Walk the Tightrope of Faith
A sermon based on Ephesians 5:15-20
Sunday, August 26, 2012 – Pentecost 13B
On June 15th of this year Nik Wallenda became the first man to cross Niagra Falls on a tightrope in 116 years. And the very first person ever to cross the 1,800 feet directly above the falls with the mist and the spray and gusts of wind hitting him from all sides the entire time. And, of course, you may have seen it since it was on live television with a peak of 16 million viewers, setting a record for the most viewers of a non-sports TV special ever. His next challenge? He wants to be the first person to walk the 5,000 feet across the Grand Canyon.
Now I don't know about you, but I can guarantee you will never get me to willingly go on any high wire, even if it's only five feet across and two feet off the ground. I have a fear of heights. (Or really a fear of falling from them since I'm not scared to view heights from the ground.) But just the thought of walking a tightrope makes me nervous. It's tough. It's scary. And in Wallendas case, with no safety net beneath him most of the time, the smallest error can result in death.
As Paul addressed the Ephesian Christians in this morning's text, he told them that their walk of faith was sort of like walking a tightrope. You must be careful. It's not easy because the evil world around you will try to hit you from all sides and knock you off. And because failure can be deadly, it can be pretty scary. But then Paul encouraged the Ephesians (and he encourages us) by reminding them that we don't walk the rope alone. The Holy Spirit will guide you and keep you on. Listen now to Paul's encouragement to the Ephesians and to us in Ephesians 5:15-20…
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. The World Will Try to Mislead You and Knock You Off
Our text begins with the words, "Be very careful, then, how you live…" but the Greek literally says, "Watch carefully, therefore, how you walk." And the Greek word translated "carefully" is akribos, the word from which we get our English word, "acrobat." So perhaps a translation that would fully bring the illustration out would be, "Therefore, watch how acrobatically you walk." We don't just mosey or meander through the walk of our Christian life. Our movements are planned and careful and accurate as if we were walking on a tightrope. Or as one pastor once illustrated, "Walk as though you were barefoot in a backyard that's home to five or six big dogs—walk carefully!"
And why do we walk this way? Well, Paul says "therefore," so we need to look at the verses before these to find out why. In the first two verses of Ephesians 5 Paul spelled out why we want to walk the tightrope of faith. We heard those verses last week: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
By our actions we prove ourselves to be sinners—by ignoring every opportunity to be loving and self-sacrificing in our self-centeredness, by acting foolish and neglecting the Word through which we understand what the Lord's will is, by getting drunk with alcohol, or greed, or pride, and acting just like the wicked world around us. And as sinners we know that we deserve to fall off the tightrope—that we deserve to fall, not onto a nice springy safety net, but to fall endlessly into the depths of eternal death in hell.
And yet, in love, Christ gave himself up for us. He was thrown down into hell on the cross in our place. Now, with our sins removed by his sacrifice, we are God's dearly loved children. Now, forgiven by him, we long to live a life that's pleasing to him in thanksgiving. Now we strive to walk acrobatically.
But that walk of a Christian life isn't easy. You know that. You live the struggle. You know that it would be difficult enough to walk across Niagara falls on tightrope without any distractions. But imagine someone actively and maliciously trying to knock you off the line. That's what Paul alludes to when he says, "the days are evil." The sinful world around us wants to make us lose our faith in Christ. It wants us to lose sight of him. It wants to knock us off and make us look to the temptations it offers, or look to ourselves and our own efforts and how good we are for our security. It wants to make us fall.
And not only is the world aggressively attacking on the outside while we try to "walk the line." But we struggle with our own sinful natures as well. Imagine trying to walk a tightrope when you've had too much to drink and are a little tipsy. It's not easy, is it? That's why cops make someone walk along a line to test sobriety. The results of such a foolish attempt would be deadly. And that's what our own sinful natures try to make us do. "Get drunk," they say, "not just on alcohol, but deaden your senses with mind-numbing entertainment of movies and TV. Ignore God's will and act senseless and foolish, because that's more fun. It's too hard to walk the line, too boring to stay sober, too dull to live carefully according to God's will. So give up. Give in. Act like the world around you."
And with such pressure hammering on every Christian on the outside and throbbing in every Christian on the inside, it is difficult to stay on that tightrope. And it always will be. That's why Paul's verbs are all in the present tense, "continue to do these things all the time." But don't give up. Don't give in. Because even thought we can't live a life pleasing to God on our own, we don't have to! We have the help we need! We have that help from God himself.
