Elijah the Great

Message - Elijah the Great

Last week, we had a story about Elijah.  And in my message I sort of described how I thought Elijah may have acted, or what my vision of him was when dealing with the prophets of Baal.  This week, I want to talk some more about Elijah, give a little more information about just who Elijah was.

Elijah is a very interesting character.  Of all the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament mentions Elijah more than any other. He is the prophet who appeared with Moses at the transfiguration of our Lord. He is a man who appears from out of nowhere, and whose exit from this life is even more fantastic. The appearance of Elijah signals a new era in the history of Israel. Where prophets were few and far between before his time, there are now hundreds of prophets, and even a school of the prophets. Elijah appears at a time when prophets began to play a much more prominent role in the history of Israel.
I suspect there is another reason why Elijah is so popular—he is a man like us, a man with whom we can identify:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years (James 5:17, NIV).

Elijah is the “Peter” of the prophets. Elijah is a prophet who served God, but whose humanity (i.e., his weaknesses) is apparent as he does so.

Elijah just sort of appears in the Bible—we don’t know much about him prior to his appearance in I Kings.  We have his book in the Bible but that does not give us really any more than we already knew from Kings.  Elijah is considered to be one of the major prophets—that is, at least in biblical terms, his book in the Old Testament is one of the longer ones of the prophets.  Elijah, is probably the most beloved prophet and is closely linked with the Messiah and the future redemption of Israel.  The Jewish nation still believes that Elijah must return to earth prior to the Messiah returning.  This is one of, if not the main reason why the Jewish people still do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Elijah had not returned so there could not be a Messiah, at least not yet. Now, some scholars believe that John the Baptist is the “Elijah” that paves the way for Jesus but that is a topic for another day.

So, a little history about Elijah.  After Elijah first is introduced in First Kings he immediately starts running into trouble and his main protagonist is King Ahab and his really wicked wife, Queen Jezebel.  And yes, this is the person that the term “Jezebel” comes from.  We saw sort of how that plays out in our Old Testament passage for today.  

Jezebel had ordered all prophets of God killed and chopped up with a sword (no wonder she gets a much deserved bad wrap!).  So Elijah has to disappear into the desert for a while (near present day Lebanon, ironically where Jezebel is originally from) and this is where he performs his first miracle. Elijah meets an old widow woman gathering sticks.  She is going to build a fire to make one last meal for herself and her son.  Elijah tells her that if she will feed him instead he will help them.  Now, put yourself in this woman’s place.  You have enough food for one last meal for yourself.  This man, who probably looks pretty rough because he has been wandering in the desert, asks you to give your last bit of food to him and then he will “help you”!  Now, I don’t know about you, but I would be a little bit, no maybe a whole lot, skeptical.  This lady did not know that Elijah was a man of God, a prophet.  All she knows is this man shows up wanting their food.  But, she does it, gives him her food.  Then, Elijah performs a miracle.  Oh, did I forget to mention that there is a drought in the land, that Elijah had been commanded by God to start, and there is no grain to be found anywhere!  Elijah then performs his miracle—he fills every pot in the house with grain, flour, and olive oil.  And, if that is not enough, he keeps the pots full until the drought ends!  This lady made a pretty wise choice, don’t you think!  

Elijah had other miracles he performed—one was that he stopped the Jordan River so he could walk across.  But Elijah is probably best known as the man who did not die.  One day, walking with his protégé, Elisha, a chariot of fire comes down, scoops Elijah up and takes him to heaven.  This is one of the reasons the Jewish people still today believe that Elijah must come back prior to the Messiah coming.  This is built into their tradition so much that, on the last meal on Friday, before their Sabbath, the youngest person in the home that is able, opens the door to look for Elijah.  If that person does not see Elijah, then they eat.  If they do see him, then, I guess they don’t eat because they wouldn’t think they would need to!

