I keep this figurine in a prominent spot near my front door to help remind me that I am not the only person responsible for the well-being of this church. And it is not just the angel and me, either. You have a responsibility for your church. What are we doing to make our church a better place to meet Jesus and grow in Christlikeness?
Our reading for today is from the Revelation to John. It is the first of seven letters written to the seven angels of seven churches in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, at the behest of Jesus. The seven letters comprise chapters two and three of the book.
This first letter is written to the angel of the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was, at the time this was written, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. It was a coastal port city near the mouth of the Kayster river. Ephesus was widely known as the center of worship of the fertility goddess Artemis. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was known a one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, you can still see the remains of the monumental Library of Celsus and a Roman theater capable of holding 25,000 spectators.
What does it mean that these seven letters (effectively prophetic messages since they are not separated from the Revelation) are addressed to angels and not to the people of each church?
Knowing that there is an angel (a messenger of God who, like humans, can be more or less faithful to God) responsible for each church is a reminder to us human beings that being a church is not just a human endeavor. Being a church means participating in the realm of heaven, acknowledging God as our king, serving the Risen Christ as our Lord, following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, and living in love with our neighbors. Angels are a part of the hierarchy above us and even though one day we will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3) for now they are over us. Here in Revelation 2–3, the angels are addressed, but the congregations are admonished to pay attention.
By reading Revelation 1 we can see that the entire vision, or revelation, is intended to be shared with all seven churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea). These may be seven churches with whom John had a special relationship before he was sent into exile on Patmos. They are most likely also representative of all churches in all places and at all times. (In the Bible the number seven represents completeness and/or perfection.)
The last verse of each letter contains this phrase: “If you have ears, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is a clear invitation for each of us to pay attention to what is said to the angels of each church – both the praises and the warnings. And since we are listening to what the Spirit says we are not just listening with our ears (physically) but also with our hearts (spiritually).
What is the Spirit saying to church of Sealy today?