“The Light of the World”

The third in a series of three sermons given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the 2010 Preaching Festival held in Ocean Grove, N.J.

“The Light of the World”

In the biblical book of Revelation, at 3:14-22, we read Christ’s letter to the messenger of the congregation at Laodicea in Asia Minor.  Here it is:

   “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  How I wish you were either one or the other!  So, since you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

   Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 

   To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

A 19th century art critic referred to Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World”, as “a painted text, a sermon on canvas”.  And, so it has been since it was first displayed.  Jesus is knocking at a door in the dark, a door all overgrown with weeds and dead flowers.  His lantern shines the light.  As he knocks, he calls out:  “Listen!  If anyone in there hears me and opens this door, I’ll come in and we’ll dine together.”  (Rev 3:20)  And remember that, in the biblical culture, dining together wasn’t about just grabbing a quick bite.  It was evidence of most intimate fellowship. Read more →

The Summing Up

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York on August 31, 2003

As you may know, the night before he died in the Iraqi desert, NBC correspondent David Bloom sent his wife an e-mail that was later read at his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in the city. Here’s what he said to her in that last e-mail: “I hope and pray all my guys get out of this in one piece, but I’ll tell you, Mel, I am at peace. Here I am, supposedly at the peak of professional success, but I could, frankly, care less. It’s nothing compared to my relationship with you and the girls and Jesus.”

Despite a grueling pre-launch schedule for that last Columbia space shuttle, Commander Rick Husband made sixteen daily devotional video tapes for his children to watch, one for each of the sixteen days he’d be in space. And they watched them – right up into the morning the shuttle broke up and disintegrated forty miles over their Texas home. He’d also given a tape to his pastor. On that tape he says: “Tell them about Jesus. He means everything to me.”

But Jesus does not mean “everything” to everyone! New Yorkers hardly need to be reminded that Jesus is a “stumbling block” for many people. Citing the prophet Isaiah’s warning to Read more →

Pink Slips of Providence

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York June 22, 2003

Unemployment here in the city is around 9%? That’s far worse than the national rate of 6.1%. But 6.1% is better than the national average over the last 25 years. So what do these figures mean? Well, it’s one thing to know the figures from the papers. It’s something else to know them from pink slips. With a pink slip in hand, the figure is 100%.

Pink slips aren’t pretty. So why are pink slips pink? Pink is rosy. But pink slips don’t paint rosy pictures. They don’t put you in the pink; they put you in the blues. And then they can put you in the red – that darker shade of pink. At least that’s what fearful fantasies portend.

But can fearful fantasies predict truly? What if first impressions of pink slips are but partial and premature? Of course, they are but partial and premature. By definition, they’re shortsighted. So pink slips are poor predictors of all that’s coming. Mere fantasies cannot truly predict outcomes. And, even if they prefigure some of the circumstances, how can they Read more →

An Atheist’s Advice

A Sermon by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York on June 22, 2003

An atheist’s advice? Here it is: Christians should be Christians. That was the advice of at least one atheist. Back in 1948, French Dominicans asked existentialist Albert Camus to talk on the topic: “What Do Unbelievers Expect of Christians?” His remarkable response was that Christians should take their Christian faith more seriously than many do – and not in terms of mere “abstraction.” This philosopher who spent his life fighting nihilism and totalitarianism said that Christians should “speak out, loud and clear … in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man” as to the truth of their Christian witness.

This was in the same year that another honest unbeliever, Eric Blair, wrote his prophetic novel against the totalitarian utopias of Stalinism, Nazism, capitalist excess and the welfare state – all of which were foolishly embraced by Christians who failed to grasp the depths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Blair, whose 100th birthday was 12 days ago, wrote the book under his Read more →

