Dear Friend,

Do you ever think about what Jesus has against you? Jesus promises Paradise to those who do.

In our Scripture reading for Sunday, Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus sends a letter to the church in Ephesus, through which he speaks to all churches, including ours. Jesus identifies himself as the One who dwells among the churches; he commends hard work, perseverance, right living, and true teaching, and then he says, “But I have this against you: that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4)

I confess that when people tell me things they have against me; it often feels more destructive than constructive, especially at first. I observe that when I practice humility and patience, I can often gain some wisdom and healing from such encounters. And when Jesus speaks something against me—as he does against us all in this passage—we do well to listen to him as our perfect Spiritual Director. We do well to obey his teaching: “Remember then from what you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.” (Rev. 2:5)

I have much to ponder before I can describe what such remembering and repentance means for a congregation, so at this time, I’ll pass on a personal prompting. I remember that I first fell in love with Jesus during my first year of college. I had believed in him my whole life, but now I loved him with my whole heart and mind, and I wanted to tell my High School friends about him. Not just with words, but with friendship, I wanted to testify that Jesus did not fade away with the waning of the Middle Ages. Instead, he meets us over meals, drinks, and every activity that makes for life.

Jesus’ call to repentance comes as I recall drifting from my High School friends as I focused on training for pastoral ministry. I think I allowed “Churchianity” to cast a shadow over my Christianity. Churchianity comes when we focus on Church life in a way that dulls the love of Christ for all people. Christianity comes when, as members of the Church, we embody Christ to everyone. Such embodiment of Christ restores our first love for Christ.

Jesus promises that, as we conquer death by following him into life, he “will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” (Rev. 2:7) That promise helps me repent because I look forward to enjoying the celebration in Paradise with our Lord and with you.