Egypt is also a reminder that God’s people often have very short memories. It was only a brief time after their deliverance that they began to complain about the lack of variety of their provisions in the wilderness “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic,” they grumbled. Once they were safely established in the Land of Promise they also quickly forgot the bondage under which they had suffered in Egypt and began to embrace the very same pattern of life that they had escaped. The lure of attractive pagan religious ceremonies and the endless cycle of fertility cults, ensnared the people of God. They failed to recall the words declared to Moses on Mount Sinai, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”
Time and time again God sent prophets to warn his people of the grave consequences of following false gods that surrounded them with their deceptive claims. God also warned them repeatedly that they could not bow the knee to Baal, the god of pagan culture one day and the next day make a pretence of being a faithful disciple of the God of Abraham.
The prophet Jeremiah gave this sharp warning, “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” …if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”
Jeremiah presents a warning that is timeless and always contemporary because if our profession of faith is not matched with actions of faithfulness we will also find ourselves back in the land of bondage where our message has no meaning for a sick and spiritually bankrupt world and our lives with no transforming power. We can have all the seemingly godly heritage, all of the historical and religious symbols but if we fail to obey God’s call to a holy, faithful lives we will be like withering grass that is simply blown out by the devastating wind of the age.
When John wrote his inspired letters to the early churches he gave them a similar message. His message to the Church in Sardis is perhaps the most poignant. Sardis was a city with a remarkable history. Prior to the great earthquake in 17 AD it was renowned for its worship of the goddess Cybele. Sardis was a name of contempt. Its people were notoriously loose living, notoriously pleasure-and luxury loving. After the earthquake it embraced the cult of emperor worship. Sardis was a city of the decadence. It was costly to become a disciple of Jesus Christ and even more difficult to resist the syncretism that beckoned at every turn. John writes, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.”
All through our gathering at the recently concluded Primates’ meeting I kept wondering whether we were the ones to whom John was writing. We have a glorious reputation – a worldwide communion of millions with a glorious history and beautiful heritage, fluid structures, grand cathedrals, “infallible” canons, historical ecclesiology and ‘flexible’ hermeneutics – but we are in danger of forgetting what we have received and heard and replacing it with the seemingly attractive gods and goddesses of our age. We are in danger of becoming the ‘living dead’ by giving the outward appearance of life but in reality we are no more than empty and ineffective vessels. In parts of our Communion some have merged the historical gospel message of Jesus the Christ with seductive ancient heresies and revisionist agendas, which have resulted in an adulterated and dangerous distortion of the gospel. The call to obedience and repentance is one that we must declare but we refuse and instead we replace it with a polite invitation to empty tolerance and endless conversation. Sometimes we think that we can replace the need for repentance with activities, programmes, endless meetings, conventions and communiqués --- we are wrong!
Our world is in turmoil desperately looking for hope and we have been given that hope in the life and person of Jesus the Christ who sets us free from the slavery of sin to the new life of the Spirit --- that is our message, that is our assurance, that is the holy life to which we have been called. It is a life of costly commitment where we reject the false gods and promises of this present age and embrace the one true God and His righteous claims upon our lives. It is a life of obedience to the revealed Word of God which must never be compromised. It is a gospel message which is to be fully proclaimed unfettered and undiluted. It is a life worth living and a life worth dying for. It is a life of true freedom that was birthed in this land and one we dare not forget.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent!”May the Lord save our beloved Communion.