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Singing, Drinking and Time          

August 15, 2015

 John 6:51-58             Ephesians 5: 14b-20measure-of-a-man-main

 Today we continue our journey of exploring what it means to ‘chew on’ the bread of life. Those who eat the bread of life, who consume Jesus… are those who live into the life of the age to come (eternal life). Again Ephesians, our Epistle reading, has something to say to this great theme in the Gospel of John.

 “Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead…”

It’s the kind of thing we should programme into our alarm clocks in the morning.


The writer says, “Be careful how you live”… be wise… wake up… don’t sleep through your life. For, says Ephesians, “the days are evil”. Not irredeemably evil. Redemption is what its all about. The days are surrounded by God’s redemption. The Christians at Ephesus are called to be a part of God’s redemption. That’s why they wake up in the morning. But the days are evil.


“Make the most of the time”… says the Epistle. And we say “What time?”. The tyranny of time is the mantra of so many people these days. We have no time. We work longer hours than ever before for less income and both parents have to work to survive. And the children have to do so many things in order to have a chance at succeeding in the rat race of competition.


I watched a powerful movie at the Film Festival this week. It was called ‘The Measure of a Man’ in English. The original French title is ‘Le Loi du Marche’ (The Law of the Market). It is a finely tuned observation of the life of a man, Thierry, a good man who loses his job and is struggling to keep his life together. His son is disabled and needs extensive care. But the home is a happy place. However, with the loss of his job the world beyond starts to grind him down. The job agency sends him off on a course. But the course qualification is useless to get a job on the new machines because he has had no experience. Eventually he ends up working in security at a supermarket (hence the title ‘the law of the market’). In that role he is witness to those caught shoplifting in various ways, on the cameras in the roof.


There is the elderly gentleman who has no family and is caught with two small items of frozen meat in his pockets and cannot afford to pay for them. He has no one to help out so they call in the police. Then there is the staff member who is spotted not scanning something through. Then there is the staff member who rather than binning the discount coupons pocket’s them. She tries to hide it, in her understated desperation, and loses her job. Next scene we learn that she has committed suicide somewhere at the supermarket. The boss gathers the staff and does a big speech to insist that there are more troubles in her life and they ought not feel guilty about it. Her son had drug issues, there is trouble at home and so on. The supermarket bears no responsibility. In fact no one is responsible. The boss speaks a greater truth than he knows. The system itself has destroyed her and everyone else. It is a system without humanity or mercy. We understand its necessity. The stealing and lies are wrong. And yet the whole world (the market in the wider sense) is what is ultimately destroying them.


It is a film with an incredible attention to detail, both financial and emotional, but one which uses the detail to let us see the bigger picture. The law of the market casts a bright light on the saying in Ephesians ‘The Days are Evil’.


When the days are evil, time itself can be a tyrant. It is hard to make good use of the time because the world around us wants to control our time… God’s time. We feel like there is a shortage of time. Time has become a commodity. “Time is money” we say. Good use of the time, becomes a use of time which secures our financial bottom line.


On the other hand we might take the view that we have all the time in the world… avoiding all thought that our time is coming to an end we might end up postponing indefinitely all significant calls upon our time, moving from one distraction to another because there is no main thing from which to be distracted. There are just distractions.

 Either way we forget the single thing that matters


The writer says, even though the days are evil … be wise and ‘understand what the will of the Lord is’. Not whether or not you should buy the red or the green dress or whether you should park further out of town and walk or pay for a car park… Ephesians has already told us something about what the will of the Lord is… Eph 1:10 says that the will of God is to gather everything together in Christ. The reality of Jesus is going to gather all the chaos of the world together and reorder it and make peace. That’s the will of God. Eph 3:10 says that we as church are placed as witnesses to all the spiritual powers of the world, which are often caught up in deception and evil. This witness too is the will of the Lord. The will of the Lord is that big picture, that beautiful reality that visits our detail with great hope. When we just want to survive, the writer calls us to wake up to what God is doing and be a part of it. So even the detail can be beautiful. Perhaps especially the detail.


‘Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery’… or another translation has it, ‘that leads to desperation’. At each step along the path that Thierry took in the movie, there must have been the enormous temptation to obliterate himself, to drink his sorrows away, to drink himself into the ground, to silence the pain and go to sleep.


But the call of Ephesians is to wake up, not to escape down the path of despair.


The alternative to getting drunk is not self-control. It is being under the influence… of the Spirit. Do not get drunk … BUT be filled by the Spirit.


And do it with music! And do it together!

‘singing to one another (not just to God but to one another) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.’


I think we underestimate the power of music to be used by the Spirit of God to lift our spirits. Do you ever do that… ‘make melody to the Lord in your hearts’? Do you have those moments when you are singing inside? But it’s interesting the writer knows that music is not just ‘to the Lord’ it is also a way that we talk to one another (‘singing to one another’) about what matters. It is often said that many people learn most of their theology, their understanding of God from the songs they sing. This can be a worry! as well as an encouragement. We are not just brains on sticks. We are emotional bodily creatures who move to music, both emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes its hard not to tap your feet… even if you’re a presbyterian!


To sing together is to participate in beauty together. To be lifted up… by the Spirit. To sing together is like getting drunk. Both are ways in which we might not be completely in rational control. We are moved…. in singing as in prayer.


Unlike getting drunk it can move us away from despair rather than towards it.


“Giving thanks at all times for everyone/everything.” Both ‘everyone’ and ‘everything’ are possible translations here. It’s a powerful thought to give thanks for everyone. Even those who annoy us. Those who talk too much. Those who get the car park ahead of us. Those who buy the same red dress as we bought.

Our reading says, effectively: Get over it! In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.








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