Lent 2, Year C, 2013, All Saints’
The Men’s Bible study is currently reading the Book of Revelation. You might not think this would be a popular subject but the group has grown to record numbers. When I say record numbers, I mean that our attendance has grown to tens of people! I would say that is pretty good considering we meet at 7 a.m. on Monday mornings. I don’t even have to bribe them with doughnuts, just some weak coffee.
I think more than anything the group is hungry to be transformed by the Word of God, and the book of Revelation certainly offers this opportunity in some, let’s say, shocking ways. But if you cut through the strange, veiled language, you will find a book that gives a spectacular and mysterious vision of Christ and His new world, a vision of beauty, awe, and hope. If you can’t cut through the language, well, you will just find a very strange book.
This past week we focused on the message to the church of Laodicea and the vision that Christ was giving to this church. A part of that message to the church in Laodicea said, “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…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.”
As consistent with the Book of Revelation, the writer is giving the original readers images they would understand firsthand. The people in Laodicea knew very well the taste of lukewarm water and the need to spit it up. But more to the point, Christ is admonishing this church because he doesn’t like their taste of Christianity.
The Laodiceans are a proud people and have ascended to a worldly standard of success. These people have money, lots of money, they have a world renowned medical center, they make the finest clothes, they have everything they need to survive in this material world. Suffice it to say, they don’t need any help, let alone help from God. However, Jesus says they are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. In many ways, this church is dead and they don’t even know it because the illusion of money and power has them thinking otherwise.
Jesus warns this church that the places where they are searching for salvation are only temporary, that the safe and comfortable world they have created for themselves is only an illusion. All these earthly luxuries that promise safety from death and decay all have a shelf life too. Jesus tells these people that He, the incarnation of God, the Alpha and Omega, is the only reality that will last forever, Christ is the only reality that will stand in the end.
The earthly success that Laodicia enjoys prevents them from seeing that they really do need God’s help. But Jesus stands and knocks at their door again and again inviting them to be a part of his reality, his truth that endures from age to age. Despite being lukewarm, Jesus still knocks at their door. He hasn’t given up on them yet.
As Anna Russell mentioned last week in her sermon, the Christian journey isn’t just about our drawing closer to God. The truth is that God is right here, endlessly knocking on the door that exists inside of each one of us. Jesus’ home is inside the hearts and minds of those whom he calls. The place where Jesus means to find his home is inside of you and me so that we can find our home in God alone. When we let Jesus in, when we open the door, we are privileged to become a part of a reality that will reach no end, where death has no power. When we finally let Jesus in, we are changed forever.
Friends, this is terrifying. This is terrifying because when we do let Jesus in, we can no longer be lukewarm about how we operate in the world; we can no longer be subject to the idols we make out of the temporal things of this world, out of money, status, and power. Because when we worship the world instead of the God who created the world, we make a mockery out of God’s good creation, and we end up diminishing those around us and ultimately ourselves.
When we let Jesus in, we can no longer be lukewarm because in the reality of Jesus there is no place for that way of life, there is no place for a way of life that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, there is no place for a way of life that seeks comfort in the world’s easy answers. Jesus desperately wants us to live in this new reality but on some level we reject it because the world’s solution to our problems (money, power, and status) has us believing there is a better way to live.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus’ great lament, a lament that wonders why his people choose not to believe in his salvation, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Again, Jesus is saying, how often have I desired to make my home with you, how often have I desired to gather you and protect you from the death and decay of this world, how often have I desired to save you again and again and again from the mess you have created for yourselves. Jesus must go to Jerusalem to make this final truth known.
Letting Jesus into our lives is terrifying because in order for Jesus to take us home to his Father in heaven, he must first journey to Jerusalem, to the cross where death is changed into life. Therefore, we too must journey to the cross; we too must face the reality of death, we too must be changed. We can no longer be held captive by the world’s temporary answers to our problems.
Following Jesus to the cross means we must die to the world’s short-term solution to death. The world’s short-term solution says that we should try and outsmart death or pain by consuming ourselves with food, TV, booze, laziness, everything except for the truth of God’s Word, everything except for the reality of Jesus. The world tries to tell us that death is the end, so the natural reaction is to try and avoid it. But “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The cross that we are marked with on Ash Wednesday also reminds us that in Christ life never ends, it is only changed.
I have found that the only way I can face pain and death with any kind of dignity and hope is with Jesus, with the one who has sovereignty over life and death, with the one whose reality extends beyond death.
Ultimately, following Jesus to the cross means saying, “I need help.” It means saying that we need God’s help to deliver us from the idea that we can somehow create new reality free of pain and death by our own will, that we can somehow outsmart death. Asking for God’s help is what repentance is all about. Lent is the season where we are called to repentance. This is a season where we ask God to help us resist those things that corrupt and destroy our lives and the lives of others.
If you are currently working on a Lenten discipline, ask for God’s and don’t be tempted to do it alone, don’t be tempted to make an idol out of your work, don’t try to be God. Remember that these disciplines are supposed to remind you that you aren’t God, that you need help. These disciplines are supposed to remind us of how powerless we are over the temptation.
Ask for God’s help. Ask for God’s help by staying connected to Jesus through your weekly participation in the Holy Eucharist, through your daily prayers, through the reading and mediating on scripture, through Sunday school, through anything that keeps you connected to the reality of Jesus who is the same yesterday and today and forever. Maybe you need other help, the help of a counselor, or an AA meeting, or an Al Anon meeting.
However you ask for help from God, I hope you find more and more that Jesus truly is the answer to the problem of death and decay. I hope you find that staying connected to Jesus will help you resist finding comfort in the easy answers that this world is trying to make you believe in.
To the church in Laodicea, “I wish you were either hot or cold.” Friends, be anything but lukewarm. In your successes and your failures, ask for God’s help, repent and return to the only reality in this life that will give you a life that is truly worth celebrating.
Jesus is knocking at the door asking you to let him in. When you let him come in, how will you be changed forever?