Sunday, January 20, 2023
Stranger Things
Jeremiah 5:26-29 & Revelation 3:14-22
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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To refresh our memories, John addresses Revelation to seven churches in Asian province of the Roman Empire. An area today that we refer to as Asia Minor. Biblical scholars don’t know why John chose to write to these particular churches, but what we do know is that the issues that existed in each of these churches exist in churches today.

Last week, Pastor Troy preached about the church in Ephesus, a church that has forgotten their first love, Jesus Christ. After Ephesus, John writes to the church in Smyrna, who were persecuted by those hostile to Christianity. Next there are the churches in Pergamum, and Thyatira, who allowed themselves to be influenced by false teachers. John then addresses the church in Sardis that had become apathetic in their faith. The church in Philadelphia, however, is a praised for their faith even in the midst of persecution.

Then there’s the church in Laodecia. 

While the previos churches were first praised for what they were doing right, before being admonished, John immediately lays into the Christians in Laodecia. He has nothing good to say about them.

They had confused self sufficiency with deep faith. The problem with that type of theology is that we, not Jesus Christ, become the center of our faith. 

As always it’s helpful to know the context in which scripture was written and to whom the original words were meant. Laodecia was a very wealthy city. It was a commercial banking center. It had its’ own medical school that was known for producing an eye salve that healed weak and failing eyes. Laodecia was also known as the fashion capital of the Asian province of Rome as they were famous for their black woolen cloth that only the wealthy could afford. You could say that Laodecia was the place to be. 

In fact, Laodecia was so wealthy that after they had experienced a devastating earthquake they turned down financial assistance from Rome as they had enough money of their own to rebuild. I don’t know of any modern city that would turn down federal assistance after a natural disaster.

While Laodecea’s wealth and self sufficency may have been the envy of other cities, it was also their problem. 

They had confused their self sufficiency with their faith.

As Biblical scholar, Scott Daniels puts it: “they confused their “prosperity with Spiritual wealth.”

They had everything they needed. They were extremely comfortable. 

Yet despite being known for their wealth, fashion and education, they are admonished for being: “poor, blind, and naked.” The Laodecians may have looked like they had it all, but in fact they had turned their backs on the only one who offers true life. 

On the surface, it doesn’t look like the Laodecians had given up on God all together. They still attended worship so they didn’t give up the habit of coming together. But they were simply going through the motions, which is why John calls them “lukewarm.” They were neither hot nor cold in their faith, but just blah. So much so that they’re compared to nauseating tepid water.  

It’s similar to taking a sip of coffee or tea expecting it to be nice and hot, only to find that it’s cooled down so much it’s lukewarm and so gross you’d rather just spit it out. The Greek word for “spit” in this passage can also be translated as “vomit.” In John’s day, lukewarm water was a popular way to induce vomiting. I once visited a friend’s youth group where the youth director based his talk on this very passage and focused a lot on the image of God puking. I never went back. 

John, like Jesus and other authors of the Bible, takes examples of daily life to get his point across. Describing the Laodecians as “lukewarm” alludes to the kind of water that flowed into the city. While there was much to be admired about Laodecia, their water was not one of them.

Aquaducts carried water into Laodecia from hot springs six miles south of the city. By the time the water reached Laodecia, however, it was lukewarm. This was in stark contrast to the water in nearby Colossae known for its cold refreshing spring water. Or the hot medicinal waters of nearby Hieropolis, where visitors came to find reprieve from their ailments in the hot springs.

John uses their lukewarm water as an analogy for their faith. Their relationship to God is neither hot nor cold. Their spiritual life is neither hot and healing like the water of Hierapolis nor cold and refreshing like the waters from Colossae. 

It’s because they’ve become complacent. Apathetic in their faith. 

It is the danger of wealth and prosperity. Not that there is anything wrong with wealth, but wealth becomes dangerous when we don’t share it and when we depend on our wealth to define our self worth. The Laodecians had found their self worth in their wealth, which overshadowed their need for God. 

But Jesus says to them “buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white robes to clothe yourself and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (v. 18) What Jesus offers them is much more valuable than the wealth the Laodecians had acquired on their own. 

In Wall-E, a 2008 Pixar movie, humans live in giant space ships as earth has become inhabitable due to corporate greed and consumerism that has exhausted all of earth’s resources making the entire planet a literal garbage dump. On these giant starships, humans have seemingly everything they need and more.

Humans, however, have become obese as they are transported by electric chairs that will take them wherever they wish. They even have their meals and snacks while seated in these chairs. Through personal screens they are virtually entertained by whatever they wish to watch and even use their screens to “interact” with one another.

As a result, however, humans no longer know the joy of moving their own bodies and connecting with one another face to face rather than on a screen. Humans were not made to live this way, yet the humans on these ships are trapped by their own self sufficiency. 

In a similar fashion, the Laodecians were so comfortable in their self sufficiency they had lost sight of God.

While Jesus could have said to them:  “I’m done. You’re not worth pursuing as all you care about is your own wealth and comfort.” He instead invites them to change. To repent. To open the door where Jesus is waiting to be let in. 

When Jesus says “I will come in and eat with you and you with me,” he is referring to the Lord’s supper. Remember that the Laodecians were still meeting for worship and were still celebrating Communion together. Because they were were apathetic and complacent in their faith, however, they were just going through the motions. But Christ desires to once again be at the center of Communion, the center of their worship and ultimately, the center of their lives. 

Jesus desires the same of us. Notice that Jesus does not say he’s going to barge in and break the door down. He simply says “I’m here. I’m at your door.” 

But it is up to them to answer the door. It’s up to us to answer the door. Are we listening? Do we hear Jesus at the door? And will we let him in? To quote John: “To those who have ears let them hear.”