Faithfulness in Testing Times: Sermons for Compline in Lent 2022, based on the Book of Revelation ‘Heading God’s Perspective’ (Ch 3: v 14 – 22):preached by The Reverend Lesley McCreadie, Team Vicar, on Monday 14 March 2022.

Chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation are letters to seven churches; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  These churches were all in Asia Minor, now Turkey, and all fairly close to Ephesus. Our passage tonight concentrates on Laodicea, the last of the seven to be named.

Laodicea was one of three cities found in the Lycus valley.  Laodicea was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and was the southernmost of the seven cities referred to in chapters 2 and 3, it was about 40 miles south of Philadelphia.  It had two sister cities in the Lycus valley, Colossae, about ten miles to the east and Hierapolis, about six miles to the north.  The city was located on a plateau several hundred feet high, so it was easily defended from attack.  The city was founded by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus II and named after his wife.  The city’s only vulnerability to attack was the fact that it had to pipe in its water from several miles away through aqueducts that could be blocked up or diverted by a besieging force.  Though the original settlers were mostly from Syria, later there was a large Jewish population in the city.

The city prospered under Roman rule, being located strategically at the junction of two important roads, the east-west road from Ephesus to the interior and the north-south road from Pergamum to the southern coast.  Because of this it became an important commercial city and became a banking center that brought in much wealth to the city.  It became so wealthy that the citizens paid for its reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in 60 A.D. rejecting the offer of financial aid from Rome.  The city was also famous for a soft, glossy black wool that it produced.  They had a very lucrative garment and carpet business from this wool.  The city was also an important city of ancient medicine, the city boasted a medical school that was known for an eye salve they had developed that was exported all over the Roman world.  All three industries: finance, wool, and the production of eye salve are brought into this letter to the church in Laodicea

It is the transmission of water from the hot springs to the cold springs that gives our writer the opportunity to describe the faith of the people.  The water in Laodicea was always lukewarm.  It was this lukewarmness that the church in Laodicea is charged with.  I am sure there are very few of us who like lukewarm food or drink.  I can remember going to a beautiful restaurant in our local city in France.  When the food arrived, it looked and smelt amazing.  But oh, the disappointment when tasting the food – it was lukewarm.  We never went there again.

In summary, the message to the six other churches could usually be summed up in one word or phrase.  The Ephesians had forgotten what it meant to love; the church at Smyrna the key word is persecution, Pergamon compromise and so on.  Usually something might be found to commend the church but not always.  For the church in Laodicea the key word is lukewarm with little to commend it.

When I was teaching, I used to get upset sometimes by the lukewarmness of some of my students.  Apathy you might call it.  My grandmother was a suffragette, and at home as a teenager, my parents often offered to buy me a soap box or to take me to Speakers Corner!  I went on anti-Vietnam war marches and so on but there was seemingly nothing that would get some of my students agitated enough to protest.  I would even suggest some causes in school that they might like to take up like better school lunches, but no, even that didn’t move them to protest.  It was as if they were just happy to let life pass them by.

Hot people are those who are alive, fiery, full of energy and hot people for Jesus are those who bring these attributes to their faith.  They are zealous in their teaching of the word because their lives have been transformed by the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives.  They are on ‘fire for the Lord’.

Cold people on the other hand have lost their zeal for God, they are not interested in the church or in the teaching of God.

For both these sets of people you know exactly where you are.  There is no second guessing.  But for the people of Laodicea who are lukewarm, who are they, and what do they stand for?  They might go to church, but it means very little.  They believe they are saved but they have no personal faith.  They are religious in a very self-righteous sort of way, a bit like the Pharisees.  Like many in the city they were rich and had no worries about living day by day.  Life was fine.  It was better than fine it was very good.

It is interesting to think that when people achieve a level of prosperity the level of faith diminishes.  Where there is difficulty and danger faith is in the ascendency and where life is a breeze faith can seem irrelevant.  It has seemed to me in these last few weeks as we have listened to the testimony of so many refugees that the one thing that has sustained them is their faith.  The church in Eastern Europe whether Orthodox, RC or Protestant has flourished in the last few decades.  Even in the times of the Iron Curtain, Communism could not defeat the Cross, churches continued to meet and to thrive however dangerous that might have been.  Time and time again I have heard our Ukrainian sisters and brothers acknowledging their arrival in safety to the will and work of God.  The level of help given has literally been a God sent, through the generosity of the hearts of those offering hospitality.  I wonder do we need this edge in our lives to keep our faith ‘hot’?  To encourage us to act justly and with mercy.

If we have life too easy the temptation to pay lip service is all too real.  We are neither one or the other; neither hot nor cold for God.

So, what can we do here in Sherborne to keep our faith ‘hot’?  Being lukewarm implies a middle way which can sometimes be positive.  But in this passage from Revelation, it is far from positive it signifies a lack of commitment and enthusiasm for the gospel.  One of the ways I think we might keep our faith ‘hot’ is by showing our passion for Christ by our actions.  I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm I have heard in this past week for the simple action we have taken of flying the Ukrainian flag from the tower here, and in Lillington and Longburton.  People who never set foot in church have stopped me in the street to say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ for showing that we stand with the Ukrainian people.  Sherborne Facebook page is full of similar responses.   Such a simple thing to do but in doing so we as a church here have spoken to so many people about the love of Christ for his people.  What has saddened me is the apparent surprise that we should do such a think at this time.  Have they come to believe that the church is ‘lukewarm’ to such terrible events and is frightened to stand up and be counted?  The more gestures we can make where we bring the church to the people, the more we can say we are in this with you; we do care.

The people in Laodicea had stopped sharing their love for Christ with the people the lived among.  To be honest they couldn’t be bothered.  They were happy as they were.  Absolute apathy had set in.  So how can we make this ‘hot’ again.  We need to begin by looking at our relationship with God.  Any relationship that we value takes time and energy.  We need to spend time and be with the people we value.  And so it is with our relationship with God.  Lent is one of those times when we encourage some inward thinking, some self-examination.  How much time do we spend with God each day?  Do we start and end the day with God?  If not, this might be a time to start.  I am sure none of us would dream of not speaking to our loved ones we live with as we get up or as we retire.  So why not do this with God?

At some point we may need to say sorry to God for our lukewarmness.  He doesn’t want us to be mediocre.  All we have to do is ask and in one of the most famous verses in The Bible v 20 of chapter 3 of Revelation we are told; Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.  That’s all we need to do, and the implication is of God coming in and eating with us, sharing a meal it is what the best of friends do.  “Look! I’m standing at the door of your heart and knocking. If you hear the knock I’ll come in, might be another way of saying this verse.

What does God want from us that he wasn’t getting from the church in Laodicea?  He wants commitment. As a society we are not very good at commitment these days.  Ask anyone trying to recruit volunteers to help run youth groups or lunch groups.  People want to use the group but do not want to commit to helping regularly.  Look around at the number of churches unable to fill the post of church warden or other important positions which keep our churches afloat.  People are happy to help on an ad hoc basis but are frightened to make a commitment.  God asks us to make the most of our Christian lives today. Make your commitment to Him firm and stable.   And make a commitment to Him to serve this congregation, or whichever church you worship in.  Let’s make our churches communities of people who love and care for each other and who are ‘hot’ for God.  If we can do so who knows what change will happen and what God will be able to do.