Exminster Methodist Church, Main Road, Exminster EX6 8BT
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Minister: Rev Ben Haslam, Telephone (01392) 256716
Revelation 3. 7-13
I once slept through an earthquake. I was in Durham at the time, and the next morning, all the talk was of the tremor during the night. I, of course, had managed to sleep right through it. So there you have it, I can claim to have slept through an earthquake, which is not something everyone can boast of. Earthquakes of a much more serious nature were a very real threat to the inhabitants of Philadelphia and they had suffered a particularly bad one fifty or so years before this letter. This earthquake had destroyed most of the city and the Emperor had to step in to provide funds to rebuild it. Dangerous though the place may have been, there was nonetheless a thriving church and in this letter, it receives a ringing commendation from Jesus. Because of the city’s dangerous situation, buildings would have been seen as something vulnerable, not immortal memorials to man’s glory. Here though, Jesus promises that, as a reward for their faithfulness, the Philadelphian Christians will be made ‘pillars in the temple of my God’. Pillars in a temple not vulnerable to earthquakes, or anything else, not made of stone which corrodes and cracks or can disappear into a crevice in the earth. Imagine the promise of a purpose and identity that was indestructible, in which you could find complete security and which could never be snatched from you. That’s what the Philadelphians are promised, and it’s because of their faithfulness. That’s what we are promised too.
There’s no indication that the Philadelphians are especially flashy or that they are doing anything remarkable. Jesus notes that they ‘have but little power, and yet have kept my word and have not denied my name’. It’s not success that Jesus seeks, but faithfulness, though in remaining faithful of course, the Philadelphians succeed. Through faithful discipleship, they find their way to an enduring Temple that is impervious to tectonic movements, or any of the other things which make human life vulnerable. Because earthquakes are not all they have to worry about. There is human opposition too (a ‘synagogue of satan’) who seem to be doing what they can to prevent the Church from spreading the gospel. This part of the letter is not a piece of anti-semitism. This is not so much a clash between two religious or racial groups, as it is about the question of who represents the true people of God. Can these upstart Christians, with their talk of Jesus, this new messiah, still claim to be part of the long story of God’s people. This letter reminds them that proclaiming Jesus as Lord does not make them rebels or bad Jews. It makes them faithful witnesses to what God has done amongst them, and whatever they do, they must >keep being faithful witnesses and not be shamed into keeping quiet. The rewards for doing so will be greater than anything they can conceive. I love this letter, because it is a bracing, heartening commendation of what is at the heart of Christian discipleship – faithfulness. We live in a world which tells us so often to value what we can measure and quantify or put a price on. God’s values are very different. The love and devotion which keep a believer on the path of discipleship and fill them with a desire to see others join too are what God desires to see above all.
God bless, Ben