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Sardis: Ocoka Christianity
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One of the things drilled into young infantry officers is the ability to instantly analyze a plot of terrain and its tactical strengths and weaknesses. Like most things with the military, that analysis involves an acronym; in this case, it’s a soft-drink sounding one–OCOKA–which addresses the five features to evaluate when looking at any piece of ground you’re going to attack or defend:


revelation draft 01 768x432Observation – What are the sightlines in this piece of terrain? What can be observed from my position and from the enemy’s perspective? How might movement be observed?


Cover and Concealment – “Cover” is anything thick enough to stop a bullet. “Concealment” is screening foliage or dead spots in observation. Wie-open spaces are bad places for infantry!


Obstacles – What natural and man-made barriers exist in this terrain that would inhibit or channel the movement of troops?


Key Terrain – What are the dominant terrain features in this sector? A hill? A gully? A ravine? A ridge? High ground is good for defending, bad for attacking.


Avenues of Approach – What are the potential routes an attacker might take into this piece of terrain?


The important part of this analysis is trying to determine all the potential ways the enemy can approach and attack your position when you’re in the defense, and all the ways you might potentially get at the enemy if you’re in the attack. You have to account for every potential scenario and adjust your troops accordingly. The key is finding the potential weak spots and guarding or exploiting them depending on your perspective.


Sardis was a city that learned the lessons of poor terrain analysis the hard way. A walled city, sitting on a steep hill acropolis (key terrain) with cliffs surrounding it (obstacles), it was considered by many in the ancient world to be an impregnable fortress. “To capture the acropolis of Sardis” was a common phrase in the ancient world used to describe an impossible task.


And yet, Sardis was sacked twice within a fifty-year period because the defenders did not do a thorough terrain analysis. Though the cliffs of Sardis were imposing, it turns out they weren’t impassable obstacles to a determined Persian and later Greek infantry. Those sections of the wall were left unguarded, the weak spot was exposed, and the least likely avenue of approach became the city’s downfall. While the city slept at night, the attackers crept in and took over.


This history of Sardis is a major lesson in Jesus’ sermon to the church there. The church, like the city’s defenders centuries before, had the appearance of being awake, alert, ready for the enemy, alive to the threat. But they were “dead” and didn’t yet know it. The enemy was creeping in the unguarded back door. Their works had not been “perfect in the sight of God” and their complacency had led to them being on the brink of destruction. Jesus’ command to “wake up” and “strengthen what remains and is on the point of death” is a call to shore up the church’s defenses.


As I’ve been working on this sermon, it occurs to me that one of the things that COVID has done is to expose the weak spots in the Church here in America. So many Christians were busy shoring up the defenses in a war with the culture that we didn’t realize that Satan was creeping in through an innocuous avenue of approach in our rear. We’ve seen a crumbling of things like attendance, participation, and engagement in churches across the country. We’ve had defections over everything from masks to vaccines to politics. The church growth movement of the 90s taught us to treat church attenders like consumers, and now we are reaping the whirlwind. To borrow a line from the old “Pogo” cartoon: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


We have time to “strengthen what remains,” however, and in this week’s message, I’ll provide some analysis of the post-COVID landscape and how we as a local church can reposition ourselves to be ready for the days ahead. This is a tough message, but one that we all need to hear. We need a bit of OCOKA Christianity for the post-COVID world.


See you Sunday, and if you’d like to catch up on the other sermons in this series you can do so on the sermon page of our website.

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