Sunday, 2 June 2013

Dead, lukewarm and complacent

Pentecost 2 Year C Sermon  Revelation Part 5 Chapter 3

Sardis you’re dead. Wake up!

Philadelphia beware…the synagogue of Satan

Laodicea you’re so lukewarm...I’m about to spit you out.
Your so complacent about your wealth… you’re blind…
to how pitiful you really are…and how exposed.

Hard words. And three more of the seven prophetic messages
to the churches of Asia Minor in the book of Revelation…
like emails…copied to everyone in the world in every time …so we can hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

So we can wonder… as a church… are we
more like Sardis or Philadelphia, or Laodicea.

Sardis you’re dead. Wake up!

Philadelphia beware… the synagogue of Satan

Laodicea… you’re so lukewarm...I’m about to spit you out.

Are we like any of these? What do you think…could any of these words of warning be for us? Are we more like Sardis or Philadelphia, or Laodicea or completely different? Just take a minute to think about it... [pause]

Revelation Part 5 – Chapter 3
In our sermon series on the book of Revelation
we discover one of the clearest sharpest visions
of God’s ultimate purpose...
blank slide
not just to save the world… through the life death and resurrection of Jesus…but to put his followers to work…
in the service of his kingdom…
to overthrow the powerful forces of evil…
present in the idolatrous and unjust systems of the world

And today we find in Chapter 3 of the book of Revelation
harsh words indeed…to the churches…
at what they have become

Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves…
to get our heads and hearts around this message…
to learn from the words of the risen Christ…
so our witness…to God’s purposes is courageous and faithful so we might speak the truth…
to the powers and principalities of our world.

Fortunately John lets us listen in
to what the spirit is saying to the seven churches in Asia.

First what the heck is going on in Sardis?

Well…you see they had a history of complacency…
six hundred years earlier…Sardis believed she was invulnerable that no enemy could reach her…sitting high as she was…
on her cliff top

But Sardis was wrong…her lack of vigilance
allowed the Persians to conquer her by stealth. She was humiliated.

Centuries later in John’s vision…
Jesus is telling the Christian community in Sardis…
they need to learn the lesson all over again …

sure they have a reputation for being a lively church
a vibrant… going concern…a fellowship where things are happening…But they’ve gone to sleep on their reputation
and need to wake up.

Fortunately for the church in Sardis… it’s not too late…
but they do need to take action in two areas…
first Jesus says

Slide words first reveal
I’ve found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.

You’ve lost momentum
your faithfulness needs to be all or nothing!

It simply won’t do to bumble on looking busy
but achieving little. Reputation isn’t enough.

The second charge uses the metaphor of dirty laundry…yes there may be some who haven’t soiled their clothes…
to the rest Jesus says

Slide words second reveal
Clean up your act! Or you’ll slip away from me.

Their reputation for being alive is no longer deserved…and if this unsatisfactory state of affairs continues
then Jesus…who holds the life of the churches…will come…
and just like the Persian invasion
they won’t know what’s happening… till it’s too late.

but there is a promise…those who wake up…clean up their act …and finish the work they’ve begun…will share in Jesus’ victory over all those things that drag human life down into the dirt…
even death itself….
And most wonderfully…there is the promise…
that Jesus himself will acknowledge them by name
before his father. [pause]

Ok that’s Sardis… what about Philadelphia?
Well…fifty years earlier… the city of Philadelphia was flatten by an earthquake. Their beautiful ancient architecture…
their magnificent pillared structures… toppled and collapsed …huge marble Temples cracked and buckled

Imagine the impact John’s vision on the Christians living there hear the promise of the risen Christ…I’m coming soon.
Hold on

Slide words
I’ll make those who are victorious into a pillar
in the temple of my God.

Never again will they leave it. And on them…I’ll write the name of my God and the name of the city of my God…
the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven
from my God; and I’ll write my new name on them too.

Blank slide
A Temple… made of living human beings…with Jesus as the foundation…a Temple where the living God makes his home.
Hold on…don’t give up…with Jesus backing they’ll have all they need. Hang in there… in times of persecution keep the faith …keep Jesus word…never deny his name.

