Meditation on Ephesians 5 (Selected verses)
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
June 19, 2022
Link to our Livestream Video from Worship: https://fb.watch/dLnrxPfXJv/
I’ve just recently returned from New Mexico. I am glad to be home. I missed my family and my flock! I was away on continuing education leave, working on a Doctor of Ministry seminar in the arid, high desert of Ghost Ranch. The 21,000-acre retreat center of the Presbyterian Church is near the town of Abiquiu. We stayed in what the Website calls, “simple, rustic housing.”
The Ranch has an interesting history. Archeologists have uncovered dinosaur bones. Navajos and other tribes lived in the area. Spaniards moved in. Then, “cattle rustlers, wranglers, and dudes.”
Two cattle rustling brothers made up stories about evil spirits to keep people from finding their stolen goods in the box canyon. I think that’s where the Ghost Ranch name came from. Or maybe it was because eventually, one brother killed the other and was caught and hung from a cottonwood tree. We passed the tree on the path to the dining hall for our meals each day.
Georgia O’Keefe was a frequent guest to Ghost Ranch, traveling for the first time there from New York in 1929. The artist who became famous painting skyscrapers would eventually build a house there to paint the “towering rock walls, vivid colors and vast skies.”
The ranch was a gift to the Presbyterian Church in 1955.
My Doctor of Ministry class was called, “Re-enchanting words: Creativity and Imagination in Pastoral Ministry.” We wrote 8 different forms of writing to share in small groups and critique. One was a creative piece of our choice. Many people wrote poems. One wrote a song that we sang in worship one morning.
I wrote a short story about my last day of pastoral ministry with my former congregation. I visited a man in a nursing care center with terminal cancer. He had grown so weak that his wife, a retired nurse, could no longer care for him at home.
He hadn’t been to the church in years. He shared that it wasn’t that he didn’t like me or didn’t like the church. He just wasn’t into all the Jesus stuff—didn’t want to read the Bible or pray or listen to sermons. He didn’t like to sit still! He liked to garden and tinker with fast cars. He loved his family.
He didn’t believe in heaven, he said. The only way he would live on was through the memories of his loved ones. He wanted to spend all his remaining days making memories with his children and grandchildren.
What brought him to church years ago was when his children were involved in the music programs. He attended worship to hear them sing!
The apostle Paul knew the importance of music in the lives of believers. Music helps us worship the Lord; it helps us express and teach the faith; and it serves to draw us nearer to God and one another. When Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison, they demonstrated another purpose for sacred music—to bring us comfort in times of trouble and to bear witness to our faith, sharing the hope we have in Jesus Christ with the world.
But maybe you haven’t noticed that Paul often quotes from psalms and hymns of the Early Church in his letters. I hadn’t really thought about it until I was preparing for this special service today, when we give thanks to God for the gift of music and pray for God’s blessing on our musicians.
Many of the fathers of our Reformed tradition recognized the importance of singing in worship, but looked primarily to the Old Testament, especially the book of psalms, rather than the Christian hymns and creeds of the New Testament. John Calvin in 1543 said,
“We know from experience that singing has great strength and power to move and to set on fire the hearts of men in order that they may call upon God and praise Him with a more vehement and more ardent zeal. It is to be remembered always that this singing should not be light or frivolous, but that it ought to have weight and majesty … Now, what Augustine says is true, namely that no one can sing anything worthy of God which he has not received from Him. Therefore, even after we have carefully searched everywhere, we shall not find better or more appropriate songs to this end than the Psalms of David, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, when we sing them, we are assured that God puts the words in our mouth, as if He Himself were singing through us to exalt His glory.”
Martin Luther (1483-1546) had a different opinion. Scripture inspired him to write his own original hymns; 30 of them were published in his day. Some are still sung today. We all know, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” with echoes of Psalm 46 and Isaiah 46.
During my research this week, I discovered a pastor’s list of early Christian songs and creeds in the New Testament. He counted four songs in Luke, including Mary’s song; one in Hebrews, 3 in Peter’s letters, 3 in Timothy’s, one in John and two in Paul’s letters to the Philippians and Colossians.
The hymn that Paul quotes from the Early Church in Philippians 2 speaks of the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. But his point is for the church to imitate Christ’s humility and do nothing from “selfish ambition or empty conceit.” He tells the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Then he breaks into song….
“who, though he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
assuming human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God exalted him even more highly
and gave him the name
that is above every other name,
10 so that at the name given to Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
The pastor who made the list of New Testament hymns and creeds didn’t see the fragment from the Early Church’s hymn in today’s passage in Ephesians. I learned about it from a commentary by Markus Barth, son of Karl Barth, the famous Swiss-Calvinist theologian.
Ephesians 5 begins, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” and then Paul quotes from a hymn, “and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The emphasis is on Christ giving himself for us, for love for us. This gracious gift has brought us peace with God and one another. Ephesians tells us that in Christ, the Lord has broken down all the dividing walls of hostility that human beings build up. Letting go of the sins of the past, we are freed to walk in love—the kind of self-giving love that Christ has revealed through the cross. We are freed to lead a life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” We are filled and empowered by the Spirit to live a life of love and gratitude—singing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs to one another. Making melody to the Lord in our hearts.
Today, on Father’s Day, I am thinking of the gentleman I visited on my last day of pastoral ministry with my former congregation. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his family and making memories. And that the seeds of faith sown by his children, years ago, singing hymns and spiritual songs in church, will take root and grow in his heart.
I am also thinking of my own father, wishing he was still with us to make memories. Are any of you missing fathers who have passed away? This is our third Father’s Day without him, and it still feels strange.
I thank God for the memory of my father’s voice—both his speaking voice and singing voice. I remembered this week how he used to sing Christmas carols as I played the piano when I was young.
In the short time I have been with you, I have come to know members of our choirs and our music director. I pray that this service will help to show our appreciation for you and encourage you to keep on singing and leading us to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord.
We thank God for you!
Please continue to help us, through our music, to grow in faith, gratitude, understanding, and loving relationships with one another and the Lord.
May God richly bless you in your ministry.
Let us pray.
Loving, Creator God, thank you for your love and the gracious gift of Jesus Christ, who is our peace. We praise you for the gift of music in the church and the Spirit that empowers us to make melody in our hearts to you. Fill us with gratitude that moves us to give thanks to you, at all times. For everything. Bless those with special musical gifts as they seek to grow our faith and understanding and help us bear witness to your love and grace through our song. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.