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Sermon for Holy Thursday

Augustana, 2011

29 Sermon for Holy Thursday mp3 audio

The Letter to Laodicea:

Complacency—Death by Indifference

Amos 6:1–7; Revelation 3:14–22; John 15:9–17

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” [1]

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Throughout Lent, we’ve been listening to the Words of Jesus in the Letters to the Seven Churches.  Tonight we’ve come to the final letter to the Christians in Laodicea.  I’ve been working front the standpoint that these letters weren’t just written to Christians long ago and far away but that each of these letters is relevant to the Church as a whole and to individual Christians today.  This letter is the harshest warning of them all.  The Lord does not mince words with Christians in Laodicea, He is disgusted with them.  Most translations read as our does.  “16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  But that barely comes close to the meaning of the Greek.  Jesus is nauseated to the point of vomiting on account of them.  This is a strong picture of the Lord’s displeasure.  Why is Jesus so upset?  We need to look closely at this letter and listen to what the Lord has to day.

The wider community of Laodicea was thriving because they sat at the intersection of several major trade routes in Asia Minor. Laodicea was the provincial capital. The black wool from the sheep and the woven garments made from it were widely sought after. They had a famous medical school, as well as a temple to the god of healing.  Ointments for curing diseases of the eyes and ears were made in Laodicea.  The worship of the Emperor of Rome was popular in the city.  All in all, Laodicea was prosperous, educated, religious, and important—no wonder so many people wanted to live in Laodicea.

The congregation at Laodicea was not afflicted with the moral and doctrinal troubles of their sister congregations.  They couldn’t be fairly described as idolatrous or immoral or tempted to compromise the Christian faith.  In fact, a visitor to the congregation there might have said, “What a lovely congregation and what nice people.  How peaceful things seem and how blessed this congregation is.” Even the name of the city, Laodicea, implied that they were a “people of righteousness.”

There was but one problem, one deadly flaw.  They were so satisfied that they had no true need for Christ.  Jesus is everything, yet to them, Christ was just not needed.  Jesus is the “Amen,” the only truth, the only certainty, yet their certainty lay within themselves and the economic prosperity of their city.  Jesus is the faithful and true witness, the martyr.  He died to save them from every evil and give them His righteousness, and yet they thought they were pretty good witnesses too when it came right down to it.  Christ is the source of all creation, without whom nothing would exist, and yet they had the gall to pat themselves on the back and say, “We did it all ourselves.”  The community was so rich that after an earthquake in 60 AD, not too long before this letter was written, and Rome offered to rebuild the city, the Laodiceans, said, “No thanks, we’ll rebuild it ourselves.”  They smile smugly at their good fortune and say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Revelation 3:17). And they wonder why Jesus is about to throw up!  They neither love Him nor despise Him; they neither call on Him nor send Him away.

The Christians in Laodicea remind me of the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable.  His ground produced such a huge crop that he had no place to store it.  So he pulled down his old barns and built bigger ones, telling himself, “I have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  I’ll take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).  The farmer went to bed complacent, satisfied, selfish.  He woke up damned to hell.

Of all the temptations to modern American Christians today, this letter may be the most applicable.  The kind of Christianity that Jesus is condemning is the “God helps them that help themselves,” variety so popular today.  We are the wealthiest people the world has ever known.  Even our poor people have cars and flat panel televisions.  Because our doctors can work miracles—make eye glasses and contact lenses and replace cataracts and even restore sight to some blind people—we think we can see.  Because we have closets full of clothes we think we are well-clothed.  And yet so often we cannot see our poverty and our blindness and our nakedness and shame.  We don’t realize that we are far poorer than we think.  Those things of which we boast about now are but a passing illusion of well-being they could be gone tomorrow and they will be gone one day.  This letter is a call to repentance, a call to return to Jesus in humility and faith, a call to see the poverty of our heart, the dim blindness of our spirit and the naked shamefulness of our sins.

Christ’s words to the Christians in Laodicea are Christ’s words to us.  They are difficult to hear and accept but they are spoken in love.  The Lord Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19).  If He did not love you, He would not have died for you.  If He did not love you, He would not have sent missionaries and pastors to share His Gospel with you.  If He did not love you, He would not have made you His children in Holy Baptism. If He did not love you, He would not care a whit about the danger you face.  But Jesus does care.  Jesus loves you. He died for you. This is His church.  He says to you, His blood-bought people, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

Tonight is Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus instituted took the Passover and fulfilled it and changed it into His Supper and invited us to His table.  Tonight Jesus is knocking again.  He is inviting you to eat supper with Him.  In moments we will be celebrating His Holy Supper.  He will once again invite us to eat the bread given and the wine pour poured out.  We’ll hear again the words of His last will and testament, “This is My body” and “This is My blood,” “given” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  By eating and drinking He dwells in us and us in Him.  Here we find the forgiveness of sins, including our sins of indifference and laziness, of blindness and all manner of shamefulness.  Now, before the Holy Meal, is the time to remember Christ who has always committed Himself to you.  As St. Paul tells you, now, before you eat of the bread and drink of the cup, is the time for self-examination.

Today Jesus calls you to admit again to yourself and to God your sin and helplessness.  There is a direct connection between the daily bread of our tables and the bread that bears the body of our Lord from His table to our mouths.  We eat daily because we need to.  There is a curious thing that happens when people fast for more than two or three days.  The hunger pangs actually go away and the appetite fades away, so I’m told.  I’m absolutely convinced the same thing happens with people who abstain for so long from the Lord’s Supper.  So many come for a  while and then don’t come, thinking they can get along just as well without it.  To them, the earnest invitation of the Lord to eat and drink doesn’t matter.  Dr. Luther in his day lamented the same thing.  He wrote in his Large Catechism,

“We see that people seem weary and lazy about receiving the Sacrament… They act as though there were such strong Christians that they have no need of it.  Some pretend it is a matter of liberty and not necessary.  They pretend it is enough to believe without it.  For the most part, they go so far astray that they become quite brutish and finally despise both the Sacrament and God’s Word.” (LC, V 39ff)

Dear Christian friends, let us repent and return to Jesus, recognizing that no good thing, despite all the trappings of success, even in the life of faith, dwells in us.  Repentance means that we acknowledge that all we have and are comes not of our own effort but from God.  We must repent of our lukewarm faith.  As we do, the Holy Spirit, will set a fire within us, moving us to bold acts that confess God’s love for us, reflecting our love for God, and pouring out God’s love and the Gospel on our neighbors.

When we repent, we lose nothing but our pride and our sin and guilt.  In their place will be a peace of mind and heart as fresh as a spring morning after the rain.  Jesus, the only certainty, Jesus, the source of all creation, has come to meet our needs with real treasure. Through His victory over Satan, Jesus has won for us the golden streets of heaven. Through His blood spilled at Calvary, Jesus has won for us the white garments of His righteousness that covers the shame of our nakedness. Through His Holy Spirit, Jesus has taken away the blindness of our spirit, enabling us to see His glory, glory that makes all else pale in comparison.  In repentance, we will gain precious promises from Jesus: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).  But we will have nothing to boast about because the victory that gains the throne of heaven has been won for us by Jesus and becomes ours by faith.  Let us not delay!

So what ever became of the church in Laodicea?  Some of them heeded our Lord’s call. Two-and-a-half centuries after this letter, their church was still there and moderately important in the Christian world.  They had their own bishop.  Fifty years after Christianity was no longer an illegal religion in the Roman Empire, a regional church council met there in 363 and 364 AD.  They published a document called “The Canons of Laodicea.” In its sixty chapters, they made pronouncements about various heresies, when to celebrate Easter, the proper form of the liturgy, and, interestingly, how to observe Lent.  They even listed of all the documents they thought should be read in the churches.  Guess which one didn’t make the cut?  The Book of Revelation and its Letter to Laodicea.

And we have returned to the original temptation.  Did God really say…?  Is that how it is with us?  We would rather debate whether God has really said what is recorded in this book?  May it never be.  Let us repent and return to the Lord our God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have supper with him, and he with me.”  Aren’t you hungy?  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Re 3:14–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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