15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I don’t know how you have been spending the summer time. But if you ask me, “Bob, what did you do during the summer?” I would answer “I just finished the Clinical Pastoral Education at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.” It is ten weeks intensive program Monday through Friday, from 8:30 till 5:30. I had to attend seminars, group meetings, and visit patients. I was assigned to Intensive/Cardiac Care Unit and Birthing Center. Let me tell you the story of my first day. When I entered a room in ICU, there was a woman who seemed to be around 85 years old. She had a hard time breathing and probably unconscious. When her daughter saw me, she showed me a note that said, “Let go.” The patient’s consciousness was in and out every hour. And when she was conscious, she would write something down on a piece of paper. I became silent and asked her, “Are you ready to let her go?” She collapsed on her chair and cried. I couldn’t say anything there to comfort her. I just sat with her and looked at her mother together. That day I learned the wisdom of sitting with someone in sorrow and being with her. That was my first day of working as a chaplain at the hospital.
As I went around to see patients, I was astonished to see the enthusiasm of patients and their families to share their stories. They would keep talking and talking. And I am there listening, sometimes blacked out in my mind. What I found very interesting was that as they share their stories, they seem to find healing. They express anger. Then I listen to their emotions and say, “I can see why you feel angry now.” They express frustration. I listen quite. After they express their emotions, they say, “Thank you for listening to my stories. I feel better now.” But it becomes a different story when I feel tired or when I have so many thoughts in my head. “I gotta go home and read the book by tonight.” “I am supposed to call my friend tonight.” “Oh. I feel so tired. I should not stayed until 2:00 am last night.” When I am filled with such thoughts, it became extremely difficult for me to listen to their stories. Thoughts were overflowing in my head and there was no room to let in the stories of others. When there is no room for others, then it became easy for me to say, “Well. I think that you should do this or do that.” I noticed that I became quick to give my thoughts or feedbacks on the stories of people. Does it also resonate with your experiences? When we are so full of our thoughts, we do not have space in our mind to listen to others. For example, parents think that they are very open and understand the situation of their children. And they say, “I totally understand what you are going through now.” And your children turn around and say, “You just don’t understand.”
It is also interesting to consider our identity as Christians in this way. We say that we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. We say that we serve our neighbors with open heart, open door, and open mind. But when we are so full of our thoughts, then we cannot afford to embrace the mystery of God that comes through healing, miracles, serving, preaching, worship, and fellowship. We confine God in the walls of church. We confine God in the walls of our head and mind. And we do not see how miraculously God works in total surprise. School teaches the young kids to become independent. Society tells individuals to be responsible citizens. And church teaches people to be responsible for their own salvation. We are being educated to not to depend on others. We are being educated not to surrender. Our Christian identity is at serious risk because we need to learn how to surrender to the will of God and empty ourselves in our service to others.
A couple of days ago, I was sitting in Starbucks drinking Latte with him. It is becoming our ritual that we go to Starbucks to drink Latte every Friday. When I was seeking his wisdom in my sermon this coming Sunday, he shared with me this story. A woman was seeking truth. One day she heard that there was a wise man living in solitude. She went to his house and knocked on the door, “Hello. I am here to find truth. Truth to everything.” He let her in to his house and served a tea. Sitting on chair, she would not stop talking, “I want the truth to this. I want the truth to that...” And this man kept pouring the tea into her cup and it overflew. She screamed, “What are you doing!” And the wise man said, “Look at the tea. I think that you are not much different from the overflowing tea. You don’t have any space in your mind to listen to truth.” Jesus also said, “If you want to follow me, then take up your cross and follow me.” We also remember that Jesus told the rich to give away all his property to those in need then follow him.
First empty yourself and be filled with the Spirit. This is the instruction that Paul is giving today to the Christians in Ephesus and to us gathered here today. Empty yourself first and be filled with the Spirit. Is money becoming a stumbling issue in our loving God and neighbors? Is alcohol becoming a stumbling issue in our serving God and neighbors? Is work becoming a stumbling issue in our serving God and neighbors? I do not think that emptying ourself here means that we sell all our property and become homeless. The Bible talks a lot about managing our times and money in building the kingdom of God. It means that we learn how to depend on God and how to manage what God has blessed us with. Our property. Our children. Our education. Our time. Our job. We need to learn how to use them for the glory of God. We need to learn how to use them for the service of our neighbors. And we need sing a song, “Our cup our cup overflows not with our self-interest, but our love for God and people.”
In the middle of June, I went to Annual Conference of UMC. We had many committees reporting what wonderful works they had done for the past year. I know that we all gathered there to serve God and to serve our neighbors. Then when the lunch time came, people stormed out searching for lunch. We were all tired. We just wanted to get out and go to the cafeteria before others so that we could have more time for rest. Then I saw a little boy, seemingly 5 years old, going to the pews with a large trash bag in his hand. I stood and watched what he was up to. He was gathering bulletins and programs that the adults left on their chairs and putting them into his trash bag. I know that all the clergy and laity gathered at the Annual Conference to talk about God’s business. Was this little boy not hungry during the lunch time? Was this little boy not tired? While we adults were filled with our desire for lunch and rest in our head, this little boy was emptying himself by staying in the sanctuary and gathering the trashes that we left. I could see that his heart was overflowing with his love for God and people.
His parents may have taught him to do so. But he could not do it unless he was touched by God’s grace. Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” We gather here today not because our hearts are ready and empty. Some of us are, some of us are not. But we are all learning how to empty ourselves and being filled with the Spirit of God. In our worship, we lay down our burdens and learn to trust in God who is already working out in our life. In our service to others, we learn to empty ourselves and let the care and love for others coming from God fill our heart. As Native American Indians live their lives with gratitude for the earth by “kissing” and “massaging” the the earth as they daily walk, I pray that God may empty our hearts and fill it with joy, gratitude, and love. And I pray that God fills our hearts with trust in God who is shepherd leading us to the still water, even when we cannot see what is ahead of us on the road of our faith journey.
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