Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost / Fourteenth Sunday of Luke, December 3, 2017
Ephesians 5:8-19; Luke 18:35-43
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
This verse is Ephesians 5:15. Paul again uses the metaphor of “walking” to refer to how we live our lives. We talked last week about how we are to “walk worthy” of our calling as Christians, a line from Ephesians 4, and we spoke particularly about one way that we need to work on the worthiness of our walk—in giving our money to God with openness and generosity rather than how we usually do it. And this week we will continue the emphasis on “walking” in the right way.
I like the metaphor of “walking” for how we live. It gives us the sense that Christian life is about motion, about forward motion. Of course, it is not just Christian life that is a “walk.” We are all “walking,” some of us well and some of us not so well.
And just as with literal walking, sometimes we ourselves can walk well or badly depending on the circumstance. I have days when I pray in the morning, and I have days when I just blow it off. I have days when I give when as God calls me to, and I have days when I push that thought away. I have days when I decide to act on Jesus’ call to love and not to listen to my own desires, and I have days when I put my own desires first instead, because I gotta look out for #1, right?
In our walk, we sometimes run, sometimes stumble, sometimes go the right way, sometimes turn away and walk on another path, sometimes get lost, sometimes stop for a while, etc. This is life. Nobody’s perfect.
It’s true—nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s walk is perfectly straight and steady. But that’s not okay. We can’t be satisfied with that. We can’t find that to be acceptable for ourselves. Even if we’re bad at it, we still have to walk the walk.
So, keeping that metaphor of walking in mind, we read Paul telling us to “walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise.” You see, Paul knows that we often do not walk circumspectly. What does circumspectly mean? It’s not a word that we tend to use in everyday speech much. Circumspectly means “cautiously,” or “guardedly.” To walk circumspectly means that we are paying attention to where we’re going.
I think this is one of the biggest problems in spiritual life: We’re not paying attention to where we’re going.
There are of course people who are scrupulously so obsessed with every detail of life who spend hours agonizing over the spiritual ramifications of every decision. But in my experience, the more predominant problem is the opposite one—people who just don’t seem to care. Their attention is directed elsewhere.
They’re watching something closely, of course. Perhaps they are watching their finances closely, or their favorite sports team, or whether they are treated fairly, or whether someone in their life loves them like they should, or the life of a favored celebrity, or politics, or world events, etc. And some of those things are okay to watch closely and some not so okay.
But how often are we keeping close watch over our souls? We can be circumspect about the ideological purity of a politician, but how circumspect are we about how much we have the mind of Christ? We can be circumspect about the moral failings of celebrities, but how circumspect are we about our own failures to love? We can be circumspect about every detail of our health and fitness, but how circumspect are we about our spiritual fitness?
We are to walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise. We can be so wise when it comes to all these other things—health, finances, education, hobbies, etc. But when was the last time we talked with a spiritual financial planner, someone who helps you invest wisely in the Kingdom of Heaven? When it comes to spiritual life, we often figure that our half-measures, lack of experience and do-it-yourself attitude will take care of it. We’re not walking as wise, but as unwise.
So what do we do? How do we start walking not as unwise, but wise? The rest of Paul’s sentence gives us the key. He says that we should walk as wise, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
The days really are evil, aren’t they? I don’t just mean the evil in the world but the evil in our inner worlds, the evil that is within our own hearts. You might think, “Well, I’m not a bad person,” but that’s not what this is about. This is about the ways that our hearts aren’t keeping us walking wisely toward Christ. Anything that your heart tells you to do that turns you away from Jesus is evil. Let’s be honest about it.
So what do we do? We redeem the time.
I love that phrase “redeeming the time.” It’s a good one. What does it mean to “redeem”? Redemption is literally a buy-back or a trade. When you redeem a coupon, you are effectively buying back some of the cost of your purchase. When you redeem a reward at a store, you are trading in points or whatever for something good.
And when a slave is redeemed, he is bought from an owner and then set free.
We are to redeem the time, redeem the daily experiences of life that we have, so that we can walk wisely. How do we do that? We do that by turning over what we have to God. We trade in the “reward points” of life for spiritual benefit. And just like the reward points that no doubt many of you are turning in to help with your Christmas shopping, the things that we have in this life that we do not redeem with God will ultimately be useless. Reward points aren’t worth anything if they’re not used.
So if I have money and I don’t redeem it by giving it to God, then it’s spiritually useless. If I have a gift for teaching or comforting others or assisting those who need my help and I don’t give those gifts to God, they’re spiritually useless. If I have time or any other resources that I’m not redeeming by giving to God, then they are spiritually useless to me.
But do I really need my money, my talents, my time or other resources to be spiritually useful? Why can’t I just enjoy those things for their earthly benefits? Well, if that’s all you want, then that’s all you’ll get. If you blow all your resources on things that will die probably even before you do, then that is all you will have.
Paul’s next sentence is: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Not “understand what the will of my opinions is.” Not “understand what the will of my preferences is.” Not “understand what the will of what my friends and I want to do today is.” It’s “understand what the will of the Lord is.” If we’re not understanding that, then we are, as Paul says, being foolish. “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
As we are moving now more quickly toward Christmas, this is a great time to ask ourselves whether we are redeeming the time or wasting it. Because that baby Whom we will see in the manger is the God and Lord and Judge of the Universe before Whom we will someday all stand. And we will be asked whether we took the things He gave us and redeemed them according to His will. So let us walk in such a way that we will have a good answer.
To Christ, Who first redeemed us, be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.