Today’s scripture from 1 Kings 21:1-21a tells us another story with some of those same, familiar actors.  Elijah, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are recurrent players in the script in 1st Kings.  To make a sordid story short, Naboth had a vineyard that Ahab wanted so much he could taste it, and when Naboth refused either to sell or to swap, Ahab went into a good, old fashioned pout. "He laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food" (1 Kings 21: 4). It was the kind of opening Jezebel was always on the lookout for. Was he a king or a big baby she asked, and proceeded to take charge. Found guilty of a trumped up charge, Naboth got stoned to death, and Ahab got the vineyard. He also, needless to say, got a visit from Elijah.
Down through the years they'd kept meeting like that, usually in secluded places, always at critical moments. Ahab arrived incognito-the dark glasses, the Panama hat, the business suit-and Elijah with a ten-day growth of beard. Ahab addressed him in his usual informal way as a royal pain in the neck (1 Kings 21:20), and then Elijah let him have it with both barrels. When God got through with him, Elijah said, there wouldn't be enough left of Ahab to scrape off the sidewalk, and what was left, the dogs would take care of.  As for Jezebel, not only because of Naboth but also because of all her imported witchdoctors and totem poles and other idols, she would end up the same way.
Now, Ahab at least eventually would say he was sorry, and as a result was allowed to die honorably in battle, the part about the dogs coming true only in the sense that they got to lap the water up that his bloody chariot was hosed off with afterwards. Jezebel, on the other hand, continued unrepentant to the very end. When the time finally came, she was thrown out of the window, and when the dogs got finished, all that was left for the undertaker was "the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands" (II Kings 9:35).
One might divide the Ten Commandments into two parts, summarized so beautifully by the two Great Commandments, first, about loving God, and second, about loving our neighbor. In the same way, these two stories about Elijah illustrate the two strands of our spiritual/ethical DNA, so to speak: love of God means not worshipping false gods (idolatry – and we still do this today, in our own way), and love of neighbor of course requires the practice of justice as well as compassion.  
In every age, humans have a hard time getting these two things right, and the story of Naboth's vineyard is an ancient but enduring illustration of a powerful person's tragic failure to use that power for good rather than for his own selfish ends. Ahab has a coach in this: his wife, Jezebel, who not only doesn't know about the Law engraved on the hearts of Ahab's people but also doesn't care about it, except, as Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann observes, to use it as a tool to accomplish her own selfish purposes.
In his failure, Ahab offends both God and God's people, and in that sense he breaks both commandments, because this is not simply a story of Naboth's private, personal property rights being violated, as they might be in any secular society. Here we read a story about God and God's attentive care for those underneath the high and mighty, those who are nevertheless very much on the mind of God. That's where those laws come from: the mind – and heart – of God, so Ahab and Jezebel offend God when they treat Naboth so unjustly.
So what is this story teaching us?  Is the message just that if you don’t use your power and authority correctly or to the glory of God, you will die a miserable death and have your blood lapped up by dogs?  Is it just that if you eventually say you are sorry, like Ahab does, you get to die a more glorious death?  
This text certainly provides a challenge for us in a culture that seems to replicate many of the things that were going on in the court of Ahab and Jezebel.  There are consequences for our actions and for the actions of others if we know they are doing something wrong and we do nothing about it, or if we stand by and let others do things that benefit us, we are participating in the wrongdoing just as if we had done it ourselves. 
We may not have the power of kings and queens, but we do have some power, and with it comes the responsibility to use it for good and not for our own selfish ends, individually or collectively.  In the end, though, what these stories are really about is hope. Hope that no matter what is happening around us or within us, that God is at work in the world and in our lives.  And even though it may not be in a way that we would think or even in a way that we would like or approve of, God is alive, present and working with us and through us.  Praise be to God!  Amen!

Time to Speak Up

Message - Time to Speak Up -
I have always loved to read. To me, there is just nothing like curling up with a good book, whether it be on the couch, under an umbrella on the beach, or under the awning of our camper.  And, I am partial to real books, real paper and cover books.  Now, full disclosure, I do have a Kindle, and I use it often, but there is, at least to me, just no substitute for having that real book in your hands and turning the pages!  One of the reasons I love reading so much is you get to make your own picture, your own visualization of what you are reading.  Unlike in a video or movie, where you are only given another person’s interpretation of a scene, you get to create in your own mind; you get to visualize what you think, or how you think a particular scene may look.  With our passage for today from 1st Kings, Chapter 18, reading this passage several times over the last couple of weeks I have created this visual image, this picture in my mind of the scene unfolding in this scripture passage.  I get this picture of Elijah, putting out this challenge to the people, who have become enamored with a different god, putting out this challenge with this smug look on his face, maybe even a smirk, because he knows it is a challenge that he cannot lose; he knows what the outcome will be, how the challenge will eventually turn out.  It is as if Elijah is making a bet, knowing that he is going to win before he even lays any money down!  You know, this reminds me of one of the Back to the Future movies, I believe it was Back to the Future 2, the one that has the book that has the results of all the World Series and all of the Super Bowls in it, and how that book, just somehow, ends up in the silver DeLorean, and makes it back to the past.  The character Biff, of course, is rich in this episode, all because he has been making bets using this book.  A little bit of insider information wouldn’t you think?  He could make bets in confidence, knowing the outcome in advance.  Now I am not, in any way, condoning gambling, but this is the situation that Elijah is in.  He knows the outcome of the challenge before even issuing it!  He is playing with house money, he has the book, there is no way he can lose!  

