This is the first of seven letters addressed to the churches. I find it interesting that Jesus thinks of and speaks to specific communities, not just individual believers. We are so individualistic in our thinking as Americans. Do you think of your self as belonging to a community called “Westwinds”? Or do you think of yourself as an individual Christian who happens to go to a church called Westwinds? Also, Jesus speaks to the churches through angels, who in turn reveal a message for that specific church to John. Does God still reveal his thoughts to specific churches? Does each church have an assigned angel overseeing it? I wonder what the angel of Westwinds would say to us as a community? I wonder to whom would the angel of the Lord speak? Would we be open to hearing his or her message? Could we receive it as a message from the Lord? How does one discern cranks from seers?
As NT Wright points out, many of the letters have a positive and negative assessment. Only two churches have no negative faults and one has nothing positive to report. I wonder what Jesus finds praiseworthy at Westwinds. I find a lot to praise, does he? Would Jesus find any fault? Would Jesus give us a warning in some area? Or would we be the exception? As a teacher, I give out grades all the time. How would Jesus score what we are doing and what we are not doing? The scary thing for me in this passage is that churches can be ‘removed.’ What does being removed look like? Ephesus, as a church, had a lot going for it. It had a rich history with strong apostolic leadership. We find out from the Book of Acts that the Apostle Paul stayed in Ephesus for about 3 years, longer than any other church mentioned in the NT. We also know from church history that the Apostle John, the writer of Revelation, spent his last years in Ephesus. Wow, just think if two apostles founded Westwinds. You would not think that a church founded by two apostles would easily get off track or fall apart. And yet, that is exactly what happened. NT Wright observes that one can hardly find a church or a Christian in Ephesus today. The problem at the Church of Ephesus is identified as losing their ‘first love’. What we love matters. The Ephesians had right doctrine and hated false teaching, but their lampstand was removed for not loving the right thing – Jesus must be loved above all else in the church. What if we used what we love as a criteria to measure our success as a church? What kind of report card we Jesus give us?