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August 31, 2003
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Ephesians, chapter 5, and follow along as I read verses 15-20. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,
16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,
20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen, the word of God. Thanks be to God.
Randy Hofman is an artist — a sculptor dealing in primarily religious themes. He has created monumental works such as “Christ on the Cross,” “The Last Supper,” “Jesus Praying” and “David and Goliath.” He works in sand and sea water. Yes, that is what I said, Randy Hofman sculpts with sand and sea water. Right now, at the end of August, if you live anywhere near Ocean City, Maryland, you can stroll down the boardwalk, and you will probably see some of his work. He has been doing it for twenty years. He creates extraordinary sculptures out of normal beach sand and sea water in front of the Plim Plaza Hotel on the beach at Second Street, in Ocean City, Maryland and he has also worked at South Padre Island, Texas. Randy Hofman is an ordained minister who earns his living as an artist and views his sand sculptures as his ministry. The good reverend gives his God-given talents for God’s good use.
Sand sculpting, which is growing in national popularity, is intended to be a temporary and fragile art form. Sand sculptures are here today, gone tomorrow, taken by tide, or rain, or wind. The impermanence of sand is part of the magic, part of the beauty.
This seems strange to most of us. Most of us devalue the temporary. The momentary we think is unimportant. If something does not last, or have staying power, we think, it does not have value. We want sustainability, strength, and endurance. It does not matter whether we are talking about our marriage, our washing machine, our job, our car, our family, or our God, we desire things that last. We cling to the permanent, perhaps because, deep down, we know that life is a sand castle and the tide is coming in.
Nothing is wrong with that kind of thinking; nothing is wrong with desiring durability; but the apostle Paul in this Ephesians text urges us to be careful how we live now.
Living In the Now
Earlier, in 4:1, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians should “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
In this short passage we have before us today, he stresses the need to live wisely (vv. 15-17) and the need to be Spirit-filled. The passage begins with a word of caution: “Be careful then how you live” (v. 15a). Earlier in v3-5, Paul has given us a gloomy description of how the pagans live. He now seeks to give positive instruction for the Christian life. They are to live “not as unwise people but as wise” (15b). This contrast between the unwise and wise is found throughout the Bible. Those who are unwise are, in a biblical sense, are those who do not know God, those who deny God by the way they behave. If the Christian community is to differentiate themselves from these people, they are to practice living as wise people, as those who live understanding “what the will of the Lord is” (v. 17).
In New Testament Greek, V16 begins with the words exagorazomenoi ton kairon.
[exagorazomenoi (nom, pl, masc, pt, pres, mid, of exagorazw--meaning to buy out, to redeem, or set free]
which is usually translated as “redeeming the time,” or “making the most of the time,” but the word kairos which is translated as “time” is a little more than that. It means a specific length or portion of time. It means an appointed time or season. It means a fixed or definite period
What the apostle paul is saying to us is that most people live on this earth like they are going to live forever but we all know that is not true. Our time is always kairos. That is to say our time on this earth is of a certain length. We have a certain number of hours, days, months to live, and then we are not going to be here any more. This is why we should make the most of our time. We do not have that much of it.
Now you might say, “Well, everybody knows that. Everybody knows that the time we have on this earth is short.” But the truth is that most people do not know that, and you can tell they do not know it by the way they live. They live like they are going to be here forever. Paul is saying that we need to face up to the reality that our life here is temporary.
Further, in v16, Paul says, that we should make the most of the time, “because the days are evil.” The Christian community lives surrounded by sin and darkness. That was true in the first century; it is true in the twenty-first century. The scripture describes the devil as the ruler of this world. Christians are not of this world; Christians are in this world.
Nevertheless, because the light of Christ has invaded the evil day, we are summoned to live our lives wisely in the light of the Lord. Even though the world is not for Christ, we are called to live for Christ while we can.