II. The Spirit Will Guide You and Keep You On
How do we get rid of the influence of alcohol and foolishness? Well, let me ask in this way: How can I remove all the air from this glass? One person might suggest, "Suck it out with a pump." But as difficult as that would be with such a wide rim, it wouldn't work anyway. It would only create a vacuum and shatter the glass. Anyone figure out the right answer? It's simple really. You fill the glass with something else. [Fill the glass with water.] There. No more air in the glass.
That's how we get rid of foolishness, drunkenness and debauchery, which causes us forget about Jesus. We're filled up with something else. Paul continues, "Instead, be filled with the Spirit…"
Are you under the influence? You should be—but not under the influence of wine. You shouldn't be filled up with alcoholic spirits to get a bogus lift, a temporary high, that influences you to do more evil. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who influences you to do wholesome things, to encourage each other, to make the most of every opportunity, to walk the tightrope of faith in wisdom doing what's according to God's will.
In this way, filling and guiding us, he will keep us on the tightrope of faith. Now imagine that you're trying to walk across a tightrope while there's someone on a catwalk right along side you holding your hand every step of the way. That's what the Holy Spirit does. He strengthens us in our faith. He keeps us in our faith. He keeps "our eyes [fixed] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)
The Holy Spirit will help you recognize your sin and repent of it turning to God in confession. He will remind you of God's grace in forgiving every sin through Christ's death in your place. He will help you understand God's will for your life. He will help you to ask and to answer the questions, "How can I make the most of this opportunity? What would God have me do in this situation to express my thanks to him?" The Holy Spirit will keep you balanced on the tightrope of faith holding your hand every step of the way.
So, how then are we filled with the Spirit? Paul tells us how in verses 19 and 20. Verse 19 reads, "[by] speak[ing] to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. [By] sing[ing] and mak[ing] music in your heart to the Lord…"
Though it's not explicit, Paul seems to be suggesting that public worship with liturgical forms was already being developed and used. And this worship filled the Ephesians, and still fills us, with the Holy Spirit. Through music, regardless of the style, all of God's people, not just the pastor, speak the Word of God to one another. Through God's gift of music in the Psalms and our hymns, we connect the intellect to the emotions, we join what's in the head to what's in the heart.
Martin Luther clearly recognized this power of music and how the Word of God could be conveyed in poetic and artistic forms that would fill people with the Holy Spirit. That's why he set out to write as many hymns as he did in German, the language of the people. And it wasn't just a teaching aid, but a way that his parishioners could encourage and fill each other up. And since that time the Lutheran church has been nicknamed "the singing church."
Arguably you could be a Christian and never go to church. It's possible. But why would you want to? Here in worship with your fellow believers singing to God… and to you, you're encouraged. You're filled with the Holy Spirit and kept on that tightrope of faith. Make the most, then, of every opportunity and worship with fellow believers as often as you're able!
Paul continues with another way to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He says, "[by] always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul says always give thanks. It's an ongoing attitude in your heart every day. And we have so much to be thankful for! God gives us food and shelter, sleep and rest, friends and family, honest work, the list goes on and on… And of course we can't fail to mention the greater spiritual gifts he gives us as well: faith in Christ through the Word, forgiveness of sins, a new life of gratitude in him with the ability to please the Father!
And when Paul says "give thanks for everything," he really means everything! "But why should I give thanks for getting dumped?" "Why should I give thanks for the financial ruin I'm in?" "Why should I give thanks for the cancer he sent my father?" You should give thanks for two reasons: 1) even the things that seem horrible, as if no good could come of them, God promises to work for your good—to draw you closer to him. And 2) when you say, "Thanks God for this pain and hurt—the suffering that has brought me closer to you, that kept me connected to Christ, the suffering that reminds me that life isn't all about this life and that nothing can rob me of the glory that you have prepared for me in eternity!" when you speak like this, you fill those who hear you with the Spirit! Strengthened by God's Word, through you, they are better equipped to rejoice in their suffering.
By the way Wallenda's reason for wanted to cross Niagra Falls? He wanted to share his faith. He credits God for giving him the ability do what he does. He says his Christian faith is the most important part of his life, publicly prays before every wire walk and wears a cross whenever he performs. And if you watched the broadcast of Nik Wellenda crossing Niagra Falls, perhaps you heard what he was saying while he crossed since the producers put a microphone on him. He was praying and praising Jesus the entire way across, always giving thanks to God.
Dear friends, thank God that Jesus already crossed over, through the cross and the tomb, from death to life. Thank God that he's taken away every sin and every time you've fallen off the tightrope. Now, be filled with the Spirit. Put your trust in him. Lean your full weight on him as your only way to heaven. And walk carefully every day of your life, making the most of every opportunity to thank him for what he's done for you, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.