What the Spirit is saying to the churches…

I didn’t preach today, but I do invite you to listen to what the youth had to say about their 30 Hour Famine experience. Audio can be found here at http://www.spcboise.org.

But I did teach the Adult Sunday School class and we are working on the Book of Revelation. Today we talked about the 7 churches mentioned in chapters two and three. It is kind of a long passage, but here it is:

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.
I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.
But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.
So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.
But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication.
Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings;
and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden;
only hold fast to what you have until I come.
To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.
Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.
Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of the holy one, the true one,
who has the key of David,
who opens and no one will shut,
who shuts and no one opens:
“I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.
Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that 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.
For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
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. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
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.
To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

And as we talked about these different churches, we had some realizations that really stayed with me all day. I’m sure that other people have noticed this and spoke of it more eloquently, but it was what I needed to hear today for sure.

As these churches are both praised and reprimanded for their behavior, God never tells them “you should be more like that church. God tells each church to be the best version of themselves. And one church’s strength might be another church’s weakness. So if we’re listening in on what the Spirit is saying to the other churches, perhaps we could support each other and learn from each other.

And each church is different from the others.  But they are not reprimanded for being different. They are reprimanded when they aren’t being who they were called to be. There are seven churches listed and seven is the number of completion. In a world that seems to be intolerant of differentness I think we should all take a look at Revelation again. The message in the world often seems to be “if you don’t see things as I do, you are wrong”. The message in Revelation seems to be, “if you don’t see things as I do, God must have called you to be a member of one of those other churches….”

Why is that so hard for us? Why do we always have to have the only right answer? Why can’t we consider that the body of Christ might be stronger if instead of competing against, we supported all of the other congregations and denominations that make up the body?

On one level, I’m sure that the many denominations and versions of Christianity that are out there must bring God sadness, because we fight and worry about things that keep us from focusing on the important stuff. But on another level, I think the many flavors of Christianity give us a glimpse of the vastness of God. I think it is good that some of us like liturgy and pipe organs. I think it is great that others of us prefer drums and tambourines. I think it is good that some of us were called to be in the church in Ephesus and others in Thyatira.

But I think  we have to spend time listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches, not just what we are saying to the churches.

And I think we have to come together, despite our differences, and gather around the throne of the Lamb (to borrow some Revelation imagery) singing

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev 4:11)

Because, ultimately, if we don’t do that, we are not listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

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