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Laodicea and the Kind of Church That Makes Jesus Puke
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revelation draft 01 768x432Yeah, that title should get your attention…

 

We’re coming to the conclusion of our series on the seven sermons to the seven churches of Revelation and it seems that Jesus has actually saved the worst for last. If we thought things were bad in Sardis, a church that had the “name of being alive” but was actually “dead,” Laodicea gets an even poorer rating from Jesus. It’s a church that is “neither cold nor hot” but “lukewarm” to the point that Jesus will “spit” them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15-16). It’s a pretty graphic statement of disgust at a church that has seemingly lost its usefulness.

 

But why have they become so lukewarm? Like the other churches Jesus has addressed, Laodicea may have at one time had something to commend, but by the time Jesus sends them this sermon, it’s clear that they are in a bad way. Worse yet, they don’t seem to know it. How could they be so blind to their situation that Jesus says that they need to buy “salve” to anoint their eyes to see it?

 

The short answer is that it’s their wealth that is making them lukewarm. Laodicea was a prosperous city and the people of the church there were likely prosperous as well. Unlike those in the church at Smyrna, who were rich in spirit while suffering economic “poverty” (2:9), the Laodiceans were thriving in wealth but were spiritually “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17). They didn’t seem to be persecuted for their faith like those in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia; they don’t appear to have been dealing with false teachers from within like Pergamum and Thyatira. In Laodicea we encounter a church that is living comfortably.

 

Now, living comfortably is the thing that most people have historically strived to do. We think of it as the “American Dream,” but it was also the Roman dream and the dream of just about everyone else. Having plenty, feeling secure, being free from worry is the ultimate ideal for most people.

 

But the Scriptures tell us over and over that the pursuit of wealth and comfort isn’t ideal for the people of God. That’s because wealth has a way of pushing God out of the way, becoming an idol that people worship and a chain that prevents people from going to the places God wants them to go. Jesus’ warnings about wealth in the Gospels are plentiful, saying things like it’s harder for the rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). The rich young ruler wanted to have eternal life, but Jesus said that the way to that life was by giving up the very thing that he relied on–his wealth (Matthew 19:16-22). The pursuit of wealth easily gets in the way of the pursuit of the Kingdom.

 

Laodicea’s concern for wealth was preventing them from doing important things for the Kingdom. Perhaps the reason they weren’t persecuted is that they weren’t willing to risk doing anything worth persecuting. Perhaps the reason they didn’t deal with a lot of theological heresy was that they weren’t all that concerned about theology in the first place. Whatever the reason, Jesus challenges the church to “buy” from him the things they really need to be rich in spirit; after all, that’s the only wealth that matters.

 

We’ll unpack this sermon on Sunday, which has a lot of elements to it and, in many ways, sums up the message of the others. This is also the passage that contains the famous image of Jesus knocking on the door which is critical to the context of what he is saying to all of the churches of Revelation.

 

The thing that strikes me as I prepare for this week, however, is that the warning Jesus gives to Laodicea is essentially the same one John Wesley gave to the Methodists near the end of his life. In 1786, Wesley published Thoughts Upon Methodism, which begins with that famous quote:

 

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

 

What’s often missed by those who quote this, however, is that the rest of Thoughts Upon Methodismoutlines some of the ways in which that “doctrine, spirit, and discipline” was already waning, and one of the biggest threats Wesley saw to Methodism was its rise in wealth and respectability.

 

I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

 

What was Wesley’s solution? It wasn’t to completely disregard wealth but to put it in a Kingdom context. Wesley’s advice on money was always “make all you can” and “save all you can;” but those were useless unless you “give all you can.” Are we giving a cold cup of water in Jesus’ name to those who are thirsty in body or spirit? (Matthew 10:41). Are we running hot with zeal for bringing the gospel to the world? Are we stewarding resources in a way that increases “the mind of Christ” in us while offering Christ to others?

 

A church that becomes complacent and inwardly focused is useless to Jesus–the kind of church that makes him want to puke, according to Revelation. TLUMC is doing a lot of great things with the resources God has given us to manage, but let us remember that the key is being useful for the Kingdom!

 

See you Sunday, and if you’d like to catch up on the messages in this series you can do so on our sermonspage. Don’t forget that our United Methodist Men will be serving a pre-Lent pancake breakfast from about 9:00 to 11:00am, so come early or stay late!

 

And if you’re interested in hearing more of Wesley’s Thoughts Upon Methodism, that’s also the topic of this week’s “Wednesdays with Wesley” podcast. Check it out on your favorite podcast platform or on Anchor.



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