“Be careful how you live…. because the days are Evil.” That’s the phrase that lept from the page for me this past week as I read Ephesians.
That could have been written about our time, and not a time 2000 years ago.
The days are indeed evil or they seem to be. There is so much in the news, so much in our local community and so much happening in world events that make us wonder if things in this world are not simply unraveling.
Violence seems to be escalating.
Polarization of political views, world views, and opinions have hit new heights.
We read about or hear about weird crimes being committed, hear about senseless actions taken, watch as demonstrations unfold by groups that we thought had long been discarded on the dust heap of history. We are appalled that such things seem to have found new life, or worse, have been lurking under the surface all along, and we kick ourselves for not recognizing it sooner, or find ourselves even attracted to ideas that we would never have considered in other times.
The days feel evil, almost as if there is some malevolent force rippling through the fabric of our society.
I’ve had conversations, (as I’m sure you have as well) about how people are dealing with a world where the days seem evil.
Some are opting to tune out and not listen. They are no longer reading the newspaper, or listen to the news. They have dropped out of social media or “unfriended” any who bring a disharmonizing viewpoint.
The days do seem less evil if you just don’t listen, or don’t pay attention, or live in your own silo, or won’t let any of the negative messages get through.
That’s one strategy.
But it doesn’t really change the world, just limits your exposure to it.
Another strategy is to engage this world all the more. Some have taken out subscriptions to newspapers and are diving deep into a variety of media and news sources. They have expanded their list of who and what they follow in an attempt to find clarity and balance.
If one listens to all the varying viewpoints, perhaps one can discern the “middle way” or see glimpses of truth and understanding that will push back the darkness, arm one against the rhetoric of fear and confusion and give one a reasoned response.
Still others have adopted the strategy of putting on the “Rose colored Glasses” to filter out whatever doesn’t seem to fit. This strategy acknowledges that there is evil in the world, but that it is overridden by all the rest of the “good” that is out there if you would only look for it.
For every sad or bad event there is a good one, a decent hopeful story to offset it. Focus on the positive, and by doing so you can push back at the darkness.
And, I know of a few people who have opted for the strategy of “don’t worry, be happy.”
I wonder how much of our opioid epidemic is simply a population trying to self medicate itself in the face of the pain?
Pain over job loss.
Pain over relationships.
Pain over a world in rapid transition into an uncertain future.
People cannot long live in pain and discomfort. They will seek out ways to get relief. We know this because the use of substances that provide a temporary relief have been used throughout the ages.
The Romans mingled lead in their wine to relieve the incongruities of Empire.
In the middle ages Mead and Beer provided a means of escape from the harsh realities of a difficult life of being stuck wherever you were born.
It was Gin that served that purpose in Dicken’s England, and Vodka in Stalin’s Russia.
Cigarettes and Alcohol were abundant during the chaos of the 30’s and through the World Wars.
The point is we intuitively sense what the author of Ephesians is talking about when he warns against getting “drunk with wine.” The use of chemicals to dull the pain of living, or to fill the void of meaning is age old.
What may at first seem perplexing to us is the author’s suggested remedy. If you’re going to get drunk on something, “filled” with something, let it be the Spirit!
“Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts and giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything…”
That’s what the author of Ephesians prescribes for Evil times.
Now at first that might just sound like a variation of “Rose-colored glasses” or “tuning out.” As if by singing “Kum-bah-yah” and holding hands we might keep the nastiness of the world out of our corner of it.
But that’s not what the author is talking about.
Here the author is inviting you into the prophetic imagination of God as seen before in the likes of Moses, or Isaiah, Hosea, or Amos.
It is the imagination of God that does not just rose tint the world, or try to deny its darkness, but instead dares to shine a light into the midst of the darkness.
It is the light of the Prophets, promising that God is still around and about to do a new thing, or to address the injustice, or to change the world, beating swords into plowshares.
It is the activity of Jesus who comes as light into the world.
It is the call of Jesus to “let your light so shine before others” – daring you to believe that God at work through you might bring about the change in the world you dream and for which you hope.
This is the creative imagination of God that dares to say that though the days are indeed evil, evil does not and will not have the last say.
This is the creative imagination of the Prophets who confidently reminded God’s people that though this day they are living in is Evil, evil does not hold the field for long, because the power of God is coming as light and life.
The prophets did not sing their verses to take their people’s minds off of how bad the world was, they sang the song of the creator into the darkness to change it.
Followers of Jesus do not sing to take their minds off how bad the world is.
Followers of Jesus sing into the darkness, and by doing so, they rob darkness and fear of their power. They begin with their songs to dispel it.
What the author of Ephesians calls the community to do is to take their example from Jesus.
Jesus lifted his voice as he hung on the cross and sang out a psalm, Psalm 22 to be exact.
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me….”
That’s the part of the phrase that the Gospel writers record, and it is the part that we remember, but to the person hearing that psalm at the foot of the Cross, that phrase would have worked like any song lyric that you might know.
What would they known, what comes next?
Well let me play a little game with you to help you understand.
“Ring around the Rosie…..what comes next?”
See, you can’t begin a song without it playing out in your head, the whole song, the whole thing.
“Amazing Grace…..what comes next?”
So, if you were at the foot of the Cross and you heard Jesus cry out, really sing out! “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?….and you were in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover, and you were a good Jew acquainted with the psalms, you would have done much the same thing that we did with those songs and hymns, you would have known what comes next and finished it out in your head!
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
This is Jesus singing into the darkness!
The days are indeed evil, but Jesus sings his confidence and hope in God to those around him, that they might fill in the blank and know what comes next!
Indeed, in three days time… the psalm from the Cross will be vindicated, its truth known by all!
This is what the author of Ephesians encourages his people to do, follow the example of Jesus, sing psalms to fill the void! Confidently bring God’s Word into the midst of the darkness knowing that God can fill the darkness and bring the light!
God did that in creation by moving over the face of the waters, bringing forth light, setting the moon and the stars and the Sun, turning back the powers of chaos.
This is what God does when God is invoked, sung into the world.
This is what you do when the days are evil, you sing into them the power of God.
“Be careful how you live…” the author of Ephesians warns. It is so easy to get caught up in how everyone else is dealing with the evil days.
Some will deny them.
Some will try to avoid them, or try to make believe in them.
Some will succumb to them.
And some will try to anesthetize themselves to keep from being confronted by them.
This is not what the People of God are called to do! We are called to sing!
Sing psalms, reminding ourselves of how God has acted in the past and promised to act into the future.
Sing hymns which connect us to the tradition of faith, to the community who has trusted in God and not been disappointed, but has found encouragement, strength and comfort.
Sing songs and spiritual songs that connect us to one another, and that speak to our hearts and our common experience, and our shared hopes, dreams, laments, and joys.
Make melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God, and in that act feel the darkness dispel, and the evil lose its grip, and a vision of a better world begin to take shape as others begin to join the song, pushing back the dread and the evil as the Kingdom of God takes shape in your midst.
Because the day is evil, be careful how you live!
Live as one who knows that God in Christ Jesus has overcome death and darkness.
Live as one who knows that God provides all things abundantly.
Live as one who gives thanks, and the power of a thankful heart will push back the scarcity and the fear that threatens.
Sing into the Evil day, and the evil day will give way, replaced by God’s promise.