Paul’s emphasis on kairos, on our specific time, can have two meanings. One we have already mentioned, the shortness of our individual lifetimes. The other is that Jesus is coming back to make an end to this evil day. The world’s time is not unlimited. Things are not just going to go on and on in the same old way with people doing the same old evil things. Christ will return to bring in the kingdom of God, and that kingdom will be of such a different order that time and nature itself will be changed. So we only have a limited time and the world only has a limited time, and we live with that finiteness in mind.
In v17, Paul restates negatively what he has said in v15: “So do not be foolish.” To be “foolish” in a biblical sense, means throwing away the chance for salvation. The Apostle Paul is calling us to avoid the foolishness of unbelief and resolve instead to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (v. 17b). The wording is a variation of 5:10, where Paul says, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” Christian wisdom, therefore, is a way of behaving. Wisdom in the Bible is not just intellectual knowledge. It is a way of living. It means living in the will of God in the midst of a world which has separated itself from God by its own foolishness.
Verse 18 contains two more commands for believers, one negative and one positive. The writer warns them against one form of intoxication and encourages them to pursue another; they are not to be filled with wine, but are to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
It is possible here that Paul is reacting to a situation in Ephesus in which drinking was linked to festive celebrations, such as those associated with the pagan cult of Dionysus. Christians, Paul commands, are not to live like pagans who get drunk to simulate a religious experience; rather Christian are to enjoy the ecstasy provided by the Spirit of God. The Christian is to be “drunk,” not with alcohol but “with the Spirit.”
Being filled with the Spirit has specific results — singing, making melody and giving thanks (vv. 19-20). In other words, a Christian can enjoy living in the now, living in the moment, because the Christian lives in Christ both now and forever.
Every Moment Counts
The first thing about living in the now is to realize that every moment counts. In our hymnbook, we have a hymn (#297), by Anna L. Coghill titled “Work for the Night is Coming.” The lyrics read, “ Work in the glowing sun; work, for the night is coming, When man’s work is done.” Paul says, “Make the most of the chances you get to do something right, because evil always threatens to get in your way.” Randy Hofman says, “Make something beautiful now, because the tide will wash it away later.”
The question is “Why?” You might say that we can take all this about the shortness of life in an altogether different way. If life is short, why do anything at all?
It’s a question that’s often put to the Buddhist monks who create famed colored sand mandalas only to obliterate them within hours or days. The first response to that question might be “Why not?”
The choice for the sand is that it can remain merely sand, stretching endlessly along the shore, flat, formless and undistinguished, or it can yield to the hand of an Artist who can fashion it into something beautiful while there is an opportunity to do so.
If I’m sand, I want to say to God, “Make me your work of art!” Life is so short, why not ask God to make you his art? Anne Ross Cousin wrote, “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks,/ The summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair, sweet morn awakes:/ Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand,/ And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.”
Paul, whose sense of kairos time was layered with an expectation of the return of Christ, understood that his life was but a stretch of sand in which and upon which the Creator was at work. Therefore, he urges us to adopt the same attitude toward our daily business:
• Be careful (5:15).
• Make the most of the time (5:16).
• Don’t be foolish (5:17).
• Do understand the will of God (5:17).
• Don’t get drunk (5:18).
• Be filled with the Holy Spirit (5:18).
• Sing songs (5:19).
• Give thanks (5:20).
Practice the Presence
The second thing about living in the now is that we practice the presence of God. The French Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, called it sacramentalizing the mundane, the divinisation of the commonplace. Sometimes I think that Teilhard deliberately chose to say things in the most difficult way possible. What he is saying is that God should be in every moment of our lives. There is a book, a Christian classic, written back in the fifteenth century by Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Herman, c. 1605-1691), titled The Practice of the Presence of God. “Brother Lawrence insisted that it is necessary to always be aware of God’s presence by talking with him throughout each day.” (First Conversation). In other words, we practice the presence of God by praying every day throughout the day. Lawrence goes on to say, “To think that you must abandon conversation with [God] in order to deal with the world is erroneous” (First Conversation). Many people say, I would pray more, and I would think more about God, but I must work for a living and there are things that I have to do.” Lawrence says that is just a cop out. Basically he says, we probably pray as much as we want to, and we think about God as much as we want to, but the truth is that we do not want to pray very much and we do not want to think about God very much. Lawrence maintains that we have all the time and opportunity we need to worship and pray and do God’s will. It is not time and opportunity that is the problem. It is us. We need to learn to live in the moment; we need to learn to give each moment to God.
