A couple of rabbits were driving along in a car. The husband drove. The wife sat by her window. She recalled the days when they were first married. The two of them would sit so close together that she would have to shift for him. But gradually, over the years, they'd been sitting farther and farther apart. "What happened to those days?" she asked her husband. "Why do we sit so far apart, now?"
"I haven't moved." said the husband.
A moment later, she was shifting for him again.
Today, we're going to begin a series of seven sermons on the churches of the Revelation. Today, we begin with Ephesus.
Now some believe that Jesus' messages to the seven churches were to seven specific church bodies. Other believe that they were to church types. Still others that they were addressed to seven sequential church ages. Yet others believe as I do that all three are true. It doesn't really matter in the end. All of us are instructed to listen to all of them. Repeatedly in Revelation 2 and 3, we are told "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches."
Who here has at least one ear? I think Pulpit is the only one who has no ears.
Who here knows what "Ephesus" means? It means "Desirable." Ephesus had been a desirable church at one time. In paul's epistle to the Ephesians, the were commended for their love. (Chapter 1 verses 15 & 16)
Ephesus had a lot going for them as a church. Jesus commended them for their patience, their works, and their righteous indignation with evil. So what was it that had made their love grow cold?
While I can't look into the hearts of people who lived two millenia ago, I can hazard an educated guess.
Ever since the human race was first created, people have been making up rules. Take Eve, for example. Eve had been commnded not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But when the serpent asked her about it, she made up a new rule. Suddenly, she wasn't allowed to touch it.
Through the ages, people have continued to do this. For example, out in Podunk Baptist church, one pastor somewhere along the line said that it's bad to get drunk. Someone took this to heart and said "I won't drink at all!" The next thing you know, the congregation is making up a new rule. Now, it's been put into the church constitution that any member caught drinking alcahol will be immediately excommunicated or flogged with a wet woolen topcoat, depending on the mood of the head deacon.
In every age, you will find churches where rules have started to edge out love. I'm not going to name names, but liturgical churches are often among the worst. Don't get me wrong, they have some wonderful things going for them. Even during the darkest days of the church, the liturgical churches have cared for the poor and sick, kept the scriptures and spread the word of God. BUT...
Such churches have also had a history of making up rules and then persecuting those who did not comply with them. In fact, one of my ancestors was the last person to be executed for being an anabaptist.
Now I'm not saying that rules are bad. Rules are good for us, in the proper context. They teach us how to live and keep us from throttling one another. The problem comes when rules are more important than people. Remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees about that?
Luke 11:42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Now notice that He doesn't say there's anything wrong with what we would consider ridiculous legalism. If someone wants to give every tenth leaf of their herb to God, that's great! They should go for it, by all means! God doesn't mind hat at all. He thinks it's wonderful. If you want to wear a barbed-wire ankle bracelet in order to build up strength of character, that's wonderful! There are some monks who do just that. Just keep in mind that if you choose to live by such rules, these are YOUR rules. You can't expect others to live by them. Consider what Jesus said just a few verses later.
46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
Sounds uncomfortably like the way things are in my country. But this was the way things were in Jesus' time. The high holy hoity toities were always interpereting the law in oppressive ways and making them into rules which God never intended. Take for example the commandment not to boil a calf in its mother's milk. The jewish legal authorities expanded that law until one could not eat meat and dairy at the same time. A kosher home cannot even serve beef and cheese on the same PLATE. A kosher kitchen must have one set of dishes for dairy and another set for meat. As the old proverb goes: "Beaurocrats cause expense."
Of course, that rule merely causes inconvenience and costs money. Other groups have rules which cut a lot deeper. Does anyone here belong to the Missouri synod of the Lutheran church? If so, I applaud the fact that you are even here. The Missouri synod has taken the command not to be yoked together with unbelievers to an unhealthy extreme. I don't mean to pick on the Lutherans here, but this is something which any sermon on this topic must address. The Missouri Synod has a list of umpteen points of dogma. Some of them are crucial to the faith. Some are trivial. Some are wrong. Yet if any Christian does not agree with every single point on this list, the lutherans beonging to this synod may not associate with them. They may not even sit on the same pew with them. It is quite all right for them to fraternize with non-christians, mind you. He can sit in the same pew as an atheist. But he must treat his Christian brother with contempt.
Do you have a family member who has cut themselves off from you? I do. This person has taken it upon herself to hate the rest of the family by reason of color. I still love this woman very dearly, and it hurts that she will not speak to us or even let us know where she is. It is because I love her that I find her actions detestable. In the same way, I love my fellow Christians, but I cannot condone the practice of the aforementioned church.
Paul addressed such behavior quite specifically. Denominationalism was a problem that was causing divisions in the Corinthian church. Paul condemned this practice for several reasons. The first was because it brought dishonor to God's name. The second was because it ran contrary to the love people were supposed to have for one another.
And you know something? I'm as guilty as the rest of them. I once told someone that they didn't belong in the CFF because we differed in our interperetations of Revelation. My thinking was that if we're reading the same bible and led by the same Spirit, we should come to the same conclusions, right? So obviously, he was either reading a different bible or not listening to the spirit. And while I still get frustrated with those with whom I disagree and can't reason with until we reach a consensus, I know now that I was very wrong. The fact is that we mortals suffer from the stupidity of youth for our entire short lifespans. Sometimes we get ideas in our heads that get in the way of truth. Sometimes it's the other person's fault. Sometimes it's going to be mine. But one does not have to have 100% of his facts straight to love God. I have come to realize (and I hope he has too) that we both belong here, regardless of which course of history unfolds in the future. Since then, we have developed a deeper relationship and enjoyed serving our Lord together, as brothers.
The lesson we can take away from Ephesus? Well, honestly, I think we're already practicing it. But it is good to be reminded. We need to keep in mind that people are the reason for rules, not the other way around. as Jesus said, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." And I am fairly pleased with what I have seen here so far.
Today's reading: Revelation 2:1-7
2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.