Yes Jesus has the key… that will open and unlock every door
but they have to have the courage to go through the door…
to grasp the opportunity while they can

But in John’s vision…the risen Christ warns the church at Philadelphia… there’s something in the way…
the established synagogues are using their status
to block the advance of the message of Israel’s Messiah.

A Jewish community with several thousand members
and magnificent buildings…is pitting it’s power
against the young church…
of maybe two or three dozen at the most

a tiny movement who are holding on…to the highly improbable
and extremely risky claim…that the God of Israel
had raised Jesus from the dead.

That incredible imbalance… helps us understand
what is now being said.

Slide words
I’ll make those in the synagogue of Satan – who claim to be Jews though they’re not, but are liars —I’ll make them come and fall down at your feet… and acknowledge that I have loved you.

This isn’t an anti-Jewish proclamation…but an inner-Jewish conflict going on…about which group can legitimately claim to be carrying the light…and here in John’s vision…the risen Christ is clear…those who follow him are the true Jews. Those who deny him forfeit their right to that noble name.

Remember the ancient prophesies foretold a time
when foreign nations would come…
and bow before the people of Israel
acknowledging the one true God was with them…

now it’s going to be the other way around.
The followers of Jesus will go through the open door…
they’ll be pillars in the new temple
they will carry the new name –the triple name of God –
Father Son and Holy Spirit…

they will carry the name of the new Jerusalem
and the new name of Jesus himself… as King and Lord.
They are to be the Temple… and the city where heaven and earth are forever joined. What is the spirit saying to the church at Philadelphia…keep holding on.

Now for Laodicea…what’s that all about?
Well an earthquake did major damage to Laodicea as well

but they didn’t need Rome’s help… thank you very much….
you see they were the banking centre of the whole region
and what’s more they boasted a fine medical school
specialising in ophthalmology…the healing of the eyes.
People came from far and away to train there.

As well… Laodicea was famous for a particular breed of black sheep… whose wool was especially fine. And from this wool
highly sought after …fashionable garments were made. Laodicea seemed to have it all.

But one thing the city didn’t have was good water.

Pipes slide
in fact they had to pipe their water in… over six or seven K… from hot springs high in the hills. But by the time the water arrived in Laodicea… it wasn’t hot any more…it was lukewarm and what’s worse… the concentrated chemicals in it…
made you sick if you drank it.

They also tried piping in clear icy water from mountain streams but that didn’t help either…the climate was so hot by the time
it arrived in Laodicea…that water was lukewarm too.

So you see…hot water that cools down …and cold water that heats up…lukewarm…

So the church in Laodicea knows what the risen Christ is talking about when he tells them…with a mixture of sorrow and anger…

Side words
You’re neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you’re lukewarm…I’m going to spew you
out of my mouth.

My favourite Biblical Scholar Tom Wright[i] says… spew isn’t too strong a word here. The sense is Jesus is disgusted
at the taste of Laodicean Christianity…it makes him sick.

Blank slide
And the local colour continues in full strength…
you were rich…you say you’ve done well, you don’t need anything! Apparently the smug…well off attitude of the town
has rubbed off on the Christians.

They need to take off those designer clothes and get back into their baptismal robes of pure white…they need to make a commitment to the life Jesus has called them to. [pause]

You know there’s a story that St Theresa of Avila once complained to God about her suffering. And God apparently replied…this is how I treat my friend.
And right back Theresa said…then you shouldn’t be surprised you have so few of them!

And there’s a hint of the same humour in verse nineteen of Jesus message to Laodicea.
slide words
Those I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

Jesus won’t punish them to destroy them, but to bring them to their senses. The one church that’s in real trouble…
draws from Jesus the most intimate and loving promise.

blank slide
Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for all of us.

Jesus is the AMEN to the one who stays true…
And at an unexpected hour the master will return home…
knock on the door of his own house…and the one inside who stayed awake…who remained faithful… will open the door.

And when it’s all be said and done…Jesus will enter and break bread with them…the bread of life…will give himself to them

And when it’s all been said and done
those who share in that meal around that table…will share his strange sovereign rule over the world…

the rule to which he came… not by force of arms…but by the power of suffering love…

Let anyone with ears to hear… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And now let us reflect in silence as we listen

[i] Once again I acknowledge the work of NT Wrights book Revelation for Everyone Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.