"Mom! Turn the light off! It hurts and I can't open my eyes!" That's what Kennedy said as I tried to wake her up this morning. Funny thing is...about an hour earlier, I felt the same way about my alarm clock when it loudly and obnoxiously beeped and I wanted to toss it across the room. I just hate waking up! But I'm always glad when I do. I mean, without waking up, what kind of life would I be living? I'd miss it all!
Why do I keep hearing this same message? I know one thing. When I hear the same message over and over again like this there is no denying it's a message God wants me to hear. Revelation 3:1-2 is a warning from Jesus Christ to the church of Sardis - a church that had the appearance of being alive, but it was actually quite dead inside (reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 23 to the religious leaders - how they were "white washed tombs", clean on the outside but dead bones on the inside with no life). So Jesus says to them in verse 2 "Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God."
Could this be the message He is telling us today? I read something in The Hole in Our Gospel yesterday that sent shivers up my spine. The author, Richard Stearns, was talking about Matthew 25:34-36, when Jesus said "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in your house. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'"
The people were delighted but confused. When they had done something like this? Jesus told them that it was when they did it to the least of these, they were doing it to Him. What Jesus is telling us is that when we treat others with kindness and love, it's just as if it is Him we are serving. I love this. But do I really do this? Richard Stearns paraphrased those verses for today's reader and I think his observations were very accurate....
"For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved."
Ouch. How true is this of the church today? So many of us have it all wrong. We think we are here to set the world straight, to correct all the "wrong" behavior and to judge those who are not believers. We think we are here to make money and be materially prosperous. But not according to Christ. According to Him, the most important commandments are simple: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. No judgment there. No condemnation. No self-righteousness. When we love God with all of our heart and love others, people will see Jesus in us and our lives will be a witness, not our arguments and opinions. Unfortunately, most of the world looks at Christians as a bunch of people who are against things...we're so busy being against things that nobody sees what we actually stand for!
It's hard to hear the truth sometimes. I imagine that is why the Pharisees had Christ crucified. After all, His harshest words were for the religious hypocrites. Nobody likes it when the alarm goes off or the light comes on - it even seems offensive! We want to swing at the person who turned the light on or throw the alarm clock across the room! But were it not for the awakening, we would be asleep and we'd miss it. Jesus' words to us are an alarm. We can throw it across the room or blame Him and get angry with Him or we can thank Him for loving us enough to wake us up and allow us to be a part of what He is doing to change the world.
Jesus told the church of Sardis to wake up and to strengthen what little remained. He went on to say in Revelation 3:3 "Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don't wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief."
He tells us to "Go back...". Could it be that we need to remember, in humility, where we came from? What did He save us from? What did we ever do to deserve that salvation? What makes us think we have any rights to judge those who have not accepted His gift yet? Shouldn't we, instead, be loving them and serving them? It's easy to get cocky and forget where we came from. I'm guilty of this, as well. But I'm praying God will give me the wisdom and strength to never forget what He rescued me from so many years ago.
The alarm is going off and it's screaming at us: Don't forget where you came from! Nobody likes to wake up, but let's remember...if we don't wake up and get up, we will miss it completely. Christ, in His kindness, is calling us to love. It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict people of their sin. It is God's job to judge sin. It is our job to love, as Christ loved us.
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge do these very same things. And we know that God, in His justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God's judgment when you do the same things? Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?"