Now, Elijah obviously had some knowledge of his enemy. This is not a challenge that just popped into Elijah’s head; it was a well thought out, well-prepared challenge. He knew the people were not going to say no to this challenge, because he was not only asking for what their god seemingly does best, which is fire, he was also in their territory. Elijah did not only want to challenge his God, our God, against Baal, their god, he wanted to completely humiliate them in front of everyone in proving the non-existence of their god.

So, as the challenge progresses, I get this image of Elijah, after issuing his challenge, at first patiently waiting as the people begin their futile, hopeless prayers.  Then, I see him standing, maybe with arms crossed, tapping his foot, maybe, if he would have had one, staring at his watch and waiting….  By now the people have begun to beg Baal, please, show us your power, light the flame.  And Elijah, maybe by now, seated at a table, making fun of them, taunting them, and impatiently drumming his fingers or twiddling his thumbs.  You know, if it was in this day and time he would probably pull out his cell phone, check his messages and emails, then begin surfing thru Facebook or Craigslist and continuing to wait…   Finally Elijah has had enough and tells the Baal priests to get out of the way and let me show you how this is done!  He is tired of watching them, first pray, then beg, then scream, then - whatever it takes to try to get their non-existent god to send fire to light the sacrifice.  Yes, Elijah knew, he knew nothing would happen, he already knew what the outcome would be!

But, is that really Elijah’s purpose, to show, that in a challenge or in a contest whose “God” would ultimately win, or to prove that his God is the real God?   In verses 36 and 37 Elijah prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

Just how awesome is that!  Even though he was in the middle of enemy territory, even though he was surrounded by haters of God, even though he was outnumbered 450 to one, he still prays, not for himself, but for his enemies, for those undeserving of God’s love. He still prayed for the people to believe that his God, the God of Israel, was the only God. That his God was the ultimate God. That his God was the one true God!  Wow!!!

Now, often when reading scripture passages there are a couple of verses that really stick out, that really ‘grab hold of me’ and seem to be speaking to me more loudly than the others.  There were quite a few in this passage but one that really caused me to zoom in was verse 21, when Elijah asks the people a simple question. You know that I often refer to The Message, the version of the Bible translated by Presbyterian minister Eugene Robinson,  and I really like how this verse is translated in The Message—Elijah says “How long are you going to sit on the fence?  Make up your minds!  And how did the people answer—by not saying a word; by not making a move.  By staying silent!  That makes me think of how we often are today…we stay silent when we need to answer God with a resounding “I am not going to sit on the fence, I have made up my mind and I am going to stick with you God and I am going to do what you want me to do!” 

So who or what is our Baal today?  Are we going to be silent, are we going to sit on the fence and not do the things, not be the people that God wants us to be?  What are we doing, who or what are we waiting on?  Are we waiting on a non-existent God, a Baal to lead and direct us?  Are we waiting on a sign from God, a lightning bolt from the heavens?

Each of today’s scripture passages speaks about the power and authority of God.  There is a contemporary Christian song by Matthew West that, I think, really speaks to what I am talking about.  The lyrics in part go like this:  
I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now, thought, 
How'd we ever get so far down, 
and How's it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, "God, why don't You do something?"
Well, I just couldn't bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
And He said, “I did, I created you”

You see God has made great use of his power and authority—he has created us, empowered us to do his work here on earth.  He is asking us not to be silent, not to sit on the fence but to stand up and do something.  There are plenty of issues, many places in today’s world, many issues here in our own communities where we need to be doing something, solving the problems that God wants us to solve, being the difference God wants us to be.  

Yes, God has created us, God has empowered us to not remain silent, not to sit on the fence, not to wait for a contest to show who the winner is.  God is not limited by our human limitations.  God has ultimate power and authority and he can and will provide the power and strength we need to do His will here on earth.  All we have to do is accept what is provided for us and then not stay silent!   Amen!

