It might be easy for us to shake our heads at Sardis and wonder how they became the church that needed a strong warning from the Divine… but, if we’re being honest, I think most of us would be perfectly comfortable at the church in Sardis.
The Christians at Sardis had a good reputation. The community spoke well of them. By all accounts, they seemed to have their act together and were likable people. They were an influential church in an important city.
I’d like to think that I have a good reputation in my community. I don’t drink. I don’t use drugs. I don’t smoke (not since my early twenties, anyway.) I don’t sleep around. I don’t waste my evenings at places of “ill-repute.” I try to live by a high standard of kindness and compassion. I try to be friendly, even to the people who might rub me the wrong way.
I’d like to think that when the people of my community speak about me that they might be likely to use the words “good” and “Christian” in their description of me.
And this is exactly why I must pay extra-close attention to the warnings spoken to Sardis.
Having others speak well of us is not an adequate measure of faith or of faithfulness to God.
I need look no further than to the subject of the entire New Testament itself: Jesus the Christ.
Detested by people in power, jeered by a crowd of his peers at his trial before Pilate, once threatened with a stoning, questioned, doubted, and eventually crucified, he would have failed the test of faithfulness that many of us use today. “Good” Christians don’t cause a riot in the temple. “Good” people don’t get crucified with common criminals.
Lent is a time when we can hear Jesus’ words to us loud and clear:
We must wake up from the hypnotic dream that a good reputation is enough. We must wake up from our place of contentment. We must wake up from our complicity through silence and inaction. We must wake up and see that, like the church at Sardis, we haven’t finished the work God has entrusted to us.
Wake up! Look around.
Are there people suffering in our midst? Are there people experiencing poverty? Are there people so crushed and broken by injustice that they would welcome death? Is there injustice? Is there violence? Is there cruelty?
Our work is not done.
So let us wake up and get back to work.
In what ways have you been sleeping? What work has God set before you that you haven’t done yet?