Summary: An invitation to be Spirit-filled rather than just Spirit-marked.
A barber in a small town was busy cutting hair one day when the local law enforcement officer walked in to get a haircut. And the barber was feeling a bit generous that day, so he said to the cop, "Since you do such a good job protecting us, and watching over us, today’s haircut is free." The law enforcement officer said he appreciated that, and the next day when the barber showed up at his shop, there were a dozen donuts waiting for him.
The first customer that morning is the local florist. The barber tells him how much he appreciates all the work that he has done around town, planting bushes and flowers and making the town look real nice, so he gives him a free haircut. The next day, the barber shows up at his shop and there are a dozen flowers waiting for him.
Then, in walks the local preacher, the barber tells him how he is feeling generous that day, and how much he appreciates all his hard work with the children and taking care of the needs of the people, so the preacher gets a free haircut.
The next morning, the barber shows up at his shop, and there are a dozen preachers waiting there for him. (adapted from an illustration from SermonCentral).
I think the Apostle Paul would join me in saying that those preachers were just exercising good stewardship. And we know from our lesson from Ephesians that how we live was on his mind. Ephesus was a very large metropolitan area thanks in part to a well-known trade route. As with large cities today, temptation was not only around every corner, it was right in front of you. And, unlike small towns where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, metropolitan areas bring anonymity. You could fulfill your wildest dreams AND NO ONE WOULD EVER KNOW.
These days, there are people who struggle with all sorts of sins that weren’t even thought of when Paul wrote this letter. And there is specific advice to help us push away from each type of sin just as Paul tells his readers and us not to get drunk with wine. And he follows this with some general advice: be filled with the Spirit (or, more correctly translated, continue to be filled with the Spirit).
On my trip to North Carolina, I enjoyed not being bound to the car’s gas tank as I had been with all of my previous vehicles. The first tank of gas took me to Albuquerque. The second took me to Amarillo, and I could have gone further. But the next day, it was raining – HARD – and I wanted to both stop in Groom and Oklahoma City. And I wasn’t focused on the gas gauge (which is kind enough to tell me exactly how many miles I can go). And when the little red light came on, I started looking for a gas station. The first one was closed. The second one which was advertised as a Stucky’s (a wonderful memory from my childhood) was closed. And as I carefully and slowly drove on to the third station, the gauge told me that I had 9 miles left, and I thanked God for the roadside assistance protection that came with the car because that would give me 3 gallons of gas, if necessary. The gauge read 4 miles as I reached the intersection before the gas station and then it went blank as I rolled up to a pump. Even though my car is a hybrid, it needs to be filled repeatedly to continue moving ahead, so too do we need to be repeatedly filled with the Spirit to keep on being the best God made us to be.
Paul places this phrase (be filled with the Spirit) next to the phrase about drunkenness because, in many languages, to be drunk is to be “full.” And some liken the experience of being filled with the Spirit with drunkenness because sometimes we don’t feel at all in control… and, it seems that for us today, that is very much the point.
When we’re filled with the Spirit, there is no room for other things. Now in the Lutheran tradition, we don’t usually talk in terms of being filled with the Spirit, so it’s worth a few minutes to remind us exactly what that means. First, to be filled with the Spirit involves our necessary willingness to allow the Spirit in. Most of us cannot remember a time in our lives when the Spirit wasn’t present (even at times when we wished the Spirit of just go away). But having the Spirit isn’t the same as being filled with the Spirit. Back in Minnesota, I was involved in a retreat ministry centered on the Holy Spirit. Whenever we met, we prayed a dangerous prayer – dangerous because incredible, wonderful, miraculous, life-changing things happened on those retreats.