Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for Sabbath, October 3, 2015
I am still haunted today by a mental picture from decades ago. I was reading an article by a photographer about how he got into full-time photography. He liked taking pictures of birds. He finally screwed up his courage and sent a collection of his best pictures to National Geographic. To his astonishment, in response, an editor at the magazine invited him to come to the National Geographic office and told him to bring his photographic equipment. Flattered, he showed up at the man's office and spread out his equipment on the desk. He was proud of his camera and lenses. The editor looked over the equipment for a minute or two then swept his arm across his desk sweeping the camera body and lenses into the garbage can at the side of his desk.
The photographer stood there stunned, astonished, mortified.
Then the editor said, “We want your pictures in our magazine, but you cannot give us the quality we need with this equipment.” The editor then outfitted the photographer with seriously good equipment. The photographer who had been a doctor taking pictures as a hobby became a photographer, taking pictures for a living.
I still wince when I recall that mental picture of the editor's arm sweeping camera and lenses off his desk. It seemed so rude, so rash, so outrageous.
I have somewhat the same reaction when I read the words of today's scripture reading.
"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!
“You make me sick. You are nauseating!”
These are not attractive words.
This is the last in a collection of seven messages to seven churches. In most of the other messages Jesus began with words of affirmation. “I know your works, your patience and endurance. You have remained true in spite of fierce opposition. You have resisted heresy and immorality. You have obeyed my word.”
Sure, like a good coach, Jesus went on to point out areas for improvement. Jesus urged the churches to repent—to reorient themselves, to point their lives again toward glorious, high ideals. But Jesus prefaced his scolding and directions for improvement with words of encouragement.
But this time, boom. Jesus tells John, write to the people in Laodicea, “I know everything you do and it makes me sick.”
What do we do with this?
I think the best way to interpret this expression of disgust by Jesus is to imagine him as an editor at National Geographic. We fancy ourselves to be photographers. We have just shown him our best pics. Then he asks to see our camera and we show him our I-phone 6.
“What? You want me to think of you as a photographer and you're taking pictures with that????? Get out of here. Go get a real camera. Learn to use it. Master a real camera and the capabilities of lightroom then come back and see me.”
You start to protest. “But take a look at my pictures. Can you give me some feedback on composition and lighting?”
He practically snarls at you. “Don't ask me to show respect for your work until you do. Get the equipment you think your photos deserve, then we'll talk.” And he stalks off.
I guess there are couple of natural responses to this kind of reaction from a skilled photo editor.
You could figure there's no point in trying and go home angry at the editor for dissing your phone and apparently ignoring your pictures. Or you could think, “Hey, he wouldn't have told me to go buy an expensive camera if he didn't think my pictures were worth it.”
Since these words in Revelation were spoken by Jesus and we have a pretty good idea what Jesus is like, it is entirely reasonable to interpret these words in light of the character of Jesus.
“Your laid back, casual approach to your religion is disgusting. It makes me sick.” Why? “Because I can see your potential. You could set the world on fire. You could be dazzling the world with a glorious demonstration of holiness and wisdom, of compassion and generosity. You could demonstrate the natural beauty of a life configured by the disciplines of holiness. You are wasting the gifts resident in you. In fact, you're wasting the air your breathing. You can do better. I know you can. I know you will.”
“You think you're rich, well-dressed and clear-sighted. You're poor, badly dressed, and blind. But it doesn't have to be so. Buy from me gold and cool clothes and ointment to treat your blindness. Then you will, indeed, be a demonstration of the kind of life that the whole world will admire and covet.”
Notice, these people were doing nothing wrong. Jesus doesn't accuse them of heresy or idolatry or immorality. They are simply boring. Lazy. Lacking ambition. But Jesus knows it doesn't have to be that way. Jesus sees their potential.
The next sentences of Jesus highlight the emotional content of his message. “I only scold people I love.” I don't waste my words on people I don't care about. I don't trash the cameras of people who do not have an eye for photography. You have the capacity to see and create beauty. I'm mad because you're wasting incredible potential.
Let's fix it. Okay?
“Look, I'm standing at the door and knocking. I want into your life.”
Some people imagine the Book of Revelation as the story of monsters and the wicked witch and grasshoppers with stingers and conflagrations sweeping the earth. But those things are mere backdrops to the story of the triumph of God and God's people.
When Jesus gets ticked off at his people, when they make him so frustrated he exclaims, “You make me sick to my stomach!” he is still dreaming of sharing dinner with them. He is dreaming of intimate friendship with them.
Then Jesus says, “To the one who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne even as I overcame and am sitting on my Father's throne.”
Just as I did it, so you will do it. And just as I have been exalted to the right of God in heaven so you will be exalted to the right hand of God in heaven. That is how much potential you have. That is what I am training you for.
The intensity of Jesus disgust at the mediocrity of Laodicean people is a measure of their potential and his confidence that he can coach them to the highest imaginable greatness—sharing the reign of God through all eternity.
Jesus stands and knocks.
If you have opened the door, know that you have made Jesus happy. He takes great delight in your company. If you are wishing for a spiritual life that grips your heart and stirs your life, know that is available. If Jesus is sweeping away your present complacency, know that he does so because he sees your gifts and he is prepared to coach you to spiritual greatness.
When we grant Jesus access to our inner beings, we are preparing for our role as heavenly sovereigns. We are preparing for our grand destiny—sharing the throne with God.