Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our text today is the latter half of the Epistle lesson, from St. Paul's letter to the Christians at Ephesus: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Strategic planning has become an important management tool for businesses, governmental departments, and even congregations. Here's a definition of “strategic planning” according to the “Alliance for Nonprofit Management”:
Strategic planning is a management tool...to help an organization do a better job - to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the organization are working toward the same goals, to assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. In short, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.
That sounds like a pretty good thing to implement in our personal lives, too. Setting goals, focusing our energy, assessing and adjusting what we do in response to the changes around us, focusing on the future and not dwelling on the mistakes of the past. Now, certainly, as Christians, we know that we rely solely and completely on God's good providence. He's in charge. He's in control. He molds us and shapes us through his Word and Spirit. Some of our mistakes of the past may be more than just mistakes. They are sinful offenses against our Holy God, but which have have been forgiven because of the death and resurrection of our Divine Savior Jesus. But we also recognize that God has given us a brain to use and by grace has given us a renewed will. With that brain and our Spirit-led will, we can assess the situations and the abilities he has given us so that we can plan for the best use of the opportunities he places before us.
You might say that St. Paul is telling us to do a little “strategic planning” when he says “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We assess the situation in which we find ourselves, and we find that the apostle's words are true. The days are indeed evil. You don't need to look beyond your morning newspaper or your television in order to know this is true. Actually, you and I don't need to look beyond our own noses in order to know that this is true. We are saints in Christ, this is true. But the Old Adam still lurks within our hearts. We are sinners. Therefore, before we complain about the evil we see around us, we must repent of the evil within us. We must repent of our me-first attitude that we often find within us. We must repent of our feeling that if we don't have the latest and greatest gadgets, cars, houses, tools, toys, appliances, countertops, etc., then things aren't as good as they can be. We must repent of the ways in which we have selfishly ignored the needs of our spouses, our children, our friends, and our neighbors. Only then can we begin to strategically plan how to be agents of God's will against the evils in the lives of people around us.
Part of this process is laying aside all that would distract us from being effective conveyers of God's love. One of those distractions would be our addictions. Our addictions keep us from investing our time well and wisely in God's service. Paul tells the Ephesians, “do not get drunk with wine.” Perhaps that was a problem for these Christians. It may be for some of us, too. But that's not the only addiction that may keep us from “making the best use of the time.” It may even be things that are not sinful in and of themselves, but things which take time away from serving others. For some of us it may be spending too much time in front of the television or computer, whether it's watching TV or playing video games or poking around on Facebook. For others it may be an obsessive need to clean or to keep up the yard. Those are not necessarily sinful things. But if they keep us from serving our neighbor, then we need to re-think the way we spend our time.
So do some “strategic planning.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, St. Paul says. And then he adds, Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Listen to God's kind of wisdom, which isn't the kind of wisdon that seems right and best and smartest to the world. Today's Old Testament lesson from Proverbs 9 has a lot to say about wisdom. Wisdom there is spoken of as if it's someone who has prepared a banquet and all are invited to feast there. Then, the reading ends with these words: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” True, godly wisdom begins with coming before the Lord in reverence and awe, trusting in him for every good in your life. True, godly wisdom is gained by feasting on the Bread of Life, your Lord Jesus, and the peace and forgiveness that he won for you at the cross. Trusting in a man who claimed to be God and who allowed himself to be brutally executed doesn't seem to be wise in the world's eyes. But 1 Corinthians 1:27 “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” God chose his Son to appear foolish in the eyes of the world. But true wisdom starts with trusting in him for life and salvation.
And God has chosen you to be his child. You were marked with his name in Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit created faith in your heart through the Word of the Gospel. By grace, you can now live out your identity as his child by bringing the presence and power of his love to those within reach of your love. You can make “the best use of the time” by knowing that “time's a-wasting.” The lives of people all around us are falling apart and we have a message of love and hope that can be found nowhere else. There are tattered and torn lives which God places within the reach of our healing and loving touch … which is really His healing and loving touch, since we are only his instruments.
Today's text concludes with these words: Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Strategic planning begins right here, in the Divine Service. We come together here to speak God's Word – God's wisdom – to each other in the liturgy … addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Renewed and refreshed with the words of absolution ringing in our ears and the body and blood of Christ still fresh on our lips, we go from here with thanksgiving in our hearts.
Parents, you work hard to cultivate gratitude in your children, don't you? And part of that gratitude is showing thankfulness by saying, “Thank you,” or writing a thank-you note, or doing something special in return. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit helps us to feel thankful and to express our thankfulness in word and deed … by gathering and giving clothes to the needy in our community, by helping produce materials in braille so the blind and sight-impaired can read God's Word, by giving and increasing our offerings so that we can give more to mission work around the globe, by sprucing up the grounds and flower beds around the church so we are a welcoming presence here for people who drive by, by teaching Sunday School so our children can continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior, by … well, you fill in the blank here. What is your strategic plan to work with the wisdom which seeks to know and do God's will … the wisdom God has already given you?
Whatever it is, you can do it, because of God's strategic plan to save you by sending his Son to die for you and to pay for all your sins. You are forgiven. Now you are free to serve and love in the name of the Risen Savior Jesus.
Outline for this sermon was adapted from one found in Concordia Journal 7.97