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Philadelphia: the Church of Brotherly Love
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revelation draft 01 768x432If you’ve visited Philadelphia, PA, you know that it’s famous as the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the home of the Liberty Bell, and the best cheesesteaks on the planet. It’s also a rival to the city on the other side of the state, which is why Pittsburghers and Philadelphians are often at odds especially when it comes to sports. That’s especially true in hockey, where a game between the Penguins and Flyers inevitably involves a donnybrook or brouhaha of some kind or another. And that’s just among the fans. As a die-hard Penguins fan, I’ve often said that if I’m ever kidnapped and have to get a stealthy message out to let everyone know I’m in life or death trouble, I’d text something like “Let’s go Flyers.”


Still, even this western Pennsylvanian has to admit that the origin of Philadelphia’s name is pretty honorable. William Penn named the city in honor of the original Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation, recognizing the Greek name as a combination of “love” (phileo) and “brother” (adelphos). Penn envisioned the city as a place of religious tolerance where no one would be persecuted and backed up this vision by paying the native American tribes for the rights to the land on which the city would be built.


In a way, Penn’s vision was a corrective to the way things were in the original Philadelphia in Asia Minor, where the small Christian community faced persecution both by their Jewish neighbors and by pagan authorities. Jews who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah were expelled from the synagogue and the figurative door was shut behind them, leaving them exposed to a suspicious Roman society. In that sense, Philadelphia was a lot like Smyrna, the other “healthy” church of the seven in Revelation. They were persevering under significant persecution.


The sermon Jesus offers to Philadelphia is thus one of encouragement–that while the door to the synagogue was closed to them, Jesus was setting before them an “open door”–a new future and an opportunity to built into a spiritual temple that would last beyond the current situation. Ancient Philadelphia was known for its frequent earthquakes that crumbled the city’s many temples to pagan gods. Jesus offered the church a foundation of stability as the tectonic plates of culture shifted under their feet.


There’s a lot to unpack in this sermon and I think you’ll come to appreciate the church at Philadelphia as well as its lessons for us today. How do we maintain focus in a world that seems to be continually shaking? How do we create the kind of community that is grounded in a vision of “brotherly (and sisterly) love?” What are the key things a church needs to have in place in order to stand in the face of persecution instead of crumbling?


We’ll be looking at those questions in this week’s sermon. I encourage to read through Revelation 3:7-13 in preparation and to catch up on the “Seven Sermons” series to this point on our sermon page.


I’ll never root for the Flyers, but I’ll always root for a church that is selling out for the kind of vision that both Jesus and William Penn had in mind–a vision of peace, perseverance, community, and love. See you Sunday!

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