‘And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works; you have a name for being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is at the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
The writer addresses the angel of the church in Sardis, who is probably the church leader. The verdict on him and the church is dire. They have a reputation for being alive, but actually they are dead. The energy has left them. There are a few who are faithful, but the majority are not keeping to Jesus’ teaching.
We can’t know what caused the sapping of the energy that once pulsed through this angel and his church. Today we can see energy being sapped by the pandemic, aging and decreasing congregations, red tape, and secularisation, amongst other things.
The news from Sardis was not all bad though. It seems that the possibility of renewal is there and that there are a few faithful folk to start the work.
Maybe one of the difficulties facing the church was its strong reputation. It’s too much to live up to and the church is unlikely to return to what it once was, given present circumstances and the small number of faithful people. That in itself could be weighing them down.
But resuscitating the past is not what is called for. The writer is not expecting the church to fit a certain pattern. Instead the remnant are being called to live the Gospel in their present circumstances: to be faithful and to trust God to spark new life, which could be quite different from what went before.
To do this they will need to put behind them their past glories and to live in the present, day by day, following the teaching of Jesus and giving thanks for what is possible now. If we can do the same, then we too may find the spark of new life and we will certainly be living up to our calling.
Living and loving God, Help us to be faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Grant us the courage to look forward, leaving the past behind us. Kindle the spark of new life, as we step beyond the pandemic to follow you once more. Thanks be to God, Amen.
The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership