Below you will find the prepared sermon text for November 22, 2020, at Cleveland Drive Presbyterian Church. The theme of “overcoming spiritual sluggishness is not only fun to say, it is a much needed wake up call today. The lines in the text that are underlined are the fill-in-the-blanks that were on the insert in the bulletin. I just wanted to have them write the same thing several times. The video link on this page doesn’t work but you can open it in Facebook here.
For the purpose of internet search engines let me say the keyphrase a few more times: Spiritual sluggishness, spiritual sluggishness, spiritual sluggishness, spiritual sluggishness, spiritual sluggishness, spiritual sluggishness.
Ok, so maybe I chose the title “Overcoming Spiritual Sluggishness” because it sounds neat to say. That is the same reason that I like to say slothful rather than lazy – slothful is just a fun word too. But I’m not sure that slothful is quite the right word to describe the church in Sardis. It isn’t exactly slothfulness that is the problem but sluggishness. It isn’t exactly laziness that is the problem but lethargy. To be sluggish is the opposite of being alert or watchful. To be sluggish is to be slow-moving or inactive. To be sluggish is to be slow to respond or make progress. To be sluggish is to lack energy. It is a good word to describe many people at work on Monday mornings. Often the solution is to drink some sort of stimulant like coffee. But the church in Sardis wasn’t necessarily physically sluggish. For all we know they may have had lively church services, everyone may have had good knees, and they may have all been in top physical shape. No, they may not have been physically sluggish, but the church in Sardis was spiritually sluggish. The church in Sardis was spiritually inactive and dead. Hear Jesus tell it:
Jesus tells the spiritually sluggish to wake up.
The church in Sardis may have had the reputation of being spiritually alive, but the church was really spiritually dead and needed to wake up. In this way the church in Sardis reflected the culture of the city of Sardis for their city had been living off of its former fame but no longer had any. Thus the church had allowed the attitude of their culture to seep into the church as well. The answer for a church in such a dead condition like the church in Sardis is for them to indeed become alert or watchful. They have become spiritually sluggish for they are lethargic rather than alert and they are inactive rather than energetic. Thus Jesus says, “Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” He says, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Elsewhere Jesus has used this kind of language to encourage us to be prepared for Judgment Day. But this was a real threat, Jesus does not have to wait for the second coming in order to come against one of His churches when they aren’t ready. Jesus wanted the church in Sardis to wake up and be ready. (The situation in Sardis was not unlike the church in our region today.)
The culture of Western New York is depressed and that attitude has infected the church in this region, but we need to wake up. A large part of this depressed attitude is because of the fact that so many of the industrial jobs have left the area. Many pastors who are not from this area have made this remark to me, especially when I first moved here. In this way I think that Western New York has moved beyond Sardis, for the people of Sardis were living in denial – living off the former fame of their city – whereas the people of our region are convinced that the area is mostly dead with no future. But the church has no reason to despair if we are alert – if we wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die. We may say that we are spiritually alive, we may even have a reputation for being spiritually alive, but what is important is actually being spiritually alive instead of being spiritually sluggish. A spiritually alive church is awake and full of energy. (But we’re not talking about being full of energy in a generic sense – we’re talking about being full of energy for something very specific that the letters to these churches in Revelation all concern.)
Jesus tells us that to be spiritually alive is to be witnessing in the world.
Though there were people in the church in Sardis who were witnessing to Jesus in the world, the church as a whole was spiritually lethargic for they weren’t witnessing to Him in the world. Jesus said that the works that they started were not completed before God. Their works may have gained them applause from people, but not from God. Their witness was not complete. Some were likely keeping a low profile so as not to attract unwanted attention from the idolatrous society in which they lived, some went along to get along with participating in the idol worship of their city, and then still others you might not be able to tell apart from anyone else in the city. They weren’t going far enough. Jesus said, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” What they had received and heard was the word of God. The church in Sardis was not witnessing to their faith in Jesus for those living in their unbelieving culture to receive and hear like they had. Still Jesus says there were a few who are worthy. He says there are still a few names in Sardis of people who have not soiled their garments but will walk with Jesus in white for they are worthy. The color white is for purity and victory for these few faithful Christians will overcome through their pure witness to Jesus that is not soiled by participating in the idol worship of their city.
We know we are spiritually alive when we are witnessing to Jesus in the world. It might be tempting to be spiritually sluggish rather than to draw attention to the true and living God. It might even look to others like a church is alive when the church is feeding and clothing and housing the poor and all such good works, but without putting our energies into witnessing to Jesus those works might get applause from other people but those works aren’t completed before God. If you see any symptoms of spiritual sluggishness in your life, Jesus says to those who have an ear to hear to wake up and witness to Him. He promises to the one who believes in Him – you will be clothed in white garments and your name will never be blotted out of the book of life. Indeed, Jesus promises, “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Jesus has promised this before, in Matthew 10:32 He said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (KJV). Jesus probably adds the idea of confessing your name before the Father’s angels because Jesus is the one who has the seven stars. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (cf. Rev 1:20) that Jesus told John to write to. The faithful witness, Jesus, will witness to you. This is His promise to you, believe Jesus. For it isn’t the work of witnessing that makes you righteous before God, you are considered righteous by faith in Jesus and the one who is considered righteous by faith in Jesus will witness to Jesus. Truly the one who is righteous by faith in Jesus will live. To be alive, to be awake and energetic, is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. May God get the glory! Amen!