‘And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens:
‘I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
I’m a sucker for competitive cookery programmes on the TV. Some of it is about food that I’ll never cook myself, but part of the attraction is the interaction between competitors and judges; the reactions to praise and criticism. The good points of a dish are commented on, then a pause, and a “…but…” Some competitors hear both parts, many ignore the positive, and only hear the bad. Just a few (mostly men) manage to ignore the negatives completely and just hear the compliments.
The letters to the churches in Revelation follow a pattern of encouragement, criticism and opportunity to change. But this letter, to the church in Philadelphia, is unique in only containing praise and challenge – no negatives. They are not the strongest church, but they are committed and steadfast. They are loved by God. They have ‘hung on in there’ patiently. Writing in the context of ongoing lockdown, praise for ‘patient endurance’ seems particularly relevant. What we have been coping with is very different from the trials of the early church, but endurance is still a Christian virtue to be developed. Have we – have I – kept God’s word and not denied God’s name?
The church in Philadelphia is promised ‘an open door’. By the time you read this, hopefully far more doors will be open than have been for many months. What will open doors mean for us? If they are simply open to let the insiders back, then we will have failed. The open door has to involve us leaving the buildings and getting outside into the world.
Listen to the encouragement of this letter, but take up the challenge too. We may have little power, but the opportunities of open doors are there for us to grasp. Hear God’s encouragement. Make the most of every opportunity.
Loving God, open our ears to your encouragement and your challenge. Give us the confidence we need to go out through the doors you open and share your story, and your love beyond the confines of our buildings – beyond the confines of our limited imaginations. Amen.
The Rev’d Clare Downing, Moderator of Wessex Synod and General Assembly Moderator