Incomplete: Wake Up!
October 14, 2018 Pastor: Series: Incomplete
Topic: Following God's Call Scripture: Revelation 3:1–3:6
I have to tell you, there are a lot of things about my role as a pastor that I really love. I love preaching. Most of you know me well enough to know that I rarely run out of words. And I love having the opportunity to walk alongside folks and help them identify where God might be moving and calling. You might think I’m pulling your leg on this, but - I even love meetings. I get excited for the chance to sit down with a group of people who are committed to an aspect of our identity as a church, and who want to do that thing better. And of all the things I get to do as a pastor, baptisms have got to be toward the top of the list. Being able to declare and join in the powerful promise of baptism is just incredible. But every time I meet with parents, like Mike and Kala, to go over the meaning and details of the baptism, I always tell the parents to not worry if the baby cries. Since coming here two years ago, I’ve had the blessing of officiating about 10 baptisms or so. And sometimes those little ones are sleeping when they are handed to me. And I know that I’m going to be waking them up with the water and my words.
As a parent with little kids, I quickly came to realize how counter-intuitive waking a sleeping baby was to everything I had learned as a parent. Parents with babies and toddlers, we will go to incredible lengths to not wake up a sleeping child. We’ll tip-toe through the halls, we’ll whisper in the kitchen (even though the baby’s room is upstairs and on the other end of the house), we’ll put the entire house on high alert for maximum silence. I’m not proud of this, but once, when Isaac was a baby and had fallen asleep, I threw a blanket at one of my cats for meowing too loud. The point is: when it comes to babies, the last thing we want is for them to wake up.
Well, this morning we’re going to explore the account of a church that needed to do just that: wake up. Throughout this whole “Incomplete” series, we haven’t encountered a church like Sardis yet. It’s a different beast altogether. We’re in Revelation 3:1-6.
There’s no beating around the bush here. Sardis is in trouble. This is easily the bleakest account of a church we’ve read so far and, to be honest, Sardis is likely the most troubling of all the churches in this section of Revelation. And this is definitely the saddest message Christ has for any of the churches: you are dead.
I was thinking about this kind of thing earlier in the week, actually. The family and I were driving around town and we passed a church and saw a sign that said the building and land were for sale. That church had closed. Caitlin and I had never been to that church and really had only driven by it a handful of times, but we both felt a sort of sadness and remorse. It’s entirely possible that that church had a joyous celebration of their ministry before deciding to close their doors for good, but it doesn’t change just how sad and jarring it can be when a church closes.
And did you notice how Christ’s message to this church in Sardis differs from all the others we’ve heard? There’s no praise, no compliment. Jesus goes right into it. I’ve seen your deeds. You have a great reputation but you’re really dead. When He addresses the church in Sardis, Jesus doesn’t give any commendation or cushion to soften the blow of what He is about to say. And really, I believe that has less to do with Christ’s desire to be harsh and more to do with the direness of the situation. Jesus is concerned about Sardis. And that’s why Jesus shouts at this church and tells them to “Wake Up!”
So this begs the question: How does a church die? There are several folks who have written about this and the warning signs of a church that might be in trouble, and there are a few that seem to be common denominators no matter who the author is. Things like: a lack of vision, an aggressively inward focus, when a church lives in and worships their past. And these shouldn’t surprise us as alarming symptoms for a church.
Proverbs 29:18 reminds us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” A church that is only concerned with their own preferences and comforts won’t be a growing, thriving church. And maybe you’ve heard this before. I heard it at my undergrad, my seminary, and my last church. It was the famous “Last 7 Words of the Church” – We have always done it that way. And while every church and circumstance is important, I want to remind us of something I’ve been saying through this whole series: the words Jesus offers to the churches in Revelation 2-3 are not only for them. They’re for us at First Pres, both as a church and as individuals.
Jesus calls this church to wake up. Other translations say watch out. In both, we hear a call for awareness and vigilance. The physical location of Sardis actually can teach us something about this. You see, Sardis was built around and defended by an all-near unscalable mountain cliffside. It served as one of the primary protective measures for the city. At one time, an enemy Persian king wanted to conquer Sardis so that it could become a strategic location for their military campaign. The problem was trying to figure out a way to scale that cliffside. Well, a Greek historian tells the story of how one of the king’s soldiers was studying the cliffs attempting to come up with any plan that would work. While he was watching, one of the guards patrolling for Sardis dropped his helmet. The enemy Persian soldier watched as the guard from Sardis climbed down the cliffs, got his helmet, and climbed back up. The Persian soldier marked down in memory the path the Sardis guard had taken and rushed to the enemy king. That night, the Persians scaled the path the guard had taken and when they got to the top of the battlement, they found it completely unguarded. The city of Sardis thought it was safe - because of the cliffside that they had become lax and lazy in their watchfulness... And so, the Persians were able to take the city with ease.
