Sunday Service at St. Paul Lutheran Church

Sermon: “Under The Influence”   Ephesians 5:18-20

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

August 17, 2003

   In light of the Epistle reading for this Sunday from Ephesians 5, there are three things I want you to imagine: Holy milk - holy water-melon – but most of all – imagine holy people living holy lives! 

   Since none of us or our children or grandchildren live in a vacuum but we are always under the influence of something or someone, what’s a good influence to be under?  What are bad influences to be under?

   I like this story about holy milk. An aging Mother Superior, the head of a convent was bedfast, dying.  She had been the source of wisdom & strength for the whole convent for many years.  She was a holy woman, a good influence on all the other sisters & novices. As her time grew short, one evening she raised her head slightly from her pillow and said, “May I please have a glass of warm milk?”

   Immediately one of the sisters ran to the kitchen to heat the milk.

The sister also noticed a bottle of whiskey someone had given the con-vent last Christmas, so she added a little bit of it to the milk. Then she added a little more, and a little more.

   “Here’s your warm milk, Mother,” said the sister. 

   The Mother Superior drank a little, then some more, and then some more, until she downed the whole glass. Finally she sighed deeply and closed her eyes.

   “Do you have some wisdom to share with us before you go, Mother,

said one of the nuns tearfully.

   “The Mother Superior raised herself up on one elbow, looked out the window and said, “Don’t sell that cow!”  Now it wasn’t that the cow’s milk was holy, but that the Mother Superior was a holy woman who was under the influence of warm “spiked” milk.

       Or what about holy watermelon?  A group of ministers & a group of salesmen where holding conferences in the same hotel and waiters & waitresses were hurrying back & forth to serve dinner to both groups. The salesmen where having spiked watermelon for dessert, while the ministers were having cake.  But in the rush to get things out to the tables, the head chef noticed the spiked watermelon was being served to the ministers by mistake. 

  “Quick,” the chef shouted to the waiters, “Bring it back!” A waiter rushed out of the kitchen only to return reporting it was too late.

  “Do the ministers like it,” asked the chef. “I don’t know,” replied the waiter, “but they’re putting the seeds in their pockets.”  It was not that the watermelon was holy, but holy men of God were under the influence of fresh “spiked” watermelon which they wanted to grow & share with others.  

   Now what about holy people?  What about ordinary, sinful, redeemed, forgiven, baptized people of God whose hearts & minds & daily actions are open & able to the love, to worship, to celebrate life because their lives have spiked with the Holy Spirit, or better yet, they are living life “under the influence of the Holy Spirit?”

   We know what it means to be “under the influence of alcohol” when driving a car - which is not good at all.  What does it mean to be “under the influence of the Spirit when living a Christian life – which is not bad; not bad at all?  

   When the apostle Paul wrote a very warm, pastoral letter to his fellow Christians in Ephesus & the surrounding area, he wrote to encourage them to be open to and “under the influence of the Holy Spirit”. Paul wanted his fellow Christians at Ephesus to be firm & focused in living their lives as joyful, worshipping, singing, grateful Christians – especially grateful. 

   Be very careful how you live, Paul writes, not as unwise but wise people. Watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every oppor- tunity.  Don’t live carelessly, recklessly, shamefully like someone who has had too much wine to drink.

   There’s a line in Herman  Melville’s classic tale, Moby Dick, where one of the characters says, Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

   There’s another saying that says, “A good bottle of wine is bottled poetry,” which says something positive for wine as a good & gracious gift of God.  But drunkenness is debauchery, says Paul, and debauchery is misusing, abusing, ruining the good gifts of God.

   Do not get drunk with wine, warns Paul, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit; drink the Spirit of God; take huge swigs, huge draws of God’s Holy Spirit.

   It’s not that Paul was against drinking wine.  He wasn’t. In fact, Paul writes to Timothy who had some medical problems. 1 Timothy 5:23: No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.  Paul wasn’t against drink-ing, but what he WAS against and what’s good for us to hear too is that he was against getting drunk, over indulging oneself, being out of control - because being out of control, getting drunk, cheapens life . . .  cheapens life. 

    Well, if getting drunk is debauchery, if being filled with too much wine is giving in to a bad influence, what are other bad in-fluences to be under?  What else cheapens life & can turn one’s life into less than what God wants it to be?  Paul mentions sexual immoral-ity, greed, obscenities, vulgar talk.  Other life-cheapening influ-ences that we could add to Paul’s list of things to avoid would include: pornography, chatty gossip, rigorous legalism,  hypocrisy, self-indulgence, bitterness, possessiveness.  None of us are immune. To be under the influence or power of any of these things of the flesh can “squeeze” the whole God-given meaning & purpose of life out of joyfully, living gratefully - like running a dangerously high fever can squeeze strength & motivation out of us physically.

   For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, writes St. Paul in Romans 8.  To set one’s mind solely on the flesh, to be solely under the influence of the flesh is death, debauchery, living it up, yet losing out on what life is for.

   But . . But you, you who are born of God in Christ, writes Paul, you who are born of Water and the Spirit, you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.    

   So Paul exhorts, encourages us too: Be filled with the Spirit. Let your lives be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Let there be true Christian worship. Let there be the singing of psalms & hymns & spiritual songs; let there be singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.  Above all let there be an free-flowing, heart-warming,  thanksgiving to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

   Preaching on this text, an Anglican minister once said, You’ve got to fill a man with something.” Pagans, he said, worldly-minded people, looking for immediate rewards & self-gratification, find happiness in filling themselves with wine and with other self-indulging pleasures, but they are not the least bit able to deal with the realities of sin, grief, illness, death and the power of the devil.  

   But Christians, God’s people who are God’s new creations in Christ; God’s people who know Christ lived & died on a cross & rose again from the dead for them to reconcile them to God & to grace their lives with God’s full & free forgiveness; Christians, if they are truly Christ-ians, find their happiness, find strength & hope & courage to face whatever happens in this life - in being filled with the new wine of God’s Spirit dwelling in them; being under the influence of the new wine, the good wine, the delightful wine of joy & gladness, grace & faith, praise & thanksgiving to God, 

   Imagine holy people living holy lives.  Imagine God’s Holy Spirit flowing & welling up in believers; breaking forth in songs & psalms & spiritual hymns even in midst of the sadness & sickness; in the midst of the bumpiness & brokenness of life.

   We all know our days are numbered; we know our time in this life is short; we know one day sooner or later, if we have been faithful to Christ, lived for Jesus Christ, lived under the cross of Christ, He will call us home to be with Him.

   Pray always that you live your life under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

   Pray that you will be able to look back on loving & being loved by God; worshipping & singing & praising God.

   Don’t let a day pass when you are not humbly, genuinely, graciously thankful to God so that living under the influence of the Holy Spirit will fill you & motivate you to live each day of your life for the glory of God & the good of others. 

   And if I am ever served any spiked watermelon, I too will save the seeds so I can grow them and share them with you.

       Where I wanted this message end up is with all of us remembering & believing how delightful, how tasteful, how God-pleasing our thoughts, words, and deeds can be when we live, move & have our being in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, under influence of the Holy Spirit. May God grant that for Jesus’ sake.  Amen