With a Song in Your Heart

December 3rd, 2013

Ephesians 1:3-14

What kind of a song does your heart sing as you go through your days? Almost everyone sings some song. Of course, we may sing different songs from time to time, depending upon what is happening in our lives, but most of us have one song that is our song, a song that expresses our feeling about life. Some people dance to meet life, singing something like, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay; My, oh my, what a wonderful day.” Others drag themselves into life singing something like, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Do you see what I mean? It makes a difference. Many of us have been walking around for several weeks now humming or whistling or singing Christmas carols. That helps, doesn’t it?

In many churches, it is customary to begin every worship service with a hymn of adoration. There may be lots of different moods and acts of worship during the service, representing different human experiences and different aspects of our interactions with God. But, everything comes into perspective more effectively if the congregation starts by remembering that the worship all takes place in the presence of the living God who is great and good and loving. Adoration puts us in the presence of God and reminds us of what we know about God and sets the stage for everything else.

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians evidently believed that everything should start with adoration. Our scripture lesson, the passage just after the address, the passage that is intended to set the stage and to establish the tone for the whole book, is a hymn of adoration. No, it is not actually a hymn that is intended to be sung.

But it is an act of adoration that is intended to perform the same purpose.

The passage starts with a traditional blessing of God, a variation of the blessing with which Jewish people were accustomed to starting their Passover prayers. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The hymn then incorporates several of the most joyful themes of the Christian faith. God has made known to us the mystery of his will. God has a good and loving plan for the whole creation and he is working to bring it to fulfillment. God is working to draw all things together into a harmonious unity. There is a place for us in that plan. God chose us before the foundation of the world to be adopted as God’s children. He has provided for our redemption, the forgiving of our sins, and he is at work to make us holy and blameless before him in love. We who have believed, who have set our hopes on Christ, have claimed our inheritance and are privileged to live in praise of God. A person who can sing that hymn with confidence has plenty to be happy about, no matter what is going on in his or her life.

Can you sing that kind of a song?

It makes a difference what song your heart sings. A certain man who served in the Air Corps during the Second World War told his son later of his experience after being shot down behind enemy lines. He was captured and confined in a prison camp where the prisoners were subjected to exceptional cruelty. He told his son that the only thing that made him able to endure the ordeal was the songs he had learned in Sunday school when he was growing up. He really had not been much of a churchman but he remembered the hymns and gospel songs that assured him that God is God and that God loved him and cared what was happening to him. He kept remembering those songs and either humming them or singing them when he could, and they helped him to keep everything in perspective and to find the strength to carry on.

A Choctaw Christian woman was dying of cancer in a hospital far from her home and from her people. But her daughter was there, and her daughter stood by her bed during the last hours singing Christian hymns in the Choctaw language, and the woman was able to die with God’s promise of eternity in her heart.

And blessed is the person who is able to experience good fortune with a hymn of adoration in his or her heart. In the context of adoration, good fortune evokes gratitude rather than pride or insatiable appetites for more and more. Gratitude is a really happy way of relating to good fortune. It allows us to enjoy fully without slipping into any of the greedy excesses of our culture.

Look at the themes that are parts of the act of adoration in Ephesians. If they are really parts of our song, they can make a great difference in our lives.

The wisdom that God has shared with us teaches us that we do not live our lives in the midst of a chaos of dangerous accidents or under the brazen skies of an indifferent reality. Instead, we live out our lives in the presence of a greater reality who knows and cares and loves. And that one is engaged in significant ways in the dramas of our lives and of human history.

We are also assured that behind and within all of the different things that are going on around us, there is a movement toward the accomplishment of some good purpose that we may not be able to see clearly but that is always there before us. Yes, terrible things happen in our world, stupid, cruel, irrational things that cause awful suffering. And bad things happen in our individual lives, too. They happen because of the freedom God has allowed to exist in the creation. But God has not abandoned the creation. God is still working in it all to pull things together and to move things toward some good future. One observer of the tragic conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis in the Holy Land asserted that, even in this destructive againstness, God is working to draw things together eventually into loving unity. Believing that in the center of our hearts can give life new meaning — and hope. When you have given yourself to the accomplishment of some good purpose and been disappointed by your inability to accomplish it, you can find encouragement in the knowledge that you were not alone in working for that good. The one who called you into that commitment will keep on working through others until everything really good is accomplished.

And when you, yourself, feel defeated, rejected, and hurt, you can know that there is a special place in God’s love and in God’s plan for you. The adoration from Ephesians tells us that God knew you before the beginning of all things and that God wants something good for you and God is working in your life to achieve it. It may not be the particular good that you have chosen for your goal in life, but, if it is not, it is something better. And God is at work in your life to make it possible. That should invite you to go to meet life in openness and expectancy. Sing a song of adoration and it will make a difference in your life.

But how can we sing a song of adoration? Our experiences of life do not always seem to call for it. The truth is that we all choose what song we will sing. Our circumstances do not always determine it. Look around and you will see that it is true. Look around and you will see people who have everything but the right song who live as if they have nothing. You will also see people who seem to have nothing but a song who are living as if they have everything. Look around and see if it is not true.

