Sermons

And Then There Were None

It’s mother’s day and it’s a good day to remember that parenting is hard.

I always wonder if I am the only one who feels this way.

Or is it that every father of an eleven-year-old daughter hears the constant refrain, “Oh, just wait. You’re going to be miserable in a few years when the boys come calling.” Look, I know we mean really positive things when we say that, but I wonder… does this say something we don’t mean as well?

I always wonder if I’m the only one who remembers growing up differently. Am I the only one who remembers dating as an awesome experience? Am I the only one who would be desperately sad if someone took that part of my life out of my head and locked it in a box? It was an important time in which I began to figure out who I was going to be. What kind of man was I going to grow into? I made important mistakes that have shaped my life forever. And so, I begin to wonder, why I, as a father, am supposed to be miserable about my daughter having some of those same experiences.

So, a couple of weeks ago, there I am in the orthodontist’s office and one of the assistants repeated the thing I always hear: “Oh, just wait. You’re going to be miserable in a few years when the boys come calling.” And I paused, and breathed, and couldn’t help myself, and said, “You know… that might be true, but I had a great time dating while I was growing up and I wouldn’t want my daughter to miss out on what I had.” Immediately, it looked like she had eaten a frog.

It’s not that I don’t understand where people are coming from; it’s not that I don’t hear the compliment that lives in those words; it’s just that I realize that there is a deeper truth in those words that speak to the fact that there might be something deep in me that wants to keep my daughter 11 years old forever. And, in that case, what I want needs to die so that she might live her best life.

Last week we talked about idolatry and not worshiping the things that kill us. The truth is: We often want the things that wither us or other people – even people that we love. We want the things that make us smaller, not the things that expand our hearts. We want the things that isolate us, not the things that expand our compassion by spending time with people unlike us. We want things to stay the same, no matter the cost to health, happiness, or eternity. We want things to stay the same.

That’s the truth behind the statement: “Oh, just wait. You’re going to be miserable in a few years when the boys come calling.” Do people really think that fathers don’t want their daughters to experience love? Of course not.

The truth is: our deepest inclinations tell us to do everything in our power keep things exactly as they are. I notice for myself, as I get older, that I think back to the most important moments in my life and something screams internally that I have to turn backward… bring myself, bring my family, bring my Church back to a day of its former glory. My first thought is that the future will always be darker than my rose-colored, imagined past.

Everything within us screams to keep things the same, but Christ calls us to change everything because to lift up the present, or the past, as perfect, as being exactly what we want, is to commit idolatry… to make our current condition or our past into our god. So, in some ways, may our prayer be: “Lord Jesus, please don’t give me what I want.”

The Slovenian philosopher and social theorist, Slavoj Zizek, is known to say, “The worst thing that can happen to us is to get exactly what we desire.”

Desire is a funny thing. The thing about desire is that sometimes we don’t know what we want and it has to be pointed out to us. In the movie Harry Potter, Harry finds a mirror called the Mirror of Erised that shows exactly what a person’s heart’s desire is. Only Harry doesn’t understand what the mirror does.

Desire is a funny thing. Harry wanted one thing. His red-haired friend, Ron, wanted another. “The worst thing that can happen to us is to get exactly what we desire.”

The church in Thyatira wanted one thing. God wanted another. When we follow God, we can be freed from wrongheaded desires; freed for God’s desire for us. As you hear the scripture read, listen for the ways God is calling us beyond our desires and into his desires for us. Hear now the word of God.

Revelation 1:1-4, 2:18-29

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servantswhat must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne…

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come. To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Did you hear it? Did you hear how Thyatira wanted to follow the mythical Jezebel and not their God? The theme continues this week that we consistently have in Revelation. in that Revelation is 1) an inside joke; 2) a theological repair service; and 3) prophecy. And another theme is emerging: Stay away from idolatry in all its forms.

Jezebel, and making her an idol, is an inside joke that we don’t get because it hasn’t made its way through history to us. She is a conundrum. We don’t really know who she is for John of Patmos, the author. And when we remember the original Jezebel, Ahab’s wife from 2 Kings, it makes it even more confusing.

Because of her, John is really messing with us today, in the 21st century. He calls this Jezebel a false prophet, but the original Jezebel never had any skill in prophecy, as far as we know. Perhaps John is just being lazy, naming this person that everyone would agree is a bad person. My dad always tells me that growing up in the south in the 1950s, the worst name a girl could ever be called was Jezebel.

It’s probably like the way that we invoke the name of Hitler to win arguments; like if we call someone Hitler, everyone knows who we mean and that they must be awful. Like political cartoonists, since 1945, will take the face of whatever president and put a little mustache on his face. It’s effective, but it’s lazy. My friends and I have a rule: if you use Hitler to win an argument, you automatically lose. You can’t be that lazy and still win. Maybe John has been lazy in using Jezebel, or could there be something deeper? Seeking to hear the story of this Jezebel and the city of Thyatira can help lead us away from our idolatry.

So we don’t know who this Jezebel is, but we know that she is leading the church in Thyatira astray. She’s bringing with her a theology that needs repair. But, maybe the best way to think about how this bad theology could emerge would be to start with the history we do know.

We know that Thyatira was full of skilled workers and artisans. We know that it was a guild culture. They were connected together by their labor. The leatherworkers would have spent time with leatherworkers. The potters would have spent time with the potters. The carpenters the same. On and on,and  they would have spent time together in the guild meeting.

If you weren’t in the guild, you didn’t have a job anymore. And there was no welfare or social security – your guild would have been the people who would have taken care of you if something bad happened. This was your support system.

But the guild meeting was also a place of wine, women, and song, to use an old term. John says it this way, ‘she teaches you to practice fornication and to eat meat sacrificed to other gods.’ This would have been a core part of being in a guild. And if these new Christians withdraw, their career is over. If being Christian meant never going back to the guild, they would have had to give up everything to follow Christ.

It would have been much easier to go along to get along. That’s our deepest temptation as well. Lately, every time I have a conversation about the direction of our global church, our western jurisdiction, or just creating an inclusive church that looks like our community, I hear from people, “Matt, you’re just drinking the Kool-Aid of our culture. You’re just doing what’s easy.”

Look, I want you to hear as clearly as possible my commitment to do what God calls me to do, even if I have to lose everything because none of it is mine. It’s built not on me, but on what God has given to me… and if my following God makes me lose everything, so be it.

But, it’s not an easy path. I can just imagine being in Thyratira and realizing that God asked me to leave everything behind and not wanting to. But I’d rather throw everything in the trash than to be a person who lives his life counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the who calls us away from idolatry and into a life that opens our hearts and never closes our minds.

I guess it’s possible that we’ll be kicked out of the guild called United Methodist at some point. I could be kicked out at some point, but we have to follow the call God has given to us to make disciples of everyone, no matter the cost.

And that’s the prophecy as I see it: There is always the temptation to compromise our call. When the guild comes calling and tells you not to follow the heart of faith in Christ that calls you away from what’s popular and into a different kind of life and a different kind of guild, we must always choose Christ.

That’s the prophecy that was true, is true, and will always be true (prophecy is always true or it’s not actually prophecy)… that’s the true prophecy: Choose Christ no matter what the world, no matter what the guild, might say. That’s the adventure we choose: Do we go along to get along? Or do we follow what God desires for us? Lord Jesus, may we not get what we want!

May that be the heart of our desire. Not that we would limit or keep things the same just to keep them the same (Remember, Christ himself changed everything for his time and for ours)… may we not remain the same. May Christ lead us beyond our desires and into his. “Lord, Jesus, don’t let us get what we want; let us get what you want.” Let us pray…