By David Baumann
A Reading from Revelation 2:8-17
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation provide messages from the risen and masterful Jesus to the seven churches named in the first chapter. They were real communities, and likely the messages were appropriate for these churches toward the end of the first century; yet the messages are also timeless, suitable for all churches at all times — which therefore includes our own, now.
The seven messages are comprised of commendations for fidelity and warnings for falling short, with firm calls to repent. The churches fall short by compromising with the world, tolerating heresy, and failing in moral standards. Two of the churches have only commendations (thumbs up!), and one has only a warning (gasp!). Each message ends with the promise of a reward for fidelity — a reward suitable for individual circumstances, but also of universal relevance:
The letter to the church in Smyrna is one of those that has only a commendation; it is addressed to Christians facing extreme and violent persecution, who therefore need to be reminded of Jesus’ title (“one who died and came to life again”), hear words of encouragement, and receive a promise of life as entered into through death. Jesus does not promise to prevent the deaths of his faithful people, but promises the crown of (eternal) life to those who endure even to the death of the body. Let us remember those today around the world who need this message of encouragement.
The church in Pergamum is tolerating two enemies: those who hold the teaching of Balaam and those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans — both having to do with pagan practices. Jesus urges them to be steadfast in correct doctrine. Likewise we ought to be sure that we are always holding the true Faith and not being carried away by secular or cultural convictions that oppose the teachings of the Church.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Thomas, Ky.
The Diocese of Ijebu South-West (Church of Nigeria – Anglican Communion)