This lesson out of the history of Sardis teaches us a crucial lesson concerning our faith: we should never stop seeking out God and growing in our walk with Him. There is a danger that plenty have fallen into. It’s the belief that because we had some rite of passage, it could be a baptism or an altar call or a time where we recited a certain prayer, that because we did any of those things - that our golden ticket is stamped and we don’t have anything left to do except live our life the way we see fit.
Following Jesus isn’t a one-time decision, it is a continuous and exceedingly costly commitment. It is a not a single choice but rather a lifetime of sometimes small and sometimes monumental choices that impact everything from our families to our careers, the friends we have and the way we spend our money and our time. All of those choices, really every decision we make, can either draw us closer to the heart of Christ or contribute to our drifting away. There is very little neutral ground in the realm of discipleship. Even if we use the phrase “following Jesus” we can see this. It’s not enough to say the choice is between either following Jesus or walking away from Him. Standing still and remaining where you are - serving the same goal as actively walking away. No, it is our calling and our blessing to follow our Savior.
Daniel Akin talks about what happened to the faith of Sardis and it serves as a sort of litmus test for each of us. He says, “The Christians in Sardis had grown content with a mediocre, halfway, comfortable, and convenient Christianity. Their faith was not radical; it was almost invisible.” He goes onto say how those they worked with and lived around “saw nothing different or unique about them.” Christians from some of the other cities we’ve explored were persecuted and attacked for their faith. Sardis didn’t warrant any of that kind of attention because they didn’t do anything that seemed different or that opposed the status quo. Sardis was comfortable behind their walls and their history and their wealth. And that comfort not only stunted their growth, it nearly put them in a metaphorical coffin.
As grim as these lessons might be for Sardis, they can help us. Our faith should be more than a description of where we spend our Sunday mornings, a bumper sticker on our cars, or a family tradition. Our faith should be the rhythm for our decisions. It should be the defining quality of our character. And our faith should be the most distinctive and compelling element of who we are. Sardis didn’t fall victim to false teachers or bad doctrine or even violent persecution. They were laid low by the fact that their faith wasn’t something they lived or even seemed to understand anymore. Their faith had become little more than an ID card and a false confidence. Following Christ wasn’t an expression of their heart anymore. In fact, it had barely stuck around as a uniform they put on every now and then.
And this is why Jesus gives Sardis a wake-up call. He tells them and us - to stop thinking that our faith was something we did in our past. Our identity as Christ followers is not defined by an experience we had as a kid or because of a moving weekend retreat or because of our church attendance record. Sardis has a faith that Jesus called unfinished, and we cannot afford to be found accused of the same thing.
The incredible thing about our Savior is that Christ doesn’t simply leave us where we are. No circumstance or season is stronger than the redemptive and loving call that comes from our Savior. With His voice, Jesus brings life and vibrancy where little had remained. It is the same voice that called into a tomb and brought Lazarus out of death itself. And it’s that voice that calls out to each of us. A call to wake up.
Jesus’ message to Sardis is His message to us. Strengthen what remains. Finish what you started. Remember what you have been given. Hold onto it. And return to a life that follows Christ. Our presence as the people of God is supposed to threaten the darkness in this world. Our lives should be an affront to the injustice we hear about every day. The way we live should be confusing to people trapped in a world that runs people into the ground. I’m not talking about wearing Christian t-shirts or posting inspirational quotes on social media. I’m talking about having a story that is so closely entwined with the heart and nature of Jesus that you cannot be accused of being asleep. And the amazing truth is that, through Christ, it is never too late. Jesus doesn’t call out to Sardis to perform a funeral, He does so to spark a revival. You have the chance, right now, to decide to wake up and finish the story of faith that Christ wrote on your heart - however many years ago. But you have to make that choice.
Many of you know that I lost my dad about a year ago. Almost two weeks to this day a year ago. The most painful thing for me in that loss is that my dad had chances to change. He had made a series of terrible decisions in his life, some recent and some that had been addictions for decades. But every time my dad went into the hospital over the past 6-7 years he was told by the doctors that if he stopped this, started these disciplines, made these changes…that he could have a better life and live to see his grandkids grow. But he didn’t. Maybe it was because he thought he was too far gone. Maybe it’s because the changes would have been too hard. I don’t know. But his decision, or indecision maybe, led to me officiating my own father’s funeral. My son, Levi, never met my dad and I can’t help but wonder if things could have been different.
Jesus calls us to wake up. To stop living lives that give in to the same temptations and practices as the world around us. It is a call to strengthen our faith and make our stories a challenge to the rest of this world. It is a call to remember what was given to us through the cross and it is a call to hold onto - that above and throughout everything, we may endure in this life. Sardis had to wrestle with this and so do we. Friends, our Savior calls and He is telling us to wake up.