Summary: When God calls, don't hit the snooze button.
Probably the hardest part of writing a sermon is the beginning. If I don’t catch your attention right away, I could lose half of you. Now, some of you listen to everything I say regardless, and some of you - and I know who you are - sleep through all my sermons - but I do try to set the hook in deep enough so that you’ll hang in there with me when we get to the hard parts. The ending is the other important part. I want to send you home thinking about what I’ve said. It may be the
only thing you remember. Sometimes I start with a story, sometimes with something from the news, but I do try to vary my approach so that you don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. I want to keep you curious as to where I’m going to go, and interested enough to pay attention.
One way to get an audience’s attention is to do something a little outrageous or offbeat. There’s a great Robin Williams film, Dead Poets Society - how many of you have seen it? At one point he climbs on a desk and shouts “carpe diem”, which is Latin for “seize the day.” It became the watchword for the whole film. A pastor I knew back in Minnesota - a great preacher named Richard Davis - put a lapel mike on a plant in the congregation so that his sermon on stewardship - tithing - was interrupted right at the outset by a disgusted voice saying, “Oh, no, they’re going to ask us for money again.”
Another technique is to come on as a character, which I haven’t done for a while. I’m afraid there’s not going to be much of an opportunity in Revelation, I can’t see coming on as the beast or the whore of Babylon or even one of the angels. Maybe CNN or Fox will send a TV crew to interview the survivors - stay tuned. It’s a thought.
But at least I’m up here talking out loud, and you’ve all showed up at least expecting to hear something from God through me by the Holy Spirit. But when no one else is speaking, how does God get our attention?
God speaks to us, all the time, but it’s easy to go to sleep. We don’t want to admit it, but we ignore God, He tries to get our attention in a lot of different ways. As the writer to the Hebrews said, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. [Heb 1:1] The Thursday morning group spent half the class a couple of weeks ago looking at the various ways God has communicated to his people: through dreams, through angels, with thunder and lightning, with a voice out of the burning bush, with the ten commandments on the stone tablets. But then he goes on to say, “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. [Heb 1:2] That
was quite an attention-getter, wasn’t it? Jesus Christ is definitely the last word as far as God’s revelation is concerned. As the old hymn says, “What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” But even that final word gets forgotten as time passes.
For a while after September 11 it looked as though that particular attention-grabbing event would turn people’s attention back to God, but the effect wore off all too quickly. God has spoken, but we are not always listening.
The fifth letter in this series from John’s Revelation shows us a sleeping church, a church which has slept through all the alarms that the goings-on around the Roman empire had set off. They weren’t being persecuted like the churches in Smyrna and Pergamum, maybe they thought “It can never happen here.” They don’t seem to be guilty of compromise or heresy. They seem to have gotten along with the local Jews, even though the Jewish population was large and
powerful. In fact, it may have been the very acceptance of the Jewish religion by the local pagans that has kept them safe. So what’s the problem? Everything’s just fine.
As he always does, Jesus introduces himself to the church at Sardis with an identifying title, something that signals what he’s going to be telling them. This time he is “the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” [v. 1a] This is a reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is a clue to what they are missing.
Next comes the dreaded report card, which as always begins with an ominous “I know.” The Sardis congregation are probably expecting high praise. After all, they’re showing up regularly for