We sometimes exaggerate the evils of the early Roman Empire. Later Rome was often decadent and cruel and oppressive. But in the first century, with a few notable exceptions, Christians were more likely to be protected by Roman authority than to be persecuted.
I emphasize this because we need to understand what Paul means when he says “the days are evil.” He is not talking about Christians getting thrown to the lions. He is talking about more common evils, the kinds of evils we see around us today: a government that too often makes policy without regard to the common good; people increasingly indifferent to questions of morality and right living; a culture of materialism and consumption and selfishness. He is talking about sin, the kind of sin that plagues every culture in every period of history.
In evil days, days like ours, the question is, how should we live? What does true wisdom look like in a culture that is often unwise?
That is the question of our readings for this morning.
Our opening prayer set the stage. It begins, as one should, with what Jesus does. Or, rather, with the two things that Jesus does. “Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life.”
First, as an act of sheer grace and love, Christ offers himself up for us and for our salvation. Christ dies and rises again. And, in some mysterious way that we will never fully understand, Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from our own bondage to sin and death. Thanks to Christ, we can experience eternal life. God incarnate has to do that for us because we can’t do it for ourselves.
But that is not all Christ does. Christ also offers us “an example of a godly life.” Christ does for us what we cannot do. And Christ shows us what we can do, what we should do, how we should live.
So, what is our response? How should we live in light of what Christ does for us and the example Christ sets for us?
The prayer says that, too. We prayed that God would “give us grace (1) to receive thankfully the fruits of [Christ’s] redeeming work, and (2) to follow daily in the most blessed steps of his holy life.”
That is to say, we receive thankfully what Christ does for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Christian life begins with gratitude.
Then we follow daily in Christ’s footsteps. We do our best, with God’s help, to follow Christ’s example, to live as wise people even in a time of sin and folly.
This is the whole gospel in miniature. God saves us. And God shows us how to live. In return, we thank God for saving us, and we try to live rightly.
Our readings flesh this out.
In our Old Testament reading, we meet Solomon, David’s young son, at the moment he ascends the throne. Solomon is already wise enough to know that governing God’s people is a great responsibility, more than he can handle alone. Would that every leader recognized that!
So when God appears to Solomon in a dream and invites him to ask for a blessing, Solomon requests wisdom. God gives Solomon wisdom and a lot more.
Just as in our prayer, so here, God does for Solomon what only God can do—in this case, give him wisdom, riches, and honor. That is God’s gracious gift. The Bible doesn’t tell us how Solomon felt about the gift he receives, but I think it is safe to assume he was thankful!
And, in return, God wants Solomon to live a holy life. God expects Solomon to “walk in [God’s] ways, keeping [God’s] statutes and commandments.” God blesses Solomon. And God invites Solomon to live out of that blessing. And, Solomon mostly does. Solomon was mostly a good and righteous and wise king.
We get the same Ephesians.
In our readings from Ephesians over the last few weeks, we have heard a lot about God’s gracious gift of salvation. In this passage we get one more glimpse of God’s blessing when we read about being filled with the Holy Spirit.
But Ephesians says more about our response to God’s gift—overflowing gratitude. Ephesians says we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves. Some of us sing out loud, and that is no doubt best. But Ephesians makes room for those of us who may not want to be heard by our brothers and sisters. All of us can sing and make melody to the Lord in our hearts.
Then comes the kicker. All of us are invited to give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a powerful statement about receiving thankfully the fruits of Christ’s redeeming work!
We talk about this a lot, and we should. A big sign of the folly of our time is our collective failure to be more thankful. We are all too aware of the troubles around us, the problems we face, the very real evil of our day. And we should be. As citizens we are called to think about the common good and the many obstacles to achieving it. As Christians, we are called to bring good news to a hurting world that needs it.
But even in the midst of all the evil, we are called to give thanks at all times and for everything. At the very least, we can always be thankful for our calling as Christians, and above all for the fruits of Christ’s redeeming work in us and in our world.
But our passage from Ephesians is not only about receiving God’s gifts with gratitude, vitally important though that is. Like Solomon, we need to walk in God’s ways. This brings us back to the very first line of our reading, where we are told to “be careful how [we] live, not as unwise people but as wise.” We receive from God, and, having gratefully received, we are called to live accordingly. We are called to follow daily in the blessed steps of Christ’s most holy life.
For Solomon, that meant being a good and faithful king. For us it means being good and faithful in our own lives. Living rightly can be hard, particularly in evil days when our culture doesn’t always support virtuous living. Living rightly calls for wisdom.
And living rightly depends on grace. We couldn’t do it but for the blessings we have received—the fruits of Christ’s redeeming work.
Thankfully, we are sustained by the ongoing blessing of Eucharist. As we hear in our Gospel reading, “Christ is the living bread come down from heaven.” In the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, we are promised eternal life with God.
We are about to share that sacrament. As we do, I encourage you to meditate with profound gratitude on what Christ has done and continues to do for us. And, as the Prayerbook says, I encourage you to share communion not for solace only, but also for strength, the strength to live good and holy lives even when it is hard.
In Christ’s name. Amen.