We’ve been going through a sermon series on Life in the Church. Last week we took a bit of a break for remembrance day. This week were are getting back to the Book of the Revelation. We’ve just heard Jesus sixth letter to the Church in Philadelphia. Of all the seven letters, I would want our church to receive this one.
Why - because Jesus has nothing against this church, there is nothing but support here. This church had been going through a rough time. It seems they were experiencing a lot of closed doors but they were keeping the faith And Christ recognized them with a beautiful promise.
Have you ever felt the door to real life has been shut on you? It happens, to individuals, it happens to groups of people too. When it happens the effects can be devastating. Earlier this year I met a young woman who was full of life. In fact she still is full of life but she is now going through a major challenge. She is in her early 20’s with the world in front of her. She loves theatre and acting and was enrolled in a University fine arts program.
She is the type of person that most people would want to be around:
Positive attitude, bright, active, attractive.
She loves her parents too and enjoys spending time with them. I used to see her taking a daily bike ride with her dad. The joy on both their faces was amazing to see! Like all young people she had problems and challenges too
trouble with school, people, work all those normal things. But until this June there was nothing serious enough to stop her. She had clouds in her life and gloomy days, a few thunder storms but nothing that loomed large.
Nothing that is until earlier this year when out off the blue she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. In the space of 24 hours everything changed. One day she was riding her bicycle on a warm spring day. The next she was admitted to hospital for immediate and intense chemo treatment. Thankfully she is able to live with her parents and her prognosis is pretty good in the long run. At her age treatments for her specific type of Leukaemia have a high rate of success. However, she has a great battle in front of her,
at least 18 months or more of treatment. And Everything has changed - many doors to her life are now closed.
Hopefully its just temporary - but it is very real. Her body is extremely vulnerable to colds flues and virus’s,
so she has limited contact friends and family; her formal education is on hold; and travel and employment is out for the time being.
Very tough… a difficult story. Life is unpredictable and there are a lot of challenging circumstances out there
Not just life threatening illness that affect individuals, but accidents, fires, tropical storms, pandemics,
wars, and economic policies; doors have closed for communities and entire groups of people.
Take for example Refugees in the world out there. People who have been forced to leave their homes and have no present address. There are more than 25 million refugees across the world. It happens Canada and in our own city too: There are officially over 3,600 homeless people in the lower mainland. That does not even begin to count the people that still have homes but are shut out of life for a variety of other reasons: poverty, health, disability from aging. And when a door is closed can make us wonder: Is there a really a God out there?
And if there is does God really care about us? Is God shutting the door on our life or something else?
If not God then why did he let it happen? And now that it has happened why isn’t God helping in more tangible ways. For those who have faith it can be very frustrating too. Some turn to the church and get no help.
And so they ask why isn’t the Church helping out? What is worse is that sometimes God’s people themselves
get caught up in closing the doors to life . The Church is supposed to be a place where people do not get shut out.
We are both the recipients of God’s love and the ones who get the opportunity to share it with the world.
But sometimes fear keeps us cooped up inside closed doors. It happened in the ancient world as well.
In ancient Philadelphia doors closed quickly and severely for the followers of Jesus. Like Jesus himself, and the original 12 disciples, most of the early Christians were Jews. In fact most of Church growth for the first 100 years was at the Synagogue. But some Jews considered faith in Jesus to be scandalous, they felt it was idolatrous to give a man status equal to God even if he was resurrected from the dead, they felt it was blasphemy - a sin against God So they closed their doors and shut people out.
They made Christians scapegoats and encouraged the Roman Persecutions.It is no wonder Jesus called them the Synagog of Satan! They were pretending to be God’s people but not acting like God’s people should.
It is a grievous sin to assume you are the hand of God and close the door on anyone who really is
trying to follow the living God. But that is is a sermon for a different day.
The point is the Church in Philadelphia was under constant persecution. Both from the Romans and from the Jewish Synagog. Their surrounding community was closing all the doors to life. But Jesus was with them in a big way: “I know your deeds, I know that you have little power and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” He understood their situation well, He had been through it himself.
Yes his words were bold - loud, even shocking. This is not the gentle Jesus many of us know God to be. Those liars were not the authority on God and neither were the Romans.
But he is Jesus is the one who has the keys and he has the power to open the gates of heaven
and no one else can shut them. Jesus has the power to close them too, and no one else can open them.
But he had no intention of shutting the door on these people. They were the ones who opened their doors to the poor and the hungry.
They were the ones who helped anyone who needed it. They were the ones who continued to love
even as many of their own were taken away. Life was difficult for these people.
They did had no control of their coming and going. More often than not they were in the hands of their enemies
and their enemies were not treating them well. Philadelphia was the Okanagan valley of ancient Turkey.
The surrounding fields were covered in grape vines. Those who towed the line were aloud to keep their vineyards,
those who did not, lost everything beginning with the destruction of the grape vines and ending with their lives themselves. Despite it all they held fast to God’s word.
And so Jesus made it clear
“Behold, I have set before you an open door that no one is able to shut.”
Yes this was and is the door of Salvation -
It is an assurance of Belonging, security, honour, and the promise of Justice.
and Yes it is good news for them and for us too.
Because these words have power in them even if you are powerless. If you believe in the one who speaks them
they can rid you of many fears and terrors. In Christ you know you belong.
If you have had some bad experiences and been hurt by the Church these words are for you.
The Church makes mistakes but Jesus doesn’t And he is the one with the power to keep that door open.
If you have made your own mistakes, or if you have suffered unjustly and wondered why, these words are for you too. Let this message calm your nervous uncertainties about your own destiny. The door is open. You may not have a lot of power in this world but you still have the power to come through.
And once you have entered in you will never leave. There is no condemnation in Christ.
And the enemy cannot follow. You are safe in life and also in death. But that is the catch.
In this world we are not always in control of our lives - in this world the enemy can and does much damage.
And in Christ there is no deliverance from death or hardship. But there is no reason to fear death itself. Even through death this door remains open and no one else but Christ can shut it.
You know I have a personal story to share with you about my faith journey and that phrase "The door is open."
One of the reasons I decided to go on this long journey of life in Christ is because I had a dream and in that dream Christ spoke to me All he said was, “The door is open.” That is all he said - the door is open.
nothing more nothing less. I’m not telling you this because I think it makes me more special than any of you.
I tell you this because I believe God is alive speaks to us all. I’m telling you this because I’m convinced my dream was real.It’s not easy to come out and say this - There is so much scepticism in the word today about God.
I sometimes wonder about my own sanity and a dream like this. Sometimes I think it is crazy to imagine that God
would actually speak a small insignificant human being like me. But I believe Jesus did speak to me,
I believe he spoke to the early Church in Philadelphia and I believe these words are important for you too.
“I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.”
No matter where you are in your life, no matter what your challenge is
This door is open for you and its open for all who seek truth
in the midst of the challenges of life -
and yes some of them are horrible.
But the door is open - there is hope even when there is no apparent hope around.
There is life even when we are shut out of this life
and we have the power to act even when our actions are powerless.
God is with us, God knows our grief, our struggles.
God offers nothing but support to those who hold fast to his word
and don’t deny his name.
So hold on. Hold fast to what you have so that no one may seize your crown