Be Thankful in All Things

Be Thankful in All Things

When Winston Churchill went through school, he did not do well. The headmaster of his school told Churchill that he was too dumb to amount to anything and the headmaster predicted that Churchill would be a failure in his life. After Churchill became prime minister of England, he was asked to go back to his old school and give the graduation address. He went and when it was time for his address he stood up to the podium. There was an enormous swell of excitement among the pupils and the faculty and the guests that such a great man of history, a great learned and educated man, a man known for his ability to speak was about to address them. Anticipation filled the room as they looked forward to Churchill’s words that would tell them how to go forward in their lives. What a great irony from his days as a student at the school. Mr Churchill got up, leaned over the podium, looked out and around the audience, meeting the eyes of many there and said, “Never, never, give up.” Then he sat down. That was his entire message; four words. And in truth, if he had said more, those four words might not have had the power they had; wouldn’t have been quite as memorable. But what a powerful message - Never. never give up. He was living proof. How easy would it have been for him to give up when he heard those words from his headmaster that he was going to be a failure. Those words were so much more powerful because he applied them to his own life. Never, never give up.
God also presents us with four words. Four words recorded in the book of 1 Thessalonians by the Apostle Paul and four words that we need to write on our hearts; four words we need to apply to our own life; four words that will bring us to the trust, the communion and the relationship we need to have with Jesus Christ. Here are the four words: In everything give thanks.
Think about it. In
everything give thanks. Now if we as followers of Christ truly believe that what we find in the Bible is truly God’s word for us - then we are to hear this statement not just as a platitude or a nice thought but as a command from God. Just like the other commandments - not stealing or lying or killing - here is another commandment given to us through the writings of the Apostle Paul. God is saying - Thou Shalt give thanks for everything.
Now, we know that giving thanks is a good thing to do. We probably don’t verbalize it enough, but we know we are to give thanks. It is pretty easy to be thankful for food and shelter and family and all our ‘stuff’. But what about the hard times, the events that shake up your world, that throw you into a place of sadness and confusion, happenings where you see your world crashing around you. What about those times when you prayed and prayed and God didn’t answer the way you wanted; things didn’t turn out the way you thought they should. What then? Just what is this everything business. In
everything give thanks?
But that is what God tells us - thanking God in everything is the whole key to our relationship with Him. If we can understand how to give
thanks in everything then we can better understand who God is and how much God truly cares for us. Understanding how to give thanks in everything is one of the great spiritual truths of the Bible - it is an essential part of our living our lives as God desires we live as his followers. Give thanks in everything - in loss, in illness, in depression, in grief, in failure and in happiness and success and health and peace and all the good things. Good and bad alike - give thanks in everything.
But how difficult is that? You wonder how you can possibly thank God for something that turns your life upside down. But we are called to be a people of faith and when something happens that totally throws us for a loop, that is precisely when we are called to give thanks on faith alone ..... obedient, trusting, faith in God no matter what.
That’s why we read that passage today from Genesis concerning Joseph. Lets remember what happened to him....... Joseph is the favorite child of his father Jacob and as a result Joseph gets all the attention and all the presents and his other brothers are stuck with all the work to do. The brothers become jealous and one day when the brothers are out in the fields working, Joseph delivers their lunch and they decide they had had enough of their baby brother and so they beat him, threw him in a pit and then eventually sold him into slavery. Joseph ends up in Egypt in the home of Potipher as his house servant and things are going pretty good when Potipher’s wife seduces Joseph and Joseph rejects her so she lies to her husband and said that Joseph had approached her. Joseph was forthwith thrown into prison where he was literally forgotten. So he spends a long period of time in prison - remember he is in prison even though he truly is innocent. Finally through a set of circumstances only God could arrange, Joseph is let out of prison and ends up being 2nd in command of all of Egypt. There is a famine and because of Joseph’s actions Egypt has stored food so people are traveling from other countries to buy food from Egypt - including Joseph’s brothers. They come before Joseph and of course do not recognize who he is. In a million years they would have never thought that Joseph would be in this position. But, Joseph recognizes them. When he tells them who he is, they are terrified. Makes sense - Joseph is in a powerful position. He has an opportunity to get back at them for what they did to him - he can refuse them food, he could arrest them, he could kill them, he could sell them into slavery like they did him. Joseph, however, looks at them and says, “You all may have meant evil for me, but God used it for good. Because of what you did, God was able to use me to feed people during this awful famine. Not only do I forgive you, but I am thankful that I am now in this position to be able to help so many.” Joseph was beaten, kidnapped, sold, lied about, imprisoned, forgotten - but he was thankful because it meant he was able to help others. Give thanks in everything.
So I ask you to think about this during this time when we are emphasizing Stewardship. Stewardship is a concept in scripture that goes all the way back to Genesis - to the beginning when Adam and Eve are charged with taking care of the garden - they were to be good stewards of what God had given them. Each of the Old Testament figures we are familiar with were charged with some type of Stewardship - Moses and Esther and Daniel and Nehemiah and Isaiah were are told by God to be good stewards of what God had given them and to use what God had given them to further God’s work. Wasn’t always money - often it was God’s people they were to care for. Stewardship in the biblical sense runs the gamut from caring for the natural world to caring for possessions to caring for people and to caring for money. In fact the word Stewardship actually comes from the same word that we translate as economy - our system of money. And in all of these different pictures scripture gives us of stewardship - of whatever form the stewardship takes - God is always reminding that stewardship is an act of thanksgiving for whatever we have been given.
The thing is however, sometimes things work out even when we don’t thank God for what has happened. The story we read from Luke today tells us that. There are 10 lepers who ask Jesus to heal them. He heals all 10. They go back to their homes rejoicing - and one, one, comes back and falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks him. One said thank you. But the other nine were still healed. Jesus didn’t take it back just because they didn’t say Thank You. So you still get what you want sometimes, even if you don’t say thank you.
It is pretty confusing…..
We all pretty good at thanking God for our blessings - even if it is just a quick ‘Thank You Jesus!‘ But can we really take God up on his command to thank him for our afflictions, because that is what this passage is telling us to do. We are to give thanks whether we are in the valley or on the mountaintop.
Stewardship reminds us that regardless of whether we are in a good place or a questionable place, whether we have received what we wanted or we are disappointed that we haven’t acquired what we thought we should, God still asks us to thank him - not through words alone, but through our actions; through our commitment to him and to his church; through our tithes and our offerings; through our pledges of money and time and talents. That is how we truly thank God - not just lip service, but the actual returning of a part of all that God has given us.
God realizes that the giving of our money and our time and our talents takes a special kind of commitment; a special kind of faith; an enormous amount of trust. It means believing the passage from Romans - “In all things God works good for those who love him.” Those are tough words to hear when your life is in disarray; when you feel like you are Joseph in the bottom of a pit; but you know, there isn’t much left if we can’t depend upon the words of God. These are words of great promise, of great hope; words from a God who loves you more than you can ever realize.
There is a great peace that comes within you when you can take these words and apply to them to yourself and to your giving. When you can live a life of gratitude; when you can give thanks in everything and you can return to God a portion of what he has given to you.




When I was in 7th grade, it was my first year of Junior High. School systems were a little bit different back then and 7th grade was the first year out of Elementary School. I went to a small school with 2 buildings. One building housed the elementary school, grades 1 - 6 and the other building was 7th grade through 12th. Because we were all in the same building, there were several things the junior high students and the high school students did together - like some sports and activities and band. Some of us had taken band classes when we were in 6th grade and so we were able to move into the ‘big’ band in 7th grade. We really thought we were something special being able to be in band with the older kids. Except that year we had a new band director. He was a local boy and decided that he wanted to come back to town, prove himself and in the process have the best band in the state of WV. Lofty goals from a small town high school. So he was determined and we got the brunt of his determination! 6th grade was over and a week later I find myself in the high school band with a bunch of upper classmen practicing. After all if we were going to be the best band in the state, that took practice. And practice we did. Every day for at least 2 hours during the summer. Your parents had to practically have a legal document to get you out of it. My family didn’t usually go on summer vacations so I was there, every day…. marching, and playing, and practicing formations for the half time show. Since we were going to be the best band in the state, we had to memorize these overly ambitious half time field shows and all our music had to be memorized. It was pretty brutal - and this driven band director often wasn’t very nice or calm about mistakes. When school started and football season started, we thought we had practiced to the point where we could do this stuff in our sleep. However, practice had not stopped. Not only did we practice the hour of our class during the school day, we practiced 2 hours after school, every day. I do recall one time when we hadn’t gotten it quite right and we had to practice on Saturday as well. But you know what, the next 3 years we were in that school, we were the number one marching band and the number one concert band in the state, every year. And as hard as we had worked and as much as we all complained about it, there was a sense of pride and accomplishment in what we had done. Number 1 in the state three years in a row from this small town school.
Haven’t you heard that old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Have you ever thought about worship as practice - practice for something bigger and better when we transition into that eternal life with God forever?
As we finish up looking at the book of the Revelation of John, looking at the 7 churches addressed to learn more about what Jesus wants for his church. We remember that when John was in prison on the island of Patmos, Jesus took John to heaven and let him see what heaven was like. Along with all those bizarre images that just boggle our minds, and the 7 letters we have just studied regarding the churches, John reports a lot of experiences with worship. Over and over again in the writing of Revelation, John stops and gives us a picture of the worship he witnessed in his vision from Jesus. There is more about worship in Revelation than any other book in the Bible. Through the letter is this pattern of worship, then violence and persecution and danger, then worship, then violence and persecution and danger, then worship. This pattern is repeated throughout John’s letter. It is as if John is saying to us, ‘in the midst of whatever is going on, there is also time to worship’.
And John helps us see that the worship we participate now is a kind of practice for the worship we will participate in for all eternity in the actual presence of God.
Here we are. We are in worship. Many of us have been going to worship almost every Sunday, literally, our whole lives. Worship is what we do as the people of God. It is instrumental, it is important and it is fundamental to our lives. But like many things that deal with our faith, we sometimes have to stop and regroup and remind ourselves why we are here worshipping our God. Seems obvious why we are here but that still doesn’t mean we don’t need to stop and think about it and renew our commitment to gather as God’s people and worship!
The word ‘worship’ means to honor and give respect to something. God repeatedly decrees that we are to worship him exclusively. Don’t think of ‘worship’ as only what we do during this time here in the sanctuary. True worship is something we should be doing all the time. God understands us and knows how quickly and easily we are distracted by the things around us - and even though we don’t label it ‘worship’, when something begins to pull us away from God and the church, we are in effect ‘worshipping’ something else - we are giving it our time, honor and allegiance. That is worship. Often as we are reading through bible stories we read that God’s people, or an individual stops and ‘worships’ God. They don’t stop and break out the bulletins and begin a worship service, they in essence just stop for a moment to honor God. It would be as if we stopped after something
