To read & pray along with this morning's daily office in its entirety, click here. This morning, my reflection is on the New Testament reading from Revelation 2:1-7:
'To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
I've come a long way from where I started. I don't believe in a God who is out to get me anymore. A book like Revelation makes me wonder at the beauty of God now, instead of making me wonder about the security of my personal salvation. There are so many ways now I read this magnificent book differently than I did.
But this text is still disconcerting to me, if for different reasons than I had to be disturbed when I was young. I still remember preaching this passage at Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Shelby, NC, my second sermon. It was a young man's fiery hot sermon, about the fiery hot love for God I was always trying to find inside myself but could not sustain. It had to do with flames of emotion, a flame I probably still believed I needed to work up in myself, then. It had a lot to do with feeling, which would have been the only way I would have known how to speak of love at the time. Now it strikes me as ludicrous that Christ would admonish us to somehow find a way to keep our emotions for God running hot and high, as if that had anything to do with the life of faith. I'm sure at that point, I was still reading a text like this in fear that having my lampstand removed would be synonymous with having my salvation revoked-a consequence for letting the flame of my feelings for God burn to low.
It's still just as sobering now to think about having my lampstand removed, but I don't think that's synonymous with salvation--I think it's about light and influence. This scenario strikes up a kind of fear in me now, not for the sake of my own soul per se, but for the sake of the world. What happens if the salt loses its saltiness, if the light of the world seemingly "goes out" insofar that it was once inside of us? I see now that this was never really about "personal" witness to begin with, per se--but words addressed to a church, to a body of believers, about the real possibility of compromising a corporate witness.
I can't help but wonder, as a product of the Church in North America, if these aren't the days in which our lampstand is being removed. I can't help but wonder if it's not the devil nor the world that is putting our light out--but God. I wonder if, in an odd way, this too might not be a kind of mercy, for a light that does not burn true to be removed rather than cast a sickly florescent glow onto the world.
If any of that is true--what might repentance look like? What does it mean to say we might have abandoned the love we had at first, and what might it mean to "do our first works over?"
Surely it has nothing to do with feeling for God. Surely it has nothing to do with emotion.
Evidently, it has everything to do with that word Protestants dread so very deeply--"works."
And what kind of works, has Christ ever looked for, if not works that embody his care for those on the margins? What kind of people are the works of God extended to, except for those outside the gates of the city?
What kind of option would a God of perfect love be left with, for a people that not only refuse to care for the poor, the alien, the stranger, the refugee--but actively vilify and demonize them? Might the only merciful thing be to remove their lampstand, to extinguish their "light?"
Perhaps God loves the world too much, to allow a church that is not based on works of love to continue to burn any longer. Perhaps removing our lampstand, is the only way God can save the world from us.
I hope it's not yet too late, for us to do our first works over.