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Rise N' Shine, Sleepyhead!
by Donn Dobberstein
based on Ephesians 5:8-14
Scooby-Doo and his cartoon friends would come early every Saturday morning growing up in New Ulm, MN.. So when I heard my mother's voice cheerfully call out, "Rise n' Shine, Sleepyhead!" it was a good thing! "Rise n' Shine, Sleepyhead! Is Paul's earnest encouragement to Gentiles growing up in their faith in Ephesus. Today's sermon is a wake up call to you if you've been sleep-walking through life. You need sleep for physical life. But you don't need sleep for your spiritual life. Sleeping spiritually can kill you. "Rise n' Shine, Sleepyhead!" is a wake up call this morning to leave the darkness of the world and live in the Light of the Word.
I. It's time to leave the dark (vv. 7,8a,11a) Darkness and light are two words found in the first couple verses of the Bible. God said, "Let there be light," and from that moment on, there forever was a permanent separation between darkness and light. Ten times, the Bible distinguishes between physical darkness and physical light. Darkness and light are two words also found in the New Testament. But now they are used to represent another difference between sin and holiness; unbelief and faith. Darkness represents the world we live in and the worldly pleasures it offers us. Light represents Christ and the spiritual heavenly pleasures he offers . Darkness represents our old nature and its sinful desires. Light represents the new nature that desires what God wants. As different as day is from night, so different is the sinful nature in us. Twenty three times, the Bible distinguishes between spiritual darkness and spiritual light. Before Paul shouts out Rise n' Shine this morning, he reminds the Ephesians and us of our former position in sin. He says, "For you were once darkness."
To be in darkness is not a pleasant sensation. Already in infancy, many children are afraid of the dark. Has the thought of a criminal lurking in a dark corner quickened your steps at night? Has everyone in the class figured out the math problem but you're still "in the dark" and embarrassed because of it? Spiritual darkness is worse than physical or mental darkness. Paul says, "You, Ephesians, were once in darkness." The city of Ephesus was a city of darkness. It was beautiful! It was called "The Light of Asia." It's walls were 10 feet thick, and 36,000 feet in length, strengthened every 100 feet by a watchtower. A broad, paved street connected libraries, lecture-halls, and small temples to the city. The largest theater could seat 24,000 people. It was larger than the Roman Colosseum. A stadium on the north end of town drew 76,000 spectators to foot-races, wrestling matches, prize-fights, and beast-fights. Condemned criminals were stripped naked and then shoved into the arena to be torn to pieces. But the crowning attraction in Ephesus was the temple of Diana -- one of the 7 wonders of the world. It is said it took 120 years to build. 127 pillars standing 60 feet held up a mammoth and magnificent roof of cedar. Inside, the air was moistened with perfumes and fountains tossed sheaves of light so that the raindrops looked like showers of diamonds. Inside was the most sacred idol of heathendom the Great Diana of the Ephesians, goddess of light by night. She was the mother of youth and fertility. If you wanted fertile crops, fertile marriage, fertile anything, you would come and worship Diana. How? Swarms of young priestesses would perform lewd dances and entice men to the grossest and most degrading forms of sexual immorality known to the world. They would leave money offerings and take part in lustful, lewd sexual acts. That's what Ephesus was known for. It was the smut capital of its time. If you wanted to abandon virtue, Ephesus would be the ultimate get-away for fornication and drunkenness.
Into the immoral darkness of Ephesus, Paul arrived on his 3rd Missionary journey and began to cry out, "Rise n' Shine!" In chapter 4 verse 18 , he said they were "darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they gave themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more." That's darkness of life. Moral corruption. Spiritual deadness. Has the world changed from the 1st century to the 20th century? After you read the book of Ephesians, you come to this conclusion: the world hasn't changed a bit. There is not a bit of difference between the moral problems we face in this 20th century and those faced in the 1st century We live in dark times. I saw darkness a few nights ago. An evening news program did a segment reporting how gay couples are legally adopting children or hiring someone to carry their baby because "they too are capable of loving a child and giving it what it needs." And how do many people react to it? They excuse it saying, "Better to be loved by someone than not loved at all." Darkness has blinded our thinking.
The darkness of our world is exposed when Paul warned in chapter 5:3: "There must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." In our day, Christians are not immune from the flood of such uncleanness pornography, indecent exposure, X-rated movies. If you're thinking you're off the hook because you are not tempted by such darkness, realize the darkness is so strong, it has invaded us: our thoughts and desires. "Nor should there be obscene, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place... ." Barnyard language my mom called it. It may seem appropriate when the boys are together or the girls are chatting, but dirty jokes, witty clever speech that makes light of immorality does not measure up to the high standards the Lord sets for his people. Just in case a few of you are still left standing, untouched by the world's darkness, smug in sanctified little perch, the Apostle directs this toward you: "Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." (Verse 30-31). If you have ever lied, it means you have not kept yourself free from the darkness of your old man. If you have experienced anger toward someone this past week, did it burst into rage? Anger is a basic human emotion. If you are by nature quick-tempered, watch out! Nothing is more spiritually destructive than anger that lasts and lasts and turns into a grudge and leads to shouting at each other and name calling. Many a marriage ends up on the rocks because the spouse wallowed in the darkness. All of us are knocked off our sanctified little pedestals.
