Revelation 3:1-6, 7-13
Sardis and Philadelphia
My favourite fast food burger place is Harvey’s. Because since time immemorial they have been willing to make my burger a beautiful thing. It’s My Burger, My Way. And I don’t like ketchup. So at other fast food burger places I would have to wait at the side, clearly in the way, while they made a special burger for me. But at Harvey’s I could say I would like lettuce and tomatoes, no onion, and hot peppers, no pickle, mustard and mayonnaise. And then when I wanted my burger, my way, without the meat Harvey’s was on board with the veggie burger – possibly the first fast food place to do that and they still do. Also they have onion rings (good ones) and if my way is that I can’t decide between onion rings and fries I can get both: they call that Frings.
We live in a world where we have learned that we can and should be able to get what we want when we want it, how we want and where we want it. With no particular cost to us, because the people who want to sell us stuff whether it’s a burger, a car, a house, a political platform or a spirituality have figured out that if they make it personalized and convenient and make sure we feel special for getting it then we’ll pay more and appreciate more.
But church – most world religions, really, probably all in spite of the Tao of Pooh and the popularity of the Jewish Kabbalah with various celebrities a few years ago – aren’t like that.
We come to church for different reasons that we go for a burger. Usually because we’ve always come or we’re looking for something – authentic community, meaning, hope, something to do on Sunday morning – and discover a glimpse of that, and maybe as a bonus that God is love and God loves us and here is a place where we are appreciated as we are. So we end up staying because being here makes us happy and – maybe, I hope – strengthens our self-worth in a world where we are too often appreciated for what we can buy and how we present ourselves with what we can buy. And maybe because we feel like God has a little extra care for us and will give us a little extra protection against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
We discover in the process of staying because we feel happy and loved and uplifted, the church is even more not like a fast food joint than we thought. It’s about the Kingdom of God.
“Remember,” the letter to the angel of the church at Sardis says, “Remember what you received.” What did they receive? What was the world that got the early Christians so excited that they were willing to leave behind family and friends and face ridicule and ostracism and persecution and death?
“The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus – not Caesar – is Lord.” It’s not “My Kingdom, My Way”. It’s God’s Kingdom, God’s way.
We call it the Kindom of God here – at least when we say the prayer of Jesus together we do. We do that to get it away from earthly power structures of monarchy – historically possibly corrupt or tyrannical, currently sometimes apparently or effectively powerless – and concepts of government that too often seems to be for sale to the highest bidding lobbyist or trying to pander to too many perceived wants and needs of too many different groups to be able to work for justice, peace and orderly good government.
But it’s also a bad idea to separate ourselves from that original phrase “the Kingdom of God” was to set that against those corrupt, tyrannical, self-indulgent and for sale systems of government which were the norm then and often are now, when the people being governed can be threatened by violence, ignored until their votes are needed, bribed with tax cuts or promised programs, lied to with statistics and alternative facts, and generally distracted from seeing what is really going on.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand and Jesus is Lord – not Global Corporations, not convenience, not Trump or racism or bigotry or self-interest, but Jesus” is a rallying cry for anyone who wants to be part of reimagining the world not into My Way but into God’s Way, and calling us all to work not for my benefit or yours or even ours, but for the common good.
Sure it’s harder. When was God ever inclined to make life simple? Except for that Love God, Love your Neighbour, Love Yourself thing which I think we’ve managed to complicate as effectively as the lawyer who asked Jesus “Okay but who is my neighbour?” Only we start with How Best to Love Myself? Because only then can I love my neighbour – and I can buy lots of ways to love myself. (By the way if you’re exhausted and on the brink of giving up on that neighbour, it might be time for some self-love.)
For many of us, too much of the time, there are too many ways to have it our way. It becomes hard to focus on a common good that is beyond my burger, my home, my life, my news, my way. There are too many distractions and we have trouble remembering what we first received: the Kingdom of God, the place we belong and our challenged to be more – not for us, but for that Kingdom. Because the Kingdom of God is at hand – Transformation is possible. Jesus is Lord. But if you need a burger the closest Harvey’s is in Port Coquitlam.