“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”Dr. Stephen Z Hearne Ephesians 4:25-5:2 Year B – Proper 14 (19) Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.
In the Elton John song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” he sings
“Don’t let the sun go down on me.
Although I’ve searched myself, it’s always someone else I see.
I just allowed a fragment of your life to wander free.
But losing everything is like the sun going down on me.”
How many times do we find ourselves allowing fragments of our lives to wander into things that are not really who we are as God’s children, and as a result, we find that we have lost something of ourselves? Occasionally, we are tempted to reject truth and allow anger to gain control of our lives. When this happens, we cannot “light the darkness” that surrounds us because we have lost control of what we once had and have let “the sun go down” on fragments of hostility.
The writer of Ephesians had similar experiences in losing control and had witnessed them in others. This caused him a good bit of consternation for both himself and others. In the passage under consideration today, the writer is offering practical, ethical exhortation in the section of the letter known as the paranesis. He knows what the old nature can do and how easy it can be to slip back into that lifestyle once again.
Yet, he is also convinced that the new nature of the Christian believer can overcome the old with adherence to the principles the Christian is called to imitate, eventually making them a part of who s/he is. This new nature, the likeness of God in the Christ, can take one from the darkness into new life and light of righteousness (being made right with God). Instead of sundown and darkness, there is a “Sonrise” that effects a transformation, which shows in one’s conduct or “the fruit of Christian life.”
To dramatically show the effect of the “Sonrise” in Christ, the writer speaks first of how the old nature hinders true fellowship with God and others and follows each one with virtues that foster fellowship. Things that disrupt unity in fellowship are falsehood, anger, stealing, and foul speech, which include malicious slander and gossip.
All of these offend others and break the fellowship that God intends for Christians to have. Sometimes that fellowship is broken in obvious ways and sometimes in hidden ways. Falsehood is sometimes translated “lying.” However, if we think of it only as a spoken lie, we miss the point. How many times is true fellowship hindered because we live behind a façade?
Putting away falsehood and speaking the truth with neighbors means to open up ourselves to another, and that makes us uncomfortable. It involves taking off the masks we wear, tearing the clothing we use to hide behind, and revealing our inner self, more vulnerable than we want it to be.
Yet, there is a reason we are called to do this–we are called to relate with God and others with a mutual respect and care that will allow true insight into ourselves without fear. This motive is fresh in our very hearts. We are part of each other’s lives through the Christ that died for us in order that we might live in him.
When this happens, we are instructed not to let the sun go down on our anger and deceptions. Some attempt to justify their sense of anger as long as they do not carry it over from day to day and allow it to “simmer.” This would allow for “the devil,” or ourselves, to cook the anger to the point of boiling, which we know is a dangerous thing to do.
Rather, the writer seems to indicate that we are to get rid our hearts of anger as quickly as we can. As one ancient saying goes, “Make the day of your anger be the day of your reconciliation (with the one for whom you feel anger).” We all experience anger but forgiveness and mutual respect assuage it. Then, we will remain in fellowship, but in fellowship with whom?
Here we find an interesting statement about changed lives. The church did not consist of only the respectably religious. Jesus said that he came for the ill, not the well. As the church was made up of some who were considered “less than desirable,” there are instructions for honest labor that reflects changed lives. We all are to live disciplined lives–not for our own benefits, but for the graciousness we can share with others. In fact, all that we do or say is to build up (edify) and bring grace.
When we live falsely, allow anger to seethe, and sponge off of others, we are guilty of causing God’s Spirit to grieve. These sins against our neighbors are sins against the God who made them as well as us. And we bring pain to God when we refuse to listen to God and the needs of others, and when we do nothing to help. Our actions speak volumes more than what we say verbally.
As God’s children, we are to exhibit characteristics of the one who is our ultimate parent–characteristics of kindness and tenderness that stem from the center of our being, the heart, and forgiveness that is modeled after the forgiveness we experience from God in Jesus the Christ.
The text brings to mind that most “dangerous” phrase of the model prayer recorded in Matthew 6, “…And forgive us our debts like we also have forgiven our debtors.…”
The living of lives in “Sonrise” rather than sundown is found in the love of a re-born heart. As God forgives and loves, we are to be “imitators of God,” the natural expectation of the child of any good parent.
The agape that we find coming in Jesus is to be part and parcel of who we become in imitating God. And the more we truly seek to imitate God, the more likely that imitation will manifest itself in changes that will capture those fragments of life that have wandered away, turning them into moments by which the Son rises anew within our lives.
When the Son changes our nature more completely through our repentance of darkness and subsequent walk in the dawn of a new righteousness, God’s righteousness will bring us to exceed the righteousness that we could attain on our own. The righteousness to which we are called through Christ is one that is based on grace and issues forth in the willingness–no, in the activity–to give one’s life to God for others.
We are not speaking strictly about physical death but of giving our lives in loving service to God and our neighbor within the truth of God’s grace in Christ. If we do any less, it would mean losing everything and having the “sun go down” on us.
About the Writer: Dr. Stephen Z Hearne is a professor, chaplain, and pastor. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and Spartanburg Methodist College and serves as a Chaplain for the Greenville Hospital System. He recently retired as Pastor, First Baptist Church, Piedmont, SC; and is active in interim and pulpit supply.
Dr. Hearne is a graduate of Elon College, Elon College, NC; Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, SC; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC; and also studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.
Steve enjoys hunting, reading, and being with family, especially with Mary, his bride of over 43 and a half years, and their two granddaughters, Sidney and Quinn
Scripture and Music:
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
“Sleepers, Wake!” A Voice Astounds Us
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
The Lily of the Valley
O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee
Hope of the World
Come, Ye Disconsolate
Be Still, My Soul
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
The Lily of the Valley (Whalum)
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (arr. Cherwein)
Make Me An Instrument of Thy Peace
Be Still, My Soul
Let There Be Peace On Earth
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
When Answers Aren’t Enough
Eternal Life (Dungan)
Jesus, Name Above All Names