happened and we looked to heaven and said either in our minds or even out loud, ‘Thank you, God!” That is biblical worship - taking a moment and honoring God for whatever reason.
Then there is the context of what we would think of as worship - formal worship. The Hebrew word for ‘worship’ in a formal context means to ‘willingly bow down to the ground and acknowledging the person before them is a greater power.” When God establishes formal worship in the Old Testament in the days of Moses, this is what he has in mind. His people taking time out of their lives to bow down before him and let him know that they think he is the greatest thing ever and the most important thing in their lives. This is why God has us gather together, because he wants for us to take a moment and say to him - ‘God, you are the most important thing in my life and I acknowledge your power over my life.’ When Jesus tells us we must worship God in spirit and in truth, that is what he is talking about. Gathering together as God’s people and giving God worth; sharing music and praying and just giving our hearts and mind and soul and strength to God alone for an hour. Knowing that we should be doing that all the time, but we gather to give God glory in a special way as God’s people. In Revelation 4 and 7 and on and on the picture of worship consists of people gathering around the throne of God and just singing praises - the Holy, Holy, Holy we earlier in the service comes from these passages because that is what the worshippers were singing. They were singing and bowing and praising God.
So as we gather we need to keep in mind that worship is not about us, it is not for us. We do not gather here to ‘get something out of it’. We do ‘get something out of it’ but that is not the purpose of our gathering. Formal worship is our opportunity to acknowledge that God created us, God cares for us, God forgives us, God gives us the means to live forever with him. And God demands - that is the subject of the first 4 commandments - that we take time out of our week to let him know that we appreciate who he is and what he has done for us. Think about it. There are 168 hours in a normal week - and God only asks us for 1. One hour out of 168 to honor the God who knows every hair on our head, the God who had his son die for us, the God who created the whole universe yet knows our name. And he demands that we gather for this worship t
ogether. Yes, you can stop and give God worth anywhere you are, anytime, but God has instructed us to make a time where we come together as the church and worship corporately.
John points out that this worship is going to go on forever. John gives us picture after picture of worship in this revelation of his and it is joyful singing, bowing before God, just praise. This is what giving ‘worth’ is all about. This is what worship is to be. Gathering together to give God value - to let God know that we think he is worthy of our time and our energy and our work and our service. Worship should be a joyful experience - not some formal, serious, sitting quietly in our pew. But a celebration that God has granted us a life in him. We participate in this worship, it is not something we watch, it is something we do.
This may mean we need to adjust our thinking a little about why we are here. We are to gather here because we have a desire to take an hour our of our life to let God know that he is worthy of our praise. Think about that and think whether that is part of your consciousness when you get up on Sunday morning and do what you do to get ready to come and be a part of this assembly. There should be, according to scripture, a feeling of wanting to be here because it is an opportunity to come before God and give him a moment. We come because we want to take this opportunity to thank God just for being who he is. This should be something we look forward to, we desire to do, we make every effort to do because God has made every effort to to make us his - and God enjoys our company and we should enjoy his.
This perspective is what Revelation is trying to teach us as we consider the idea of what worship is all about - and the reason for the band story in the beginning. Which I’m sure you were wandering what that was all about! We were the number one band in the state because we practiced and practiced and practiced and because we kept in front of us the reason for all the hard work - we wanted to be good at what we did. We showed up every day for those often difficult practices because we knew that was how we were going to get better at being a great marching band.
Revelation calls us to think about wanting to be good at what we are called to do as a church - which is to gather and to worship God in spirit and truth. To really in our heart of hearts gather because we want to be here to let God know his value and his worth and because we realize that if we are going to get better at this, we are going to have to practice again and again and again - every Sunday (or whenever we choose to gather) for the rest of our lives.
Until we gather for all eternity in that ultimate worship before our God in heaven.

