Saturday, 29 July 2017

Hot, cold, or lukewarm?

The words of the Amen… “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

You know what it’s like – a baking hot day and you have a massive thirst. A big, long, ice-cold drink is just what you need. You take a mouthful and – ugh! – it’s tepid. You feel like spitting it out. Perhaps you do spit it out.

Or it could be a hot cup of coffee on a cold day – except that – ugh again – it’s not hot. It’s lukewarm, neither one thing nor the other. So disappointing!

The words of Jesus – called here “the Amen” – to the church of Laodicea are a ferocious judgment on them. As Christians they are lukewarm, apathetic, indifferent, neither one thing nor the other – use what words you like – and he detests it. So he threatens to “spit them out of his mouth”. He might just as well have said, “You make me sick.”

Why does Jesus choose this particular illustration? If you look at a map of the area where Laodicea was, you’ll see that it has a couple of neighbours, Hierapolis and Colosse. Here’s what one commentary says: “Hierapolis was famed for its hot springs; Colosse… was noted for a cold, clear stream of excellent drinking water…” Nice, in both cases.

But apparently Laodicea didn’t have a good water supply. It “had to use a long viaduct for its water, which was not only tepid but impure and sometimes foul, making people sick.”
Jesus has picked his metaphor to match his hearers. I think they will have got the message!

These words hit us, two thousand years later, with a real challenge: Are we like the Laodiceans? Are we lukewarm, neither hot nor cold? Do we deserve that Jesus should spit us out of his mouth?

I think it was the great Victorian preacher C H Spurgeon who said: “The trouble with many people is that they have just enough Christianity to make them miserable, but not enough to make them happy.” Ouch! Is that you? Is it me?

There’s a vital double truth here.

First, the love of God which he has shown to us in Jesus deserves our complete and total commitment – as an old hymn puts it, it “demands my soul, my life, my all.”

And if that sounds rather off-putting – a “very big ask”, as they say – well, that’s where we need the second truth: only this level of commitment yields true satisfaction and fulfilment.

Putting it very simply, the half-hearted Christian can only ever be dissatisfied with their life. If we are going to be Christians, well, let’s be Christians, no half-measures!

Here are the words of Jesus himself: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

We often think that when Jesus talks about “saving our life” he is referring to life after the death – and I’m sure that’s true. But he is also referring to life here on this earth. Full commitment to him is the only guarantee against an empty, meaningless earthly life.

Imagine getting to the end of your life. I don’t mean to be morbid, but there you are, literally on your death-bed, and you can’t get out of your mind the thought: what a wasted life! As you look back, it’s all a question of “If only…” And now it’s too late…

Paul talks about full commitment in a different way: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).

As a Jew, Paul’s mind was soaked in images of sacrifice – which included animals killed and offered up to God on the altar. And that, he says, is us! Yes, we who are followers of Jesus are sacrifices – but with the massive difference that we are living sacrifices. Another old hymn comes to mind: “But we never can prove/ The delights of his love/ Until all on the altar we lay”.

Yes, we don’t just lay an offering on the altar: we lay our very selves.

Is it time for us to have a bit of a stock-take? Time to look again at our priorities?

The whole-hearted offering of ourselves to God has a fourfold effect: It makes us (a) pleasing to God, (b) useful to his church, (c) a good witness to the world, and (d) fulfilled in ourselves.

What’s not to like about that?

Lord Jesus, help me to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength, and, in doing so, to find joy and fulfilment in you. Amen.

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