Saturday, March 1, 2008

Yahweh

Text: Ephesians 5:8-14

The text this morning comes at the end of a longer passage in which the writer exhorts the readers to no longer live as unbelievers do. He asserts that unbelievers are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the hardening of their hearts. He goes on to urge these Christians “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22b-24) The Greek in the verbs for “put on” and “put off” are those used in removing clothes. The writer alludes to the Christians’ baptism in which they literally put off their old clothes, entered the waters of baptism and then put on new white garments which marked their new life as Christians. The author of Ephesians continues the conversation by listing practices that Christians are to follow: speaking the truth to our neighbors, not letting the sun go down on our anger, not engaging in evil talk, only what is useful in building up others, work so that we have something to share with those in need, put away bitterness, anger, wrangling and slander, being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Then he urges his readers to be imitators of God, to live a life of love, to give up immorality, impurity and greed. Finally, he comes to this ending: to live as children of the light.
In their song Yahweh, U2 uses similar images as the writer of Ephesians, but not from the perspective of exhorting others, but as a cry to God to help them live as children of the light. The song begins by asking God to take articles of clothing: shoes, a polyester shirt, and make them fit and clean. The song reminds us of baptism: taking off our clothes and exchanging them for Christian garments. But, the song reflects the struggle of Christians to live into their baptism. It is not easy. One sermon I read in preparing for this sermon had lots of illustrations about being in dirty clothes and the sheer joy in exchanging a grimy body and grimy clothes for a clean body and clean clothes. If you’ve ever been camping you know how it feels to finally find a shower and swap those muddy, sweaty clothes for clean ones. Or if you’ve been gardening and you come in the house dirty and sweaty, it’s wonderful to step into the shower or bathtub and the put on clean, fresh clothes. On the other hand, I have a secret. I have an inner slob that comes out, particularly on Thursdays when I write my sermon. I stay in my pjs most of the day, my hair a mess, no make up. So despite the niceness of being clean and dressed in clean clothes, there is a pull to slobbery. And so it is with our lives. We know that we are better off to live the life the writer of Ephesians exhorts us to live, but we fall prey to the darkness. We’d rather seek revenge for the slights we encounter than to forgive. We’d rather gossip and tear someone down than build them up. We take delight in others’ misfortunes. We’d rather take our hard earned money and spend in on our selves or our families instead of handing it over to someone in need. And, yes, occasionally greed rears its ugly head in our lives. And so, we cry out to God to help us live as children of the light, as imitators of God. We cannot do it by ourselves:

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit
Take this shirt
Polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean
Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing
Take these hands
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist
Take this mouth
So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss. . .
We cannot do it by ourselves. We cry out for God’s help.
Here in the song, U2 shifts metaphors in the same way that the writer of Ephesians shifts. The metaphor, the images, shift to ones of light. For the writer of Ephesians the fruit of the light is all that is good. Evil is in the darkness. The writer ends this section with what some commentators have thought was a baptism hymn: “Sleeper, awake, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” U2 continues the song with the words
Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

One preacher writing on Ephesians said: [The writer of Ephesians] urges us not only to make our own world a cheerful place, but to widen the circle of light to include others: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." This preacher quotes John Grisham, in his novel, The Street Lawyer, describing the reaction of someone helping the helpless:

I was in no hurry to leave the [legal clinic for the homeless] at the end of my first day. Home was an empty attic, not much larger than any three of the cubbyholes at the Samaritan House. Home was a bedroom with no bed, a living room with cableless TV, a kitchen with a card table and no fridge... .

"So what do you think?" [a fellow lawyer] asked, pausing by the door on the way out.

"I think it's fascinating work. The human contact is inspiring."

"It'll break your heart at times."
"It already has."

"That's good. If you reach the point where it doesn't hurt, then it's time to quit."



This preacher continues: “Children of light don't quit. Jesus himself modeled what it means to walk in the light. He had a heart for "the least of these." He took up a cross. He resisted the powers of oppression and evil. His plan included working with a "Helper" who would partner with us forever. His goals involved nothing short of establishing the kingdom of the highest heaven on earth.”
Bono recalls once when he and his wife were visiting Ethiopia. A father came up, carrying his son in his arms. The child was emaciated. The father begged Bono and his wife to take the child with them. The father, Bono recalls, knew that his son would die in Africa. He was willing to give up the child so that his son might live. It will break your heart.
What breaks your heart? What do you see around you that cries out for light? Is it the children we tutor at Hanley? Is it Leigh’s stories of Ghana, of water shortages? Of men and women struggling to have enough to eat? Is it the sight of homeless men: drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill with no place to call home, no bed to sleep in, no place to keep their meager belongings, no treatment? Is it elderly men and women in nursing homes with few if any visitors? How is God calling you to take part in establishing the kingdom of heaven here, now? What breaks your heart?