Revelation: The Church at Laodicea: “The Lukewarm Church”

Revelation: The Church at Laodicea: “The Lukewarm Church”

Remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Moses nephew Lot and his family are living there and God tells Lot he is going to destroy the city of Sodom. Lot bargains with God to try and save the city by trying to find some ‘good’ people in the city. We tend to think this word ‘good’ refers to the morality of the people in that city - because it was a very immoral city. So how many of you think that the reason the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed was because of their immorality? Let’s read why God says these cities were destroyed with hail fire and brimstone. Here’s what God says in the book of Ezekiel about why he chose to level these cities: ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned;”. God does away with these cities not because of their immorality but because they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned - it was apathy towards the things of God and the people of God that destroyed these cities - and that brings us to city #7 - the church at Laodicea.
Read Revelation 3:14-22.
Laodicea is the last one Jesus addresses - and I’ve often wondered why Jesus chose to address this city last. I would have thought Jesus wold have wanted to end these letters to the churches of Asia Minor with a more positive message. Instead Jesus leaves us with this message of complete failure on the part of the church in Laodicea. Jesus is so disgusted with this city of Laodicea that he has absolutely nothing good to say about it - he is so upset that he says to this congregation that he wants to ‘spit them out of his mouth’ - actually that is the nice translation - the actual Greek says, “I want to vomit you out of me”. Jesus is not happy.
Laodicea was located in what is modern day Turkey. It occupied a plateau several hundred feet up in the mountains. It was a prosperous center of banking and commerce. It was famous for clothing made from the wool of black sheep which made a very fine, soft, sought after material and for a popular eye salve produced by its medical school. The wealth in the city had been used to build theaters, a huge sports stadium, lavish public baths and a fabulous shopping center. It was a great place to live: the land of opportunity. You had a good life and plenty of fun and entertaining things to do.
There was pagan worship there - a temple for the worship of the Roman Empire. Their ‘god’ was the city of Rome and they worshipped the leadership and just the idea of the power of Rome. A large Jewish community lived in Laodicea and they exhibited part of the problem that was wrong with the Christian church - they had watered down their practice of Judaism by integrating into the Greek culture. For example, there are documents found from this city where the Jews had rewritten the story of Noah and the flood to incorporate the Roman myths about this flood.
In sprite of its prosperity, the city had a major strategic weakness - the lack of an adequate and convenient water source. Water had to be piped in using an aqueduct from springs 6 miles away. An enemy could easily cut off the water supply, leaving the city helpless. What made this water problem even more ironic, was the fact that If you’d gone a little way north toward Hierapolis you could have bathed in the hot springs as people still do today. If you’d gone south you’d have come to the mountain springs with their cool refreshing water. If you’d gone east to Colossae you would have found cold pure water to refresh you. But in Laodicea they were dependent on the aqueduct, a pipeline that ran above ground for several miles and by which time the water reached Laodicea it had warmed up to an unsatisfying, lukewarm state. So the city may have been very prosperous and a great place to live, but the water was nasty! Remember, this is before the days of refrigeration or bottled spring water!
So Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, you are just like your water - Lukewarm. Hot water is good for drinking hot tea or bathing, Cold water is refreshing and great to drink on a hot day but lukewarm water has no real purpose. It is not good for anything. So Jesus says, hot is good, cold is good, but lukewarm is not worth

