St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
Matthew 23:1-12 (mentioned, but the main text is Revelation)
This morning we look at those who have fallen away, either in their love or in their actions. The love of God led the Pharisees into a strict life governed by rigid laws. And soon they began to love the legalism more than the one who led them to such a strict lifestyle.
The other reading, from Revelation looks at those who have fallen away for other reasons. The people in the Church in Ephesus did what they were supposed to do, but in the busy-ness of the days they had let go of that passion, that thing that made them fall in love with Jesus in the first place. And the John the Revelator brings up the Nicolaitans, followers of the deacon of Jerusalem Nicholas, one of the first 7 deacons. He lived a life of hedonism and debauchery and taught others to do the same. He was thought and taught his freedom in Christ was there to do “whatever.”
I have often thought of this phrase, “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” It is so hard to keep that first love alive. We grow complacent. We take things for granted. We let go of the little things first, and then we find over days how much we have let slide.
In my younger days, I thought I understood this. I thought I knew what it meant. But with the water that has gone under the bridge and the grey hairs on my temples, I see how easy it is to let things slip. To forego the drive that was our all in all in younger, more vibrant, more loving days.
Now do not project, or assume. My wife and I are fine. But like in all relationships there are cycles and seasons. There are times when stuff got in the way of “us.” The kids. Work. Travel. Life. And when that happens I have to look at this one I have chosen and who chose me and remind myself of the girl this boy could not live without three decades ago. I have to go back to that first love.
My relationship with Christ is all the more so. When life is going crazy, that is when I need to slow down and get away with Christ. When I am hurting, I need to turn to him first, not as a last resort. When I am afraid, I bind myself in his love and Grace and know that he is bigger than anything I face, and even in the face of death itself he is waiting on the other side of that door.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.
If I put Christ first, everything else falls into place. Or as Jesus himself put it, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
When we think of this place, our church, it is easy to think of it as the building, and all the upkeep it requires. Our church is not the building. I stand in the pulpit and I see the faces, some happy, some hurting, some attentive, some not. None of those faces are this church; all of them are. But the church is more than the faces. The image we are given today, when we are doing what Christ would have us do, we are a star shining in the hand of Christ, we are a lampstand shining in the darkness. We are Christ’s light, shining in this town. We are a lampstand, set high for all to see. That is what it looks like when we live fully into that first love, when we adore the Beloved, when we are adored by the Beloved. Amen.