None of us are left standing. Ephesians 2 includes you when it says, "All of us lived among transgression and sin at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." We cannot excuse the darkness of our deeds by proclaiming the freedom of speech. God closes all loopholes to foul language with the 2nd Commandment. We seek to justify immorality by saying, "It's only natural. Everybody's doing it. Situation ethics. Meaningful relationships. Freedom of choice. Alternate lifestyle." They are all lies like the ancient one the devil told Adam and Eve, "You shall not die; nothing is going to happen to you. God said you would die if you sinned, but you're not going to die, nothing will happen," All of them reflect the attempt to make it alright to live in darkness and sins against God's commandments appear innocent. But listen to this: "No immoral, impure or greedy person -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." Any person who has or is right now gravitating into the gutter of unclean mind or unclean speech or unclean action will be excluded from heaven. Chapter 2:4 reminds us: "We were by nature objects of God's wrath." God is dead serious about what you do.
II. It's time to live in the Light Lent is known as the season of darkness that reminds us of our former state of darkness. Can you see the Light in Lent? What is it? Where can you run to escape the darkness that damns us and the devil who defeats us? Chapter 1:7 declares: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The church logo of Hope in Manhattan depicts a lighthouse shining out a cross because the only thing that can pierce the devil's dark deeds, the darkness of our sin, and the darkened thinking of our world today is Jesus. "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (Jn 1:9). "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Eph 5:2). Light and dark may be figures of sin and God's grace but there's nothing figurative about what Jesus did to take us misfits and make us fit for membership into God's family. Jesus surrendered himself as the lamb of sacrifice for our sins. Our punishment and death were inflicted upon him. For his sake we are forgiven.
So Rise n' Shine! "Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved!" (Eph. 2:4-5). Christ did not suffer so much and die so that you might continue to stagger around in dark living. He flicked on the light of his love and forgiveness to "live as children of the light." The first verse of chapter 5 says, "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children." Children imitate their parents. And as parents, don't we wish that wasn't true! Don't we see our weaknesses filtered down to our children! But with God as our parent, we have a perfect parent to imitate! Perfect love! Perfect life! Perfect Lord! If we call ourselves children of God, we've just drawn a line in the sand and cast our lot with the side of light. If it's true and we believe we are children of God through baptism and inherit his characteristic of holiness and perfection, then our life of faith will reflect the characteristics of light. Like the fruits of light in verse 9: "for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth. What is morally good, what God declares is right and holey, and the things that truly pleases God ... all those are fruit of the light. And they are totally different from the fruit of darkness. How do you tell what is good fruit or bad fruit? What is darkness and sin and what is light and right? Verse 10: "find out what pleases the Lord." How? Verse 13: But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. That is why it is said (and what follows may well be a hymn used by the early Christians: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise form the dead, and CHRIST will shine on you."
If you want to see if you got the plate or the glass clean, hold it up to the light. If you want to see if what you're doing is pleasing to God, hold it up to the light of God's law. The light of God's law brings to light our sin. Once God's Word is a lamp to your feet and a light for your path, then RISE N' SHINE! God's Word not only enlightens our lives, but you light up people around you. I don't know if you heard of the Russian experiment a few weeks ago. They tried to create in the sky an artificial moon. A huge mirror, to reflect sun on Siberia. Warm it up a little. It didn't work. That idea, though reflected God's command. You are the light of the world. Not the sun. That's Jesus. But a moon, which reflects. "Let your light shine in front of people so that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Not to glorify self, but someone else. Florists understand this. They constantly are bringing bouquets to people The nicest people int he world, right? And yet those who receive the flowers know very well that the gift is not really from the florist. For with every bouquet is included a card. Every nice thing a florist does is accompanied by a card, which says, "This gifts is from _______." God wants us to be a florist. To be on the lookout for ways to be nice to our neighbor. To hand out bouquets of Christian love, but every time to attach a card. "From the heavenly Father." What Paul encourages is a wonderful privilege to "live as children of the light and talk as children of the light and stay away from anything that would darken our light. Difficult? Sometimes as children of the light, we're uncomfortable talking about our heavenly Dad. Sometimes we're even embarrassed. We are afraid that we don't know enough. Or we're afraid of sounding silly ...
But remember, "you were once darkness." You've lived in the dark. Parents know it. When husband shouts at wife, brother shouts at sister. When mother or father lie, children stretch the truth. When older sister gets away with something, younger sister remembers. God knows the darkness and said anybody caught in the dark will not enter God's kingdom of heaven. Will not enter. That's harsh. That's telling a college graduate, "No job, ever." That's telling a young man trying out for football, "Not good enough, ever." That's telling sinners, "Heaven, never." That's what Jesus said. But this Lenten season, we are walking toward the light. And you know as well as I do -- wherever there is light, darkness ceases to be. The cross is the final puzzle piece that forever solves the dilemma of light and dark. At one moment, great darkness. In the next, brilliant light. And with that light, the college graduate, who is told, "No job, ever," it's like an offer the next day. To a child who is told, "You'll make the team, never," its a spot as a starter the very next day. To be told, "Heaven, never," a promise that it's yours, this very day. So Rise n' Shine! You are that child promised eternal light and life! It's time to live in the light! Amen.
Frank Schaefer, for JavaCasa Resources and the Desperate Preacher's Site, 1999