Ephesians 5:15-20; Matthew 7:24-27
Have you ever read the warning labels on some of the products you buy? I find some of them to be absolutely hilarious. So I went online this week to find some of the more bizarre warning labels on products. Just Google “Silly warning labels” and you’ll find a whole bunch of these things. Things like:
- On a hair dryer. "Do not use while sleeping."
- On a bathroom heater. "This product is not to be used in bathrooms."
- On a can of self-defense pepper spray. "Caution: May irritate eyes."
- On a coffee cup. "Caution: Hot beverages are hot!"
- On a product called "Rubber Band Shooter." "Caution: Shoots rubber bands."
- On a birthday card for a 1 year old. "Not suitable for children aged 36 months or less."
- In the manual for a microwave oven. "Do not use for drying pets."
- On an electric cattle prod. "For use on animals only."
- On a can of air freshener. "For use by trained personnel only."
- On a box of rat poison. "Warning: has been found to cause cancer in laboratory mice."
- On a portable stroller. "Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage."
- On a child sized Superman costume. "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
- This from a manual for an SGI computer. "Do not dangle the mouse by its cable or throw the mouse at co-workers."
- On a package of peanuts. "Warning: May contain nuts."
- Instructions on the packaging for a muffin at a 7-11. "Remove wrapper, open mouth, insert muffin, eat."
- And my favorite one. This was on a sign at a railroad station. "Beware! To touch these wires is instant death. Anyone found doing so will be prosecuted."
I know we’re a litigious society – and those warning label people are only doing their jobs – but they must think we’re all dumb as dirt. Do not use a hair dryer while sleeping! You know – we like to have fun with that kind of stuff. These warnings sound foolish to us – but our reading from the book of Ephesians also has warnings – warnings that are anything but foolish—unless you are a foolish person – and then they just might sound foolish to you. In fact – Paul starts out this section with these words of warning – “Be careful” – now there’s a warning label – “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise…do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
It seems to me that what we are being offered here today is a choice. A choice between being wise – or being foolish. Both our reading from Ephesians as well as the gospel reading from Matthew’s gospel talk about the choice we must make between being wise – and being foolish.
In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us that those who listen to what Jesus has to say – and then act upon them – are like a man who built his house upon rock – upon a solid foundation. But those who hear what Jesus has to say, and then turn away from what they hear – in other words – they’re not interested in following Jesus or what he teaches – these people are like a man who built his house upon sand – and when the storms of life struck – the house built on sand had no foundation – and it fell. But the house built upon the rock stood.
So the question for us today is this: are we going to be wise – or are we going to be foolish? Your choice.
Of course, being wise – or becoming wise – gaining wisdom – is something that most people get only through experience, right? Author Steven Wright says that “Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.” Theodore Levitt, from the Harvard Business School says that, “Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.”
And I would add that if we don’t learn from what we have done badly – if we don’t gain wisdom from our mistakes – well – that’s kind of foolish, don’t you think? Because we’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Many of you know John Mosher – a long-time member of this congregation. He worships most often at our 5:0 0 service. John likes to say, “It takes some people a little bit longer than others to get over fool’s hill.” [Did I get that right John?]
I would venture to say that there is not a one of us here today who hasn’t made that trek up fool’s hill at some time in their life. There’s not a one of us who can say they have never made a mistake – not a one who can say that they have never done anything foolish. And it’s to people like you and me that St. Paul is writing today when he says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.”
May I suggest to you today that both Jesus and St. Paul are offering us very practical advice for living. May I also suggest that listening to the words of Jesus – following his teachings – listening to St. Paul and taking his words to heart – will lead to the best life you could ever live. Again – not perfect. Not free from bad things happening. But I find that there is a contentment and joy in following Christ – that leads to the best life you could possibly live.
That certainly was Paul’s experience. In spite of his many hardships – in spite of time spent in prison precisely because he was a follower of Jesus Christ – that was his crime – he lived a joy-filled life of purpose.
So the first thing he tells us is in this letter to the Ephesians is not to get drunk with wine. In other words – don’t over-indulge in the things that the world has to offer. He uses the word debauchery. Now I’ve known since I was a kid that I was not to become involved in debauchery. I didn’t know what it was – but I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. In fact – this week I realized that I still don’t know what debauchery is – so I had to look it up this week. Now I know what it means. It means “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.”
Now folks – I know as well as you that the world has a lot of things to offer. Lots of good things. But sometimes we caught up in those things. Things like wealth, power, position, materialism. Excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. In and of themselves these are not bad things. But when we pursue these things for the just for sake of having more and more of these things – especially when they come at the cost of faith – of faith practices – of family and friends – then we become like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. Why? Because these are things that will not last. IF things like wealth, power, and position come our way AS we pursue the things of God – all well and good. But right now I’m thinking about another one of Jesus’ teachings when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things that you need – maybe not all of the things that you want – but all these things that you need – will be given to you as well.” Trusting in the Lord for the things that you need – now that’s wisdom!
So the first thing we learn here is not to get caught up in the world and the things that world has to offer. For in the wisdom of God, such things are foolish choices.
But Paul doesn’t leave things there. He gives us an instead. “Instead” he says – “be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”
Then he goes on to say, “…giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Talk about choosing your attitude! An attitude of gratitude…Dude! Giving thanks to God for something or someone at least once a day. More often would be better – but at least once a day. That’s not a rule, by the way, just my suggestion. But – you’d be wise to listen. Just saying.
So there you have it. You want to choose wise? Or you want to choose foolish? Tired of trying to make your way over fool’s hill? It’s your choice. But if you choose wise, then listen once again to these things Paul prescribes for us. Be careful how you live. Be wise. Be sober. Be filled with the Spirit. Be thankful. And I would add don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – but when you do – be sure you learn from them.
Let me close with an analogy. There are two birds that fly over our nation’s deserts: One is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture. You know what vultures do, don’t you? Vultures find the rotting meat of the desert, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet.
But hummingbirds? Hummingbirds leave the smelly flesh of dead animals for the vultures. Instead, hummingbirds look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. The vultures live on the past. The vultures fill themselves with what is dead and gone.
But hummingbirds? Hummingbirds live on what is. Hummingbirds look for that which is good. Hummingbirds thrive by filling themselves with sweet things – things that speak of new life.
AND each bird finds what it is looking for.
From our perspective, we would say the vulture is foolish. And the hummingbird wise. Two birds. One bird looks for foolishness and stupidity, the other looks for wisdom. The vulture wants only to fill itself with the rotting flesh of drunkenness and debauchery. The hummingbird fills itself with good things. And there’s a reason why we call it the humming bird. And it’s not because they don’t know the words to the song. The beating of their wings makes this wonderful humming sound – as though they are making a melody to the Lord on their wings.
So what will it be? Wise or foolish? Hummingbird or vulture? The choice is yours. May I suggest that you are likely to find whichever of the two you’re looking for. But thank God for those among us who hum – for those among us who sing – songs of thanksgiving and praise to our God.
Listen again to these words of wisdom – what I think are the secret to a wonderful life. A life of joy. A life filled with Godly purpose. Listen:
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; instead be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”