Sermon for Sunday 13th of May 2012, ‘A darker place’

S. of Sol 4: 16-1 5: 2; 8: 6-7

Rev. 3: 14-22

Luke 22: 24-30

May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

The book of ‘Revelation’ is a place I seldom visit. I find it a dark place to be. A place where I do not feel comfortable. Its Greek name is the ‘Apokalypsis’ translated as the unveiling or revelation. But for me the word apocalypse will always be associated with the darker aspects of the twentieth century. Where as Genesis deals with the beginning of creation, Revelation deals the end of it.

The book of Revelation purports to be written by the Apostle John, the author of the Gospel of John and the epistles of John. It is considered to have been written during John’s exile on the island of Patmos in the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian around the year 95A.D. However it was not included in the Church Canon until the ‘Council of Carthage’ in 397A.D over three hundred years later. It was not universally accepted and was a contributory factor in the breakaway of the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Church of Rome, and it is the only book of the New Testament that is not included in their ‘Divine Liturgy’. The Book of Revelation is not without controversy.

Tonight’s second reading is typical of that uncomfortable place I mentioned. To criticize somebody for their failures is natural. To criticize them for their successes would appear to be out of order and in Jesus case out of character. But that is what Jesus did to the Christians in Laodicea.

So where and what was Laodicea? You all know that rivers meander; but did you know there is an actual River Meander? It is on the west coast of what is now called Turkey, and one of its tributaries was called the River Lycus. There were three great towns in the Lycus valley in Biblical times; Hierapolis, Colossae and Laodicea. It was on the main trade rout between Ephesus and Syria, so these three towns became very rich and prosperous. The Laodiceans derived their wealth from banking; clothing made from the naturally black wool of the local sheep; eye ointment made in their famous medical school; and from visitors who came to drink or bathe in their healing spa waters. But the water was brought into the city in pipes from the hot springs some distance away, so it lost a lot of its heat on the way. The Laodiceans advertised it as hot, but by the time it arrived it was only lukewarm.

The last of the seven letters from the risen Christ, which we find in the Revelation to John at the end of the Bible, is addressed to the Christians of Laodicea. Christ doesn’t waste time by softening them up with false praise; they were complacent and self-satisfied enough already. So Christ slams into them with his criticism of the things they were most proud of. As we read the letter to the Laodiceans, ask yourself whether there is anything Laodicean about our own church, and whether we can learn lessons from the letter about the things we ourselves need to put right.

First of all, they were a rich church living in a rich city, but they were not rich by our standards. Jesus wrote: ‘For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and need nothing.” You do not realise that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.’ That’s laying it on the line, there is no mincing words there. Jesus says their wealth counts for nothing on the bottom line of God’s account book; what they need are the spiritual riches of prayer, love and service to others. So he continues:

Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may       be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your      nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may          see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. But be earnest, therefore      and repent.

Remember that it was their black clothing and eye salve that they were so proud of; but Jesus offers to supply them with something better. That’s really putting the boot in where it hurts most.

Next, think about the hot water that cooled down on its way from the hot springs. You can see some pipes in the ruined city today which are all furred up with lime scale. The Laodicean Christians are rebuked for their lukewarm approach to religion: ‘I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’ It appears Jesus finds more potential in an atheist, who might one day become a believer, than in a Christian who is neither enthusiastic nor doubting but just apathetic.

Jesus has been knocking at the door of our apathetic hearts, and getting no answer: ‘Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’ Think for a moment of that famous picture by Holman Hunt entitled; The Light of the World. Jesus knocks on a door with brambles growing across it; it obviously hasn’t been opened for a long time. There is no handle on the outside of the door; it can only be opened from inside. A preacher once used a reproduction of this picture, and when he turned it round, on the back, were all the things that were stopping the door from being opened. They were symbols of things that become between us and Jesus; a padded sofa for sloth and so on. The preacher made it as a flip chart and one by one the pages with the symbols of the objects that come between us and being able to open the door were removed as a signs of our repentance. At last he was able to open the door and Jesus was able to enter. If we are lukewarm Christians, we must get that door open as quickly as we can. Then the loving Lord Jesu will come into our lives and eat with us; ‘the unseen guest at every meal’. Isn’t that worth the discomfort of entering a dark place!

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