On Brilliant Idiots and Singing: A Sermon for the Commemoration of St. Ambrose

st-ambrose-painting-claude-vignon

Sermon audio here.

“The days are evil,” says tonight’s epistle. All too easily do we forget the world in which we live is corrupted by the dreadful curse of sin, which affects every aspect of our lives and this creation. But it’s what we know, and our repeated exposure to this curse threatens to numb us to its presence.

Watch, then, how you walk, because the days are evil.[i]

Tonight’s psalm reminded us that not even our minds are exempt from this curse. Indeed, some of the most brilliant people to have ever lived are stupid men, and foolish.

Judging by the psalm’s standard, Stephen Hawking may be one of the smartest fools in the history of the world. A self-professed atheist, Hawking is, perhaps unwittingly, a devoutly religious man. He believes in science.

“In my opinion,” he said, “there is no aspect of reality beyond the human mind.”[ii] “Religion believes in miracles,” he adds, “but these aren’t compatible with science.”[iii]

Now it is perfectly fine to explore the limits of human reason and pursue a line of questioning from a secular, scientific point of view. But to limit reality to what we can know, to insist that there cannot be anything outside of the human mind, is exceedingly closed-minded. It is to declare yourself God, the final authority on all things.

It’s to turn Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” into, “if I can’t think it, therefore, it must not be.” It’s to insist that reality is limited only to that which we can wrap our little minds around. Anything we can’t comprehend must not exist. Hawking’s approach slams the door shut on even the possibility of God’s existence.

As Christians, we don’t need to check our brain at the door, but we do need the humility to confess the limits of our knowledge. Believe it or not, we can’t know everything. But that doesn’t mean those things aren’t real; it just means you aren’t God.[iv]

What’s more, not all knowledge is good. It was the worship of knowledge, the desire to know good and evil, that got us into this mess in the first place. There is no “good” knowledge of evil.[v]

God looks upon the wisdom of the world and laughs. He mocks the world’s wisdom by locating heavenly wisdom in the very things the world considers most problematic, and perhaps even evil—if the world believed in such things.

While the world considers injustice, suffering, and death some of the greatest plagues to society, those are precisely the means by which God accomplishes the greatest blessing.

Christ saved a dying world by dying. He uses the very ingredients the world considers most problematic in mixing up the antidote. We receive wealth through His poverty, comfort through His afflictions, and gladness by His sorrow. God declares you just by the injustice of the cross.

The epistle encourages us, therefore, not to get drunk on that which is bad for us, which includes the wisdom of the world. For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For scientists demand proof, but we preach that God created the world in 7 days, took on human flesh, died, and rose again, confident that God’s Word is more reliable than our silly hypotheses.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.[vi]

So don’t become drunk on the wisdom of the world. Imbibe yourself, rather, with the Holy Spirit. But how? The apostle continues: [by] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.[vii]

“But I don’t sing,” you say. “My voice is no good.” Be that as it may, to refuse to sing is to fail to use your voice for one of the main reasons God gave it to you. The Lord expects you to exercise your voice by singing to His glory. And if it’s not great now, the good news is it can only get better.

To not sing because your voice isn’t good enough is to disagree with God. Don’t let your pride prevent you from doing what God finds pleasing. Whether or not you like the way it sounds really isn’t the point, unless you’re singing for your own glory.

Which brings us to St. Ambrose, whom the church commemorates each year on December 7th. St. Ambrose was both a pastor and a hymnwriter. He understood what the apostle said about singing hymns and making melody to the Lord with all our heart.

Three of the hymns in Lutheran Service Book were either written by or attributed to St. Ambrose, including our opening hymn this evening, “O Blessed Light, O Trinity.” The hymn is beautiful in its simplicity, and yet it offers up such richness of doctrine that we could never exhaust it in a lifetime.

Not only does St. Ambrose take to heart what the apostle says by composing hymns, he included in this hymn a thought which echoes our epistle. In stanza 2, we sing,

“To You our morning song of praise, to You our evening prayer we raise.”[viii]

Here Ambrose reminds us of the importance of singing and giving thanks to God at all times, just like St. Paul does in our epistle.

So tonight we thank God for St. Ambrose, for his reminder of the apostle’s exhortation to 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.[ix]

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
Ephesians 5:15–21
Commemoration of St. Ambrose, 2016
Zion, Summit
Immanuel, Hodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies

[i] cf. Ephesians 5:15–16

[ii] https://www.cnet.com/news/stephen-hawking-makes-it-clear-there-is-no-god/

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Fisk, Broken, 94.

[v] Fisk, 97.

[vi] cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21ff.

[vii] Ephesians 5:18–19

[viii] “O Blessed Light, O Trinity (LSB, 890; s t. 2).

[ix] Ephesians 5:15–20.



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