Rev. 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
Rev. 2:2 “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The city of Ephesus was an amazing place with the temple of Artemis and all that she had to offer. This was a place famous for providing refuge for fugitives, but the situation was abused and the region around the temple became known as a criminal sanctuary and a headquarters for organized crime.
The Christians of the city worked hard to minister to those who who found themselves around the decaying margins of society. The Ephesian Christians persevered in their faith by ministering to the needy, but also in overcoming false teachers.
It could be however, that their desire for theological “purity” soon began to outweigh the ministry on the margins. Could it be that the loss of love for others resulted in a loss of love for Christ? Jesus, in his preaching, constantly brought the people back to the place where they would understand that Loving God and Loving Others were intrinsically connected. The Ephesian Christians got to a place where they hated the practices of those who erred, but somehow this grew into a hatred of those who erred. Their faith became perverted as they veered from the trajectory which would have led them to the continual and ongoing redeeming love of God which was found in Christ Jesus.
By not loving others, they rejected Jesus. They also began to believe that they were better than those who were living in the sin-filled shadow of the Artemis’ Temple. The lampstand, the very presence of Jesus was in their midst but if they didn’t love him and love others, he would come and move it! There had to be actions that coincided with their repentance and this repentance included a return to ministering in the dark places of society from which they themselves had come. Without this action, their love would be forever lost.
We are spending our holiday in Flint, Michigan with our children. Our youngest daughter, Cara and her husband Justin serve on staff at a church here in town. Some people have asked them why they would want to move to such a city as Flint! A report from “Business Insider” in June 2013 reported, “We've been ranking America's most dangerous cities for several years, and there's one city that keeps making the top of the list — Flint, Michigan.” Read more. In reality, it could be viewed as a rather depressing place.
We spent time today driving through the downtown and then into some of the areas which have suffered as a result of the downturn in car manufacturing which used to rule this city. There is the entire space along the river where the Buick factory used to exist. Today it is a brownfield — the largest one in North America, with just barren ground and a fence around it. North of downtown are the now decaying neighborhoods that used to be bustling centers of family life. Since 1960 half the population of Flint has left. There are far too many houses and not enough people. House after house is boarded up, burned or simply sits in ruins.
|Housing in a neighborhood of Flint|
What happened to this city?
After arriving home I thought I would read up on the religious history of Flint. Many towns in North America were founded by religious groups coming for the sake of ministry or freedom to worship. That doesn’t seem to be the case for Flint where it was established as a trading center along the Flint river. However, religious groups soon came and ministered to those here on the frontier and established missions to the native peoples. Eventually the city became more established and churches were built along the downtown streets with a clarion call for those within the city to come and worship the Lord. A religious history of the county, written nearly 100 years ago seems to have prophetic words. “So those of like faith, and education early formed themselves into societies or church, and began planning for permanent influence. Hence, the fine church edifices which now adorn our community stand, and will stand, for spiritual excellences which are of more value to humanity than the highest towers which trade and commerce can erect or the most exquisite works which genius and art can produce.” (The History of Genesee County, MI. Chapter XXVII, Religious Organizations,Part I. Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton)
Genius and art produced the General Motors Company, Buick and Chevrolet automobiles, and the United Auto Workers. All of these found their home in Flint, Michigan. Huge edifices and towers were built in their honor and in the hey-day of the post WWII era, the city was alive with commerce. But then the temporal things of man began to change and decay hit the city hard. The great city — the great things that she had to offer — today they are all gone.
|Genesee Towers being demolished in December 2013.|
But interestingly, the churches of 100 years ago, they remain. We walked the streets today and saw the United Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic and Presbyterian churches of downtown. In the midst of the ups and downs and changes of the world around them, for more than a century they have stood and they have borne witness to the presence of the Lampstand. They remained in their locations and through thick and thin they have continued to minister to a city in need of the love of Jesus Christ. Probably some days they’ve done better than others, but they are there — present and ministering.
But then I have to ask myself a very difficult question. Where are the churches that come from my religious roots? Where are the Wesleyan/Holiness churches who were birthed a little over 100 years ago in a desire to bring together spiritual renewal and transformation? Wouldn’t we be those who would have remained in the shadows of the margins, bringing the love Christ to a city when things got really rough? Honestly, there are a number of churches in the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition in the Flint, Michigan area and they are doing a good job of ministering — but many moved out to the suburbs when things got rough in the city. It’s what we did.
Could it be that’s what the church in Ephesus did as well? Forgetting that they had come from the shadows of the Temple of Artemis they were now wanting to have a ministry where it would be nice, safe and convenient for their children. They built their church on the other side of town. No one wants a church where organized crime has control of the streets!
The call to the church in Ephesus is a wake up call. They were good people. They had good ministry. They were theologically sound. But they forgot what it meant to love the ones living in the shadow.
It’s Christmas week and we have celebrated love revealed to us in the presence of a tiny baby, born in a space for animals and laid in a manger. There he was — born in the shadows, in the margins where no one wanted him. He is calling to you and to me. We have lost the love because we don’t want to go to where he is.
The good news for the Ephesians was that they could repent. They could return to their first love.
So can we.
Love is found in the decaying shadows of a city.
Love is found in the lonely neighbor.
Love is found when we allow God’s holy love to pour from every bit of our being, bringing him to a lost world.
Love doesn’t have to be lost — today it can be found.
Lord, may you empower me to love the world with your love. Amen.