anything. He says to the church, “You guys are lukewarm. How I wish you were hot or cold. Because hot or cold you would be useful, but the way you are now is worth nothing.” The heart of the problem at Laodicea was that they just didn’t care. Jesus just wasn’t that important to them, there were too many other things that they had to think about, too many other things going on in their lives. They did what they needed to do for the church. They participated when it didn’t interfere with something else but their hearts and minds were far from the commitment Jesus demands of us. Remember ‘love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’? That means, total, every day, every thing we do, commitment to Christ and that just wasn’t part of the Laodicean church.
Most of you have probably seen the picture of Jesus standing outside a door knocking. Looks like he is in a garden. The big deal about this picture was the fact that if you look at the door there is no door handle. It has often been said that this picture is to represent Jesus asking non believers to invite him into their heart. That is not at all what the picture is about. A little history - it was painted in 1853 by William Holman Hunt and is titled “Jesus the Light of the World” because in the original painting Jesus is carrying a lantern as he knocks on the door. Hunt wanted people to see the overgrown garden around the door as if it had been a very long time since the garden was tended or the door was opened. He painted it specifically to represent this passage from Revelation referring to the church of Laodicea.
Hunt knew the true meaning of the words of Jesus to the church of Laodicea “I stand outside the door and knock” was not referring to people accepting Jesus and becoming a part of the church - but was referring to the church itself. Remember, this letter to the church of Laodicea was written to people who were already members of this church; they had already ‘accepted’ Jesus. They were baptized, participating members of that church. What Hunt - and Jesus - is trying to help us see is that this church was chugging along without Jesus. So what does that mean? That really doesn’t make any sense. By definition isn’t Jesus always part of the church?
Not necessarily. This church is doing church stuff. But Jesus is far from their thoughts and minds as they do this ‘church stuff’. So Jesus tells them first that they are so despicable that he is going to spit them out of his mouth. Reminds me a little of how I feel some mornings when I am working at my desk with my cup of coffee. I pour the coffee and it is nice and steaming hot as I go to the desk and I take a few sips and it is really good……. but then I get busy working and working and working and I reach over and take a sip of the coffee and it is now lukewarm and there is nothing yuckier tasting than a lukewarm cup of coffee and I get them screwed up look on my face when you taste something nasty and what I would really like to do is spit out that coffee - fortunately I resist that impulse. Jesus says the church is like that sip of bitter coffee because the church does not have the love of Jesus in their hearts and minds as they participate in the work of the church.
The greatest insight into their failure is v20: "20Listen! 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." Far from being a harsh letter, you see, this is actually a love letter, offering a restoring of the relationship that they’ve let slip. You see we get so caught up in doing ‘church stuff’ that we think we are more than capable to do what needs to be done. We’ve cooked and we’ve worshiped and we have done our fund raisers and we have conducted our meetings and we’ve had activities and we have managed to get it all done and it has done well. And ‘we’ have done it and the more ‘we have done it’ the less participation we allow Jesus because we think ‘we have done it’ and we really don’t need him. The apathy of the Laodicean church was not a ho hum about the church, it was a ho hum about Jesus. We get busy doing church stuff and we forget that we are here to work side by side with Jesus and that Jesus wants to be a conscious part of that work.
But Jesus wants to restore the relationship with us and with HIS church. And he isn’t going to wait around any longer for an invitation. He’s knocking on the door waiting for the Laodiceans to open the door and invite him in. Now in that culture when someone knocks on the door there’s an imperative to show hospitality. So this carries both an offer of intimacy but also a hint of demand. Jesus is insisting that they pay attention to him, that they give up their self reliance and turn back to the relationship that they should have with him.
And in turn he promises that if they’ll repent and turn back to him, he’ll remain with them and help them and guide them and lead them into truly living with Christ in spirit and truth.
So what does this mean for us?
It means we need to stop and evaluate. We need to think about our personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who or what are we living our life for?
And then we need to think collectively about our church. What is our commitment to? Is it to the church itself - or are we open to thinking about how we involve Jesus in our decisions and then are we willing to follow through with how we hear Jesus challenging us to stay focused on the work he challenges the church to do?
Are we willing, every one of us, to be involved and interested and willing to take up the responsibilities of doing Jesus’ work through the church?
Like Sodom, like Laodicea, we don’t want to be accused of being unconcerned. It is not someone else’ responsibility to keep the church active, it is yours. Each of you working together, sharing the duties, involved and caring and really invested in this church.