But there has to be some reason for choosing to sing a song of adoration. There are too many people who seem to be making up their own songs without regard to reality, just to psyche themselves up or to escape from reality. That can’t be right. But we have to make a decision about what we believe about reality. There has to be some truth in it. The song that we sing has to be true. It doesn’t always have to be true in the way that theorems in physics and mathematics are true. It can be true in the way that poetry is true. But we have to be able to believe that it is true.

What reason do we have to believe that the affirmations in the Ephesians adoration are true? God has shown us that it is true through Jesus Christ. The text says, “With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ ...” (Hebrews 1:8-9). God has made known the real meaning of life in Jesus Christ. Yes, it takes an act of courageous faith to believe that what was shown to us in Jesus is true. But we can look for further evidence at the lives of those people whose lives sing his song. Can we dare to believe that they are the ones who have really discovered the truth about everything? Can we dare to let that song set the tone for our lives?

It is true that life will sometimes call us to sing other kinds of songs. There will be times for singing fun songs or the blues, lament, songs of protest, love songs, and patriotic songs, and lots of other kinds of songs. Life is rich and varied and so is the music of our participation in it when we dare to experience it deeply. But, if the song of adoration is the main theme of our lives, all of the other themes become parts of the symphony. If we allow one of those other songs to be the main theme, our lives will play a different symphony.

The Apostle Paul was a man whose life sang a hymn of adoration. Scholars are still squabbling over whether the letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul himself or by one of his followers who hoped to represent him. But, almost everyone agrees that the letter represents Paul’s teachings well. It is also safe to assume that the hymn of adoration with which the letter begins also represents the song that Paul’s heart sang throughout his life and work.

Do you remember the story of Paul? As a young man, he was called Saul. He had all of the advantages — a prominent family, a good education, status in the Jewish community, and Roman citizenship — and that was really something special. But Saul was an angry young man. Who knows where that kind of anger comes from? He focused his anger on the early Christians whom he regarded as a threat to his people’s way of life. He stood and watched and approved as Stephen was stoned to death for witnessing to his Christian faith. He became a leader in the persecution. But he must have had some misgivings because he seemed to have been accumulating some subconscious guilt feelings that were at war with his anger. Finally, this tormented soul got a warrant for the arrest of any Christians he could find in Damascus. But on his way to that city, he had an encounter with the risen Christ who asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was struck blind and taken by members of his party to Damascus. There, a brave Christian named Ananias, one of those whom Saul had come to arrest, came to him and shared the Christian faith with him. Paul accepted the Christian faith as his own faith. He experienced God’s freely given love. He knew himself forgiven for all of the bad things he had done. He was given a new way of life and a new purpose to live for and he found great joy in it.

Paul’s life was no longer an easy one. He traveled all around the ancient world enduring all sorts of hazards, to share the Christian faith. The young man, who had once had all of the advantages, suffered beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, persecution from his own people, and abuse from the Roman authorities. But he did his work with a joyful song in his heart. Even when he knew his death was coming near, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). I am sure that the people to whom he ministered heard the song that his life sang as well as the message that his lips spoke. This must have been part of the reason that the people listened.

The eighteenth century in England was not a happy time for many people. It was the time of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a time when many people were uprooted and moved to urban centers where they worked long hours at hard labor for very little pay. Lots of people lived in poverty during those days. But the eighteenth century was also the time of the Wesleyan revival in England. The Wesleyan evangelists told the poor people, who felt like outsiders, that God loved them and gave his Son to die for them and that salvation, both now and hereafter, was possible for them. It gave them a new outlook on life. And the Wesleyan revival produced thousands of hymns intended to let the poor people sing the new faith that they had found. Imagine miners, who hardly ever saw the sun, walking together to the mines singing songs like, “Jesus! the name high over all, in hell or earth or sky: Angels and men before it fall, and devils fear and fly. Jesus! The name to sinners dear, the name to sinners given; it scatters all their guilty fear; it turns their hell to heaven.” The songs made a difference in the lives of the people and, eventually, in the quality of life in the nation.

Have you known some who always had a positive attitude toward life no matter what was happening to them? Have you known some who always seemed to be grateful to be alive? Have you wished that you could be like them?

Each of us chooses what song his or her life is going to sing. And we always make that choice in the absence of any conclusive evidence about which is the “right” song. A big part of choosing a song is choosing what kind of life we want to live. That gives us good reason to dare to believe what God has shown to us about the meaning of life and to choose for the theme of our lives a hymn of adoration. Let’s learn to hear each new sunrise calling to us, in the words of the liturgy, “Lift up your hearts.” And let us learn to respond joyfully, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” Then let us move into each new day singing, “Joy to the world....”

This is an excerpt from Sermons on the Second Readings Series I Cycle A; Copyright © 2004 CSS Publishing. This digital resource is available with a subscription to the Ministry Matters Reference Library.

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