisitan faith is all about and today’s section is telling the readers what the signs should be when someone is spirit filled.
Don’t be foolish… be wise….. the wise person will try to understand what God wants them to do. What would Jesus do? Remember those wrist bands? WWJD? On them?
The only way you really know what Jesus wants you to do is to be close to him and to have him guiding you day by day, being filled with the Holy Spirit, gradually becoming wiser.
There are 4 Signs of the Spirit (according to our summary diagram)
1) Singing with others: The result of being filled with the spirit is often a desire to sing and worship with others with a variety of psalms and songs. Speaking to one another with psalms – how often do you encourage someone else with a verse or two from the bible? In our community event there’s a positivity drawing – is there a bible verse you can think of that you can add to encourage someone?
I remember an elderly man when I was a curate. I conducted his wife’s funeral, and in the period coming up to her death her would often say “underneath are the everlasting arms“. That’s stuck with me. He knew where she was going, and he knew God’s love would sustain him in his grief.
2) Singing alone – there’s nothing quite like having a good sing along to a CD. Get one of your favourite hymns and include that in your prayer times at home. It doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune – or like me are perfectly capable of singing in multiple keys.
3) Being thankful: give thanks to God at all times and for everything…. mmmm how can we get through difficult days when the last thing you feel like doing is being thankful and rejoicing. There is wisdom in always counting our blessings, and no matter how dark life is, there is always something to be thankful for. When you pray before going to bed – or when you’re lying there waiting for sleep to come – ask the Holy spirit to help you look back on the day with God’s light. Look for the blessings, the times to be grateful for, the times when you can see that the Holy Spirit was at work in you.
4) Elevating others: If your bible has paragraph headings, you may find verse 21 is put at the start of the next section. But actually, it is the end of this section. Another sign of the Holy Spirit at work in someone is that they become less arrogant and more likely to submit to others. If you treat everyone as if THEY were Jesus, are you more likely to treat them better, to go with what they want, rather than what you want? Paul goes on to write about how husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters treat each other.
Today’s reading has quite an emphasis on singing. But you may not feel like singing. Do you remember the Boney M song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’? Where we sat down? And we remembered Zion….. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Being bereaved or going through difficult times is like being in a strange land. Nothing is the same as it was. It isn’t easy to sing songs of praise when perhaps you are angry with God for taking your loved one, or allowing them to die, especially if it was a sudden or relatively young death. It isn’t easy to sing praise songs when you’re struggling to make ends meet or feeling anxious or depressed. And being depressed is like living in a strange land.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? And let’s face it, we have ALL been living in a strange land of face masks and distancing recently. Well, the bible does have advice. The New Testament letters written to the early church recognise that life is sometimes difficult for Christians for a variety of reasons. St Paul writes at the end of one letter:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4)
Do you want some of that peace? Follow Paul’s advice. I have a challenge for you. Do you like a challenge? I do. I find that taking on a challenge helps me to improve in whatever area of life that challenge is in.
The Olympic champions challenge themselves to improve, bit by bit, in their chosen sport. They weren’t born champions.
I’ve challenged myself to go for a walk before breakfast -and NOW it feels odd if I don’t go for that walk. I’ve also joined in a 60 day prayer challenge using the passage from Philippians 4. Today is day 46.
I’m using the pattern suggested by someone who has produced a journal. I’m using my own note book though.
Start with Rejoice – a time of thinking about god and praising him for who he is….. It really lifts the spirits to start your prayer time with worship. I’ve found on many days that a hymn comes to mind as I pray and walk before breakfast. I find it on Youtube and sing along at home, or if I know the words, I just sing it as I walk round the lake.
Anxieties. What worries you? Tell God. Thanks – What are you thankful for? Tell God. Thank him. It’s surprising what comes to mind once you start.
Requests – Ask God to help you or someone else. We are all good at praying for others, and some people think we shouldn’t pray for ourselves. But Jesus did give the pattern for prayer: give us today our daily bread. Turn those worries into requests.
Answers – make a note of when you realise that a prayer has been answered.
If you keep this sort of journal – a record of prayer and answers to prayer – it can build your faith up. It can help you focus on the various aspects of prayer. As you rejoice, give thanks, bring all your worries to God and look for answers, I pray that you will be filled more and more with the holy spirit and know that Peace that passes all understanding.