Summary: The message to the church in Sardis and it’s relevance to us today
Over the last few weeks in the United Reformed Church, we’ve been looking at the stories of some churches, and seeing what they might have to say to us today. These stories are in the book of Revelation, and they take the form of letters that were written to these churches. Like all of the book of Revelation, it’s very much written in code. And that has led to Revelation either be ignored by people, who see it as too difficult to make any sense of, or to it being hijacked by people of fairly extremist views. However, I hope that with a bit of simple de-coding, we can see that Revelation has a message that is not only quite clear, but also relevant and pertinent to today’s church.
And so, today we look at the church in Sardis, who received a letter hat we heard reading revelation chapter 3, verses 1-6. What do we know about Sardis? Sardis was a great trading city, being situated at the point where five different roads, each major routes, crossed one another. It was one of the more ancient cities, but one was there was a great trade empire. It had suffered an earthquake, but had been rebuilt by the Romans, at great expense, and remained an important city.
Among it’s great characteristics were that it was a great trading and commercial centre. It was in a gold-bearing area, and so had natural wealth, and the wealth that came from trading. Secondly, it was the centre of the woollen industry. All the shepherds from around, brought their wool to Sardis for trading. It was also a city full of people loving pleasure and luxury, sheer hedonism. It was a city full of wealthy people who were spending all their money, and focussing their lives, on ever more luxurious living.
Sardis didn’t face the same problems that the other cities faced. Sardis was a city at peace, and the church in Sardis was a church at peace. But there are two kinds of peace - there is the peace that comes after achieving something, after a great effort, when all is well; and there is the peace of having ceased to care, of comfortable lethargy, the peace of death. Peace is something to be greatly desired in a church, but nothing should be so feared as the peace of death, and that was what the church in Sardis had ended up with.
So, what does our reading have to say? It begins in verse one by referring to the name that was alive, but was in fact dead. The church at Sardis had all the material things that it needed, money, possessions, you name it, it had what it needed, but in what really mattered, spiritual things, it was dead. The central message of Christianity is new life after death, but the church in Sardis had managed to turn this into death after new life.
Is that something that we could be in danger of? Could we have all the material things that we need, but we in danger of being so peaceful that we’re dead? How would we know? There are four signs to being spiritually dead:
i) if we worship our own past, and live on our memories, at the expense of finding a challenge for the future in our own hopes, or letting our traditions take precedence over God’s kingdom.
ii) if we are more concerned with the forms of what we do, than with life. For instance, if we are more concerned to get the ritual right, rather than the purpose for which we have the ritual.
iii) if we love systems more than Christ. Is an infringement of the church constitution, not following the letter of the Manual or of CPD, a more deadly sin than any other?
iv) if we are more concerned with material things, rather than spiritual things.
We need to continually watch out that we are focussed upon God, not our past and our traditions; focussed upon God, not upon getting the ritual right; focussed upon God, not on the rulebooks; focussed upon God, not on material things.
In verse two, the church in Sardis is commanded to watchful. There are two places that we need to be watchful: our weakest point, and our strongest point.
Every person, they say, their fatal flaw, their weakness. In ancient times, it was Achilies and his heel. In modern times, we could look at many politicans and see their weakness, for instance David Blunkett’s tragic love live. We all have our weakness. That isn’t a problem in itself. The problem is if we cannot see our weakness, or we let it take over. There’s no problem with having our weaknesses, but if we cannot see them, or we let them take over our life and our actions, we’re in danger. The Greeks had a saying: know yourself.