Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, …Amen.

Our first reading this evening is taken from the second chapter of the book of The Revelation to John. We were read the text of two letters, letters written by John at the dictation of Christ, two from a set of letters written to seven churches. The first letter, to the angel of the church in Ephesus, opens in the following way:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. (Revelation 2:1)

We know pretty well that the writing in this book is strange and needs some interpretation. We need to be careful, though, about interpreting the life out of it! We might just sit with it, as the poetic word of God and allow ourselves to be affected by it. In the first chapter of the Revelation to John we are shown a scene:

I was in the spirit* on the Lord’s day, John writes, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, …Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. (Revelation 1:10-13)

This is Jesus, clothed in the long robe and he is walking amidst seven lampstands, which represent the seven churches to which he has John write the letters that make up part of the Book of Revelation. Jesus is walking in the midst of his churches, closely accompanying them, understanding with what it is they struggle, and in what way they are thriving. The letters he dictates to John are written out of deep love and deep knowledge of the churches that bear his name. Jesus is portrayed, walking in the midst of his churches, holding seven stars in his right hand and these seven stars are the angels of the churches.

This evening’s reading contains two of the letters. The first letter is written to the church in Ephesus.

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:2-4)

This church works hard, it discerns carefully, it shows great patience. But …“You have abandoned the love that you had at first,” Jesus has John write to this church in Ephesus. And then he exhorts the members of this church to repent.

We might well be reminded of the words of the one who founded this church, Paul. Paul is writing in this case to the church in Corinth.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

This morning we heard read from the 9th chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, of the conversion of Paul on the Road to Damascus. Our second reading this evening, taken from a little further on in the chapter tells of Paul’s struggle to be accepted by the Apostles as, understandably, they were afraid of him. Barnabas introduces him, telling his conversion story.

What is fascinating about chapter 9 of the Book of Acts is that in some ways Paul is not changed by his conversion at all. The chapter opens with Paul who is known as Saul, speaking boldly and making threats against those who have given their lives to Christ, (Acts 9:1) and in the reading we heard tonight we have that same man, Paul, speaking boldly, arguing with the Hellinists, in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). Saul is Paul, that same man of firey disposition, and that is something we might notice. When God converts, God takes us as we are, wants us as we are, makes a blessing of us as, in many ways we are. Whether we are human beings or communities, individuals or churches. God made us and loves us and blesses us to bring his gospel message to the world.

The key, though, is love. The message is about love. And it can only truly be told in love. And when a church works hard and shows discernment and has much patience, as the church in Ephesus did, but has not love, God calls it to repent.

The church in Smyrna has a different issue. The second letter written by John at the dictation of Christ in a vision deals with faith in a time of fear and struggle:

‘I know your affliction and your poverty, [Jesus said], I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:9-10)

I know your affliction and your poverty, Jesus said. The image in this book of Jesus walking in the midst of the lampstands, his churches, is an image of intimacy. I know your affliction, he says, to the church at Smyrna. And he does know it. I see your effort but you have lost your love, he says to the church at Ephesus, and he does see that effort and he does grieve that lack of love.

Jesus walks in our midst and sees our effort, and our fears, and at times our struggle to be true to the love that is the very being of God and the love that we celebrate this season of Easter. Jesus speaks the truth of that struggle to us and, at times, calls us to repent. And so we might repent. And we will be forgiven, and set free to try love again, for the one who speaks with such honesty to the churches that bear his name, is the one who died loving and forgiving those who stood at the foot of his cross.