Blessed Assurance

for The City Church, New York on March 9, 2003

As I mentioned, today is the birthday of Phoebe Palmer Knapp. It was 130 years ago, in the Knapp mansion on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, that she first played her new hymn tune for her friend, the blind poet, Fanny Crosby. “What does this tune say, Fanny?,” she asked. Her friend answered with no hesitation: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!,” and she went on to write the rest of it.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Both women knew just what that meant, though they came from very different backgrounds. One was born to New York’s high society and married the founder of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The other was born to a hardscrabble life up in Putnam County and now lived among black servants and day laborers in a tenement down at Varick and Canal Streets. But they both belonged to Jesus. They both belonged to Jesus, to whom, in Fanny’s words, they submitted in perfect delight, in whose Spirit they were Read more →


New York, July 21, 2002

“Eternity” is for sale, and so is “Truth” – as high fashion fragrances from Calvin Klein. And they’re not cheap. That’s the point. And these bottled ego-builders are the least of the luxuries available to those who think they need such things.

A New York Times advertising supplement on “The New Luxury” assures us that “The ego builder’s soul mate is the person who pays an outrageous price for the ultimate product … [and that] to most ego-driven people, it’s important that everyone else know that they own the best, whether it’s the biggest ranch or the car with the longest hood.” According to this Read more →

Signs of Jonah

A Sermon Preached at City Church, New York, June 23, 2002

What do you think is America’s No. 1-selling children’s video? It’s a Bible story starring a talking tomato and cucumber. And in October, more than a thousand big screens across the country will be showing the VeggieTales version of Jonah and the Whale.

But a sermon on “Jonah and the Whale?” This stuff of tacky tchotchkes and bubble bath for kids? A sermon on a silly story about a guy who gets swallowed by a whale? And any Bible Quiz nerd knows it wasn’t a whale anyway. It was a “big fish.” So – don’t “save the whale” part. But then it’s a silly story about a guy who gets swallowed by a big fish. So it still sounds far-fetched, even – dare we say – fishy. Sounds like something right out of The National Enquirer! Read more →

Get it in Writing!

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, August 26, 2001

Last Sunday’s Style section of The Times featured a report on lavishly crass crosses as statements of fashion if not statements of faith. We’re told that trendsetters disavow Christianity but wear the cross as “a badge of status,” “the latest in hip,” “a testament to chic,” and even for “shock.” As always, in this world, nothing truly Christian is sacred.

There’s a new, glossy Bible due with the fall fashion season. The publishers had first teased that it would picture supermodels as Adam and Eve in the nude. Instead, it’ll show a not-so-famous bi-racial Adam and Eve. Along with other Bible characters, they’ll be shot by famous high fashion photographers. The publishers are still promising “nudity because [as they say] the Bible is very sensual and we are going to exploit that. We want to take the Bible off the dusty back shelf and put it on coffee tables.” But these self-appointed pacesetters are bringing Read more →

Bride’s Biography

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Ralph Blair at City Church, New York, on June 24, 2001

It’s June – the month of brides. And the oldest of all brides is here today in church. She is church. She’s us. As scripture says: We are the Bride of Christ.

From the creeds that lie behind the letters of Paul, we see that from the beginning, Christians have affirmed our belief that we are recreated creations of God, living in a world that God created through Christ and is recreating through Christ. It’s now been some 2,000 years since the everlasting action of God’s mercy began to be lived out in the life-unto-death of Jesus of Nazareth. And it’s now been almost that long since the everlasting action of God’s mercy continued to be lived out in the coming of God’s Holy Spirit in and through the Church, the Bride of Christ. Read more →

With Sunshine & Rainfall for All

An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights

This is an expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the 34th Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society in 1982. Dr. Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is the founder and president of Evangelicals Concerned and is a member of The Evangelical Theological Society, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues of The American Psychological Association.

If we evangelical Christians are going to have anything worth saying in response to proposed gay civil rights legislation, we would do well first to hear what is being said. Quite apart from our having nothing intelligent to say if we really haven’t heard what’s being said, we fail to render what Bonhoeffer reminded us was the “first service one owes to others:” that of “listening to them.” When the early church faced what seemed to be strange claims of Gentiles to full rights in the church, believers did what evangelicals today are not so willing to do with homosexuals: they engaged in dialogue and really tried to hear each other. And they began by emphasizing truths about which they were all in agreement (Acts 15). Read more →

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