Church Shopping–Smyrna’s Poverty

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(Give each person a penny!) In your bulletin or when you came in you should have found a penny taped to your paper. Don’t say I never gave you anything and don’t spend it all in one place. You may be upset that you only got a penny; they are normally ignored, left on the cashier’s counter, walked pass unless head’s up. Even the government isn’t sure they should still be making the penny—it costs two cents to make one cent—lacking all common sense. With your penny in hand, I want to take you back to an experience that maybe is years in your past, maybe more recent, where a penny became so much more than a piece of diluted metal—when your kids or grandkids begged you for a penny. I’m talking about those machines out there that actual are breaking state law—where a penny is deface in the most captivating way—gears and gadgets all visible to the naked eye…a penny goes in and a crushed collectable keepsake comes out of the machine. Whoever thought that idea up is a genius, if you remember, it only costs a dollar to crush your penny.

I bet you didn’t know it but today as we open our Bibles to continue in our sermon series through the opening chapters of Revelation called Church Shopping, and come to the 2nd letter to the 2nd church—known as Smyrna—you are holding in your possession and a crushed collectable keepsake that has the power to change how you see the world and offers us relevant good sense.

Last week we were able to see Jesus standing with the churches rather than abandoning Ephesus to idol worship and the emperor cult, and this morning we dig into Jesus letter to the church at Smyrna. As John penned the letter, Smyrna had a long up and down history, really a city of life and death. In 600 B.C. it was a destroyed and conquered, the city left in rubble and desolation, but Alexander the Great in a dream envisioned the city restored to its splendor and helped build it into one of the greatest port cities of all time. It was a city that had experienced death and resurrection and so listens to how Christ begins in Revelation 2:8-9- “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions…Those afflictions known to Christ is usually translated as tribulations which we use all the time, but actually referred to a form of torture where someone would be laid out on the rack, stretched out, and weights would be lowered down one after another after another, until the weight would crush the persons chest leaving them unable to breath.

Like the penny in the imprinting penny machine, the Christians in Smyrna were being crushed by weights that must have left them nearly unable to catch their breath—and Christ wrote to them with a message of endurance taking on each weight resting upon their lungs beginning with:

Poverty (Revelation 9:2) I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!Jesus starts off this letter to Smyrna the same way he did to Ephesus: I know—Jesus isn’t far from the church, but functionally involved in the church, but how in the world can Christ call them rich in the midst of their utter poverty? They were so poor that they couldn’t’ even get into the lucrative business of death. The city of Smyrna was famous for their production of myrrh—a resin that Smyrna sold to Egypt for their embalming of mummies, which was used throughout the Bible as a perfume to prepare bodies. Despite Smyrna’s exclusive right to sell myrrh, Christians faced a familiar problem, they were unable to join a guild, union, or start a business all because they were thrown aside when they refused to bow down and worship the emperor as God. For their efforts, they were marked, marked like the Jews with the Star of David in Hitler’s Germany, marked with poverty.

The people living on Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia were marked by poverty. Owning land wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. In fact, each day was almost an act of futility, barely scrapping by; the mountain has a landscape often described as barren and poor. They had to settle for barely scraping by, barely getting enough, with most on the mountain looking gaunt, hungry, and desperate. One day, they had a visitor come by dropping hints that he might be interested in buying the land. Looking at the surface, the landowner hoped he could convince the visitor into making a deal. He suggested a small sum of money, just enough to invest in a slightly better piece of ground. The visitor negotiated the price down a little, but the landowner was relieved that he finally agreed to take the land. Now on Mount Morgan in Queensland, Australia is one of the richest mines in the world. Although the original landowners lived in deep poverty on the mountain’s barren surface there sat beneath their feet all the time immense prosperity. [1]

Jesus draws us below the surface to seek treasures and not just settle for trinkets. Trinkets keep us occupied, trinkets keep us entertained, but treasures change our life, treasures change our direction. Like a cat playing with a ball of yarn—it is entertaining, but it isn’t life changing. Netflix is a trinket—ESPN is a trinket—some of you like to go four-wheeling—that is entertaining, but not life changing. We can get caught up in a life full of trinkets: money in the bank, extra food on the table, Egyptian cotton sheets with 1000 thread count, a watch that you can interact with like your David Hasselhoff in Night Rider. Jesus gives us a picture of the difference between a treasure and trinket, in Matthew 13 there is a story about a man who found a treasure in a field, he hid it, but before it was his, he had to sell everything…He was willing to sacrifice his trinkets to gain the treasure. He doesn’t care what people say about him, what it looks like from the outside looking in, he knows a good trade when he sees it. Jesus goes so far as calling the Christians in Smyrna rich, because they have said no the trinkets that would have gotten in the way of the ultimate treasure. Here is what we can forget—the people of Smyrna in their poverty felt the pressure, but God was using it not to crush them, but to imprint them. It is the same process when you choose Christ over the crowd, when you decide that on the job you aren’t going to cut corners to save some extra money, when you step away from sin for the Son—you get imprinted.

[1] http://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_1.htm

 

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