Warning to the Church in Sardis

Revelation 3:1-6 Warning to the Church in Sardis

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:… I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent.”

The second and third chapters of Revelation are filled with descriptions and warnings to seven churches in Asia (a.k.a. modern Turkey). John, the presumed author of the text, tells each church what they lack in order to live more fully into Christ, and Sardis is not unique in that regard. 

The people of Sardis are dead, though they appear to be alive, for they must strengthen what remains of their work in Christ. Their work has not been found to be perfect, and is “on the point of death.” Apparently, they were more concerned about the facade of whatever work they had accomplished in Christ, rather than the substance of the work itself.

What the work actually was is seemingly less important. It may have been serving the poor of the city, establishing a worshiping community, or preaching the Gospel to the towns’ members. Whatever the case, the work was incomplete, even if it seemed otherwise from the outside.

I wonder whether there are ways in which you can relate to this situation? I wonder whether you, or your worshiping community, have unfinished business that remains in your Christian duty to love and serve Jesus in others? 

I ask this because I know I do. I know I have more work to do to bring depth and weightiness and lasting impact to the outer facade of what I have tried to accomplish in Christ. For me, what comes to mind is my church’s, the Episcopal Church’s, intent to become a welcoming place for all to worship. 

“All are Welcome,” we like to say, and we like it so much that we put it up on signs outside of all our churches. But are all people truly welcome? 

I have known quite a few trans people who do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to worship in an Episcopal congregation. I have known quite a few poor people who do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to worship in an Episcopal congregation. I have known quite a few Black people, indigenous people, Latine people, and AAPI people who do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to worship in an Episcopal congregation. 

My fellow Episcopalians, our churches have beautiful facades that proclaims all people are welcome to come and worship inside, regardless of who they may be. Yet, so many people enter our doors, believing that to be true, only to learn, from things that are said to them, the way certain comments are phrased, that they’re not truly able to bring their whole selves to worship in this congregation.

Are we any different from the church in Sardis? Admittedly, the work we have before us may look very different from the work that they had set out to do, back in the time of the Apostolic Age. But would St. John write any differently now than he did way back then? 

I wonder, what work do you have left in your congregation that’s been left unfinished?

Peter Levenstrong is Associate Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Having grown up non-religious, he enjoys bringing “a fresh pair of eyes” to explore the Christian tradition, and is particularly interested in the intersection of faith and justice. You can find more of his sermons at https://peterlevenstrong.wordpress.com/

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