Brother Lawrence mentions a time when he had to go and buy supplies for the monastery. This chore was difficult for him because first of all he had never done it before. He did not know anything about the business of buying supplies. And secondly, he was lame. So he was very uptight about whether he was physically able to perform this mission and whether he was mentally able to perform this mission. He says that what he did was that he “told God that it was his affair.” He put his trust in God. He felt that God was right there with him and that God was in charge. And Lawrence adds, the whole mission to buy supplies went just fine.
Again, Lawrence was assigned to work in the kitchen of the Monastery. He hated it. Maybe some of you who worked the kitchen for our Summerfest fundraiser can sympathize with Lawrence here. He did not like washing dishes, or cooking, or cleaning up. But after a time, he reminded himself that we are supposed to do everything for the love of god; we are supposed to practice the presence of God, and he began to do that. He began to feel that God was right there with him in the kitchen, and the work went well. Lawrence worked in the monastery kitchen for fifteen years and learned to love it, and became a very good cook and kitchen worker.
The point is that in life, we sometimes find ourselves being forced to do some things that we do not want to do. We do not want to clean house, we do not want to wash the car. What Lawrence says is that if we will surrender ourselves to God, then God can make that bad task into something that we enjoy. If we will bring God into our lives, then whatever we are doing, God will transform the task and transform our lives.
This being in the presence of God in the midst of a creative process is rather common to faith-filled artists. The French post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cèzanne, is known to have painted Mont Sainte-Victoire more than 60 times. Repetition is a discipline that is more like a prayer with a brush, over and over. It is said that for Cèzanne, this repetitive painting of this mountain was a meditative, prayerful experience, where he found himself lost in the presence of God. For Cèzanne, and countless other artists of every sort, the process is a chance for prayer. It is a chance to be drunk on God; a chance to use time wisely.
What happens is this: The artist finds in the process, in the prayer, that God is present in the moment, in the now. That is the beauty of creativity. It is a chance to pray. It is a chance to feel God’s presence, to know that God is in that moment.
Let us return then to Sand sculptors like Randy Hofman. Sand art uplifts and educates those who see it. When you are on the beach, sand is everywhere, and it is all the same. It is just bland sand. And cannot we say the same about people. There are a lot of people—over six billion. I suppose that God could say Look at all those people, they are so mu;ch bland sand. But a sand sculptor can make something unique and inspiring out of sand. And the Lord God can do the same with our lives.
If we give our lives up to God, God will make something beautiful out of us. If we will open ourselves to work the will of God in our lives, living carefully, understanding the will of God, being filled with the Holy Spirit, singing and giving thanks, we will become a breathtaking work of art.
Randy Hofman creates sculptures from things children play with: beach sand and salt water. Those materials, that sand itself, and the water, too, which so quickly returns to the earth, represent and symbolize the fleeting fragility of life, our own impermanence. Part of prayer, part of praising, part of being in the Spirit is to enter the only permanence there is in all creation—which is the Lord God. We are not permanent. The world is not permanent. Only God is permanent, so tht is where we put our ultimate hope.
When we look at sand castles, part of their beauty and tragedy, is knowing that they are frail and will fall. Part of our risk, our own beauty, and our own tragedy is knowing the same about ourselves. Our lives are soon flown. Our time here is soon over. The only way that our lives can have meaning here and now then is in and through eternal God.
We need to use our time wisely, not foolishly. We need to use our talents, our calling, to enter the kingdom of God now, to give of ourselves to others in the process and to pray all the while. If we do, we will find God’s beauty inside us, around us, beyond us. And we realize that God’s beauty is the only permanence there is. Amen.
“Cèzanne, Paul: The Mont Sainte-Victoire and Bibemus saga.” WebMuseum Web site, Ibiblio.org.
McCafferty, John. Ocean City Today. August 26, 2002, Arthurwiebe.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/22/04