Sunday, October 12, 2008

Neither Hot Nor Cold

A dreary wet Sunday morn outside, but a packed house of worshippers within today to hear another message from the Lord’s letters to the seven churches, as recorded in Revelations 2 & 3. Today, Pastor Brad illuminated for us the Letter to Laodicea, found in Rev. 3:14ff

The service opened with a warm welcome followed by announcements. Key announcements included:
1. Mark your calendar for Oct. 26th which will be our semi-annual meeting. An important feature of this meeting will be a recommendation from the building committee.
2. On November 5, we will gather for Operation Christmas Child instead of our usual Adventure Club.
3. Special prayers were requested for Dale Fish (difficulty breathing), Joe Stapleton, and the brother of Andy & Pam Johnson who had a stroke.
4. Paula shared a thank you to all who attended or helped yesterday’s Women’s Circle. Next time we meet Pearl and Darlene will teach us how to knit “the EZ way.”

As we entered into worship Chuck read from Ephesians 1:3-10.

Instead of a quartet, this morning we were led in worship by a quintet, as Vicki joined Ken, Dale, Chuck and Darlene in a wonderful rendition of “Because He Lives”… followed by several meaning-filled songs.

Neither Hot Nor Cold

14"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here 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 him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ~ Revelations 3:14-22

Pastor Brad opened his sermon by asking the question, “What makes you gag?” Then he shared a few of his un-favorite things beginning with Ryan’s diarrhea, raw tomatoes, curdled milk and water that has set in a hose all day on a warm summer day. He had our attention.

Then he asked, “What gives God a gag reflex?” This was the heart of this morning’s message and a central issue in the letter to Laodicea. The letter’s tone is not angry. It reflects more disgust than anger. His sermon offered an answer to this question.

It’s clear who this seventh letter is from: The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation, none other than Jesus. And His words are a wake up call.

What Pastor Brad has done throughout this series of messages on the letters to the seven churches is show us the context into which each letter has been written. Each city of the seven cities had a historical place in that time. By presenting this context, the nature of the cities themselves where these seven churches had taken root, Pastor Shannon has brought a fuller understanding to these commendations and exhortations of Jesus. This week especially we were privileged to gain new insights by means of this approach.

The city of Laodicea was the richest of the seven cities addressed in Revelation two and three. Unlike the Hamptons, this was a city of “new money”… having achieved its wealth more recently, much like today’s Silicon Valley millionaires. It was a wealthy city and possibly a wealthy church, approximately 130 miles East of Ephesus and 140 miles South of Philadelphia.

What caused disgust for God here was the church’s self-sufficiency and apathy. In verse 17 He quotes their own words, “We’re rich and don’t need a thing.”

Laodicea’s wealth came about through at least two channels. The there was a unique black sheep in that region, used for black wool. Their black wool made the city a trend setter in fashion. They were the latest chic.

In addition, they were pioneers in medicine. Their knowledge of opthamology was cutting edge, and an eye salve they formulated and sold brought consumers from all around.

This self-made wealth and apparent self-sufficiency was offensive to God… not that wealth in itself is bad. But the attitude of self-sufficiency reflects deeper problems. “That attitude just makes Me want to barf,” it seems like God is saying here. (vs. 16) And in verse 17 God says, “Your wealth has blinded you to your true condition.”

Pastor Brad cited Steve Martin’s film The Jerk, referencing the tragic stance he took as Martin closed the film saying, “I don’t need anyone.”

To the Laodiceans, the Lord was saying, “The truth is, you are blind, naked, pitiful.”

Jesus does not write them off, however. He counsels them, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.” That is, faith, which is real gold when it is purified by fire. Trials are necessary to make us strong. (I Peter 1:6-7)

Instead of wrapping yourself in that high fashion black wool, Jesus is saying, “Wrap yourself in My sufficiency.” Or as Paul writes to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Self-sufficiency blinds us. You don’t know who you are becoming. Jesus says, “Start depending on Me.”

Likewise, medicine (referring to the eye salves of Laodicea) cannot cure self-deception. Rather you need God’s spiritual Visine.

The bottom line: our future as a church must be approached on our knees, as dependent people.

Here’s something else that causes Jesus to gag. “Your apathy makes Me want to hurl.” (The literal meaning of the word 'gag' here.)

To understand this requires a little background. The city of Laodicea was located seven miles from a hot springs in one direction and sparkling cool water in the other direction. Laodicea’s water supply was piped in from North and South. When you mix hot mineral water and cold water that have been transported all these miles by viaducts you essentially have gross water.

Hence, when Jesus says “I know your deeds, I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” He is referring to their apathy and self-sufficiency.

When Jesus says “You are neither cold nor hot,” many have interpreted this to mean that Jesus desires that a church be cold or hot. Pastor Brad stated that he believed God wants His followers to be an oasis at times, a refreshing cup of cold water. And at other times therapeutic warmth, bandaging up wounded souls. Hot or cold means various ways of bringing good things to the world… not, near or far from God. Jesus always wants us all to be near.

We are to be a community that is either rescuing or refreshing. We’ve not been set apart to do nothing. Rather, Jesus desires to see a gratitude-driven usefulness in this world, for we the church are His hands and feet.

Brad asked us to consider what we’d think of our favorite football team if all they did was huddle. “He look how well they huddle and call plays.” And “Look how they hold hands and encourage each other.” Such a football team is failing to do what it has been called to be and do.

The church has to bring Hope to the streets. We can’t just spend all our time huddling. We must refuse to do nothing.

Jesus ends by saying he only disciplines those He loves. And that He wants to do more. “I’m standing here, knocking.”

God’s desire is that we be both therapeutic and refreshing. We can only do this, become this, as we remain deeply dependent on Him.

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