A “Good” Reputation

By David Baumann

A Reading from Revelation 3:1-6

1 “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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.


When we read the message to the church in Sardis, we might say, sorrowfully, “It doesn’t look so good.” But that’s the problem: it does look good, but it’s not good at all: “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (3:1).

I remember a story about an artist who had been commissioned to paint a picture of a church that was in ruins. When his canvas was revealed, it showed the interior of a magnificent church with sparkling stained-glass windows, a lovely sanctuary, and a large congregation. The viewers were puzzled until one of them looked closely and said, “Aha!” He had noticed that the opening to the poor box was covered with spider webs.

There are many congregations today that may have fine social ministries, are well thought of in their community, are rightly proud of a long history, whose classes are scholarly, or whose finances are admirable, and yet Jesus is little known, and his salvation rarely preached. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

In this lesson we see again the need to “follow through” in our commitment to the Lord. Jesus’ title, the one “who holds the seven spirits of God,” means the one who truly knows the hearts of all. It is part of our imperfect, even if redeemed, human nature to weaken; Christian commitment is in constant need of renewal. The church in Sardis had become stagnant without knowing it, and the crux of the message to the congregation there — and to us — is, “Wake up!”

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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Today we pray for:

Christ and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, New York, N.Y.
The Missionary Diocese of Ijesha North (Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion)

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