It Is Better To Be Cold Than Warm

Revelation 3:14-22

First Baptist Church Laurens

April 28, 2013


In little Midwestern town, Miss Jones had the distinction of being the oldest resident in town. So when she died, the editor of the local paper wanted to print a little article remembering this dear old lady.  The only problem was that he couldn’t think of anything to say when he sat down to write the article. Miss Jones had never done anything terribly wrong. In other words, there really wasn’t anything profoundly notorious for which she was remembered. But, on the other hand, she had never done anything all that significant from a positive perspective either. Beyond being the oldest resident no one could think of one remarkable thing – good or bad – to say about her.

With this still on his mind, the editor went down to the neighborhood café, and there, ran into the local funeral director. He too was having a similar problem. Since Miss Jones had no family left but had paid for a very fine tombstone, he felt obligated to include something on it beyond “Miss Nancy Jones, born such-and-such a date and died such-and-such a date,” but he couldn’t think of anything to write either.

Since the editor of the paper and the funeral home director were known to collaborate in their work from time to time, the editor agreed with the funeral home director to go back to his office and assign the job of writing up a small article for both the paper and creating a meaningful epitaph for the tombstone to the first reporter he saw. When he got to the office, he ran into the sports editor, who surprisingly quickly agreed to the assignment.

As a result, somewhere in some little community in the Midwest there is a tombstone which reads:

Here lie the bones of Nancy Jones,
For her life held no terrors.
She lived an old maid. She died an old maid.
No hits, no runs, no errors. (C. C. Mitchell, Let’s Live!)

In a humorous way, this funny story is quite similar to the words that we find in Revelation chapter three which are written to the early church at Laodicea which is remembered as having been lukewarm.  Like Miss Jones, the people in Laodicea had not done anything terrible great in terms of their collective lives of faith and at the same time, they had not done anything terribly bad either.  Instead they had simply lived their existence as God’s people in the middle.

Ironically, their indifference is judged to be the worst possible outcome.  What they are told in this letter is the fact that their lives would have been judged to have been far more pleasing to God if they had remained cold and never done anything with faith whatsoever than to have lived out their existence in the middle of the road with neither a solid commitment to making a difference or a dedicated determination to completely oppose faith.

This word to the believers in Laodicea mirrored a common aspect of their daily lives.  You see, the ancient city of Laodicea did not have a source of water within the city’s boundaries.  As a result, water was pumped into the town from a hot springs source that was located six or seven miles outside of the municipality.  By the time the water arrived in Laodicea from the springs via an ancient piping system, it was no longer hot but it was not yet cold either.  Generally speaking the water maintained a luke- warm temperature as it arrived into the town.  In turn, the people of Laodicea lived with this frustrating water situation every day.  Since the water was warm, it was not really hot enough to be just the right temperature for cooking or for cleaning and sanitizing.  And, at the same time, since it was not yet cold, it wasn’t good for drinking either.  It was merely lukewarm.  It was in between and as a result it was of little use in its middle ground form.

According to the book of Revelation, this imagery iss a perfect example of where the Laodiceans were in their spiritual lives.  They lived in the middle but just as with their daily water, their warmness, half-heartedness and lack of profound commitment one way or the other had rendered them useless as both individual believers and as a collective body.

This morning, I want to suggestive that this is a particularly real trap and temptation for us as people of faith today as well.  Just as with Adair’s illustration of warm bath water that began our time of worship this morning, we can easily convince ourselves that being warm is not such a bad thing but rather an okay way to be.  While we may not be exactly where God wants us to be or as fully committed as we should be, at least we are not cold.  Sure, we are hanging out in the middle, riding the fence or living indecisively in terms of our commitment to the kingdom, to our faith and to church, but it could be worse, we could be ice cold.  But, again, as was the case in Laodicea, the words of Revelation have John reminding us as well that as hard as it may be to believe, God would rather that we live lives that are cold and at least make a hard commitment one way or the other than to simply hang out in the middle throughout the bulk of our human existence.

As I said a moment ago, I think this is a particularly tempting place for all of us to live in 2013.  Let me quickly suggest two ways that this temptation to live in a lukewarm way manifests itself in many of our faith lives today.  On the one hand, there are those of us who live lukewarm existences because we can never convince ourselves to actually give ourselves over fully and completely to the call of God and to the work of the church.  We lived in a world where there a lots of churches, lots of ministry opportunities and countless ways to live out our faith lives every day.  But, all of these choices and possibilities and the weight of making decisions way us down.  We love the church, we love what people of faith do and are about, but we can never quite bring ourselves to firmly make a decision and embrace a particular congregation for our lives or a concrete ministry through which to express our faith and thus we simply live regularly in a middle ground never having fully decided or completely invested ourselves.

The other side of this coin is equally troubling in 2013.  While there are some of us who are overwhelmed with decisions and thus never decide, there are others of us who embrace everything but never fully and completely invest ourselves in anything.  What I mean by this is that in a world full of choices and possibilities we embrace them all.  We engage in countless studies, we jump in to lots of ministries, we fully engage ourselves in our community and before we know our lives are completely booked.  We have things to do and places to go 8 to 10 hours a day 7 days a week.  But rather than enriching our lives it is killing us because instead of really and truly being committed, entrenched or fully engaged in any of these equally good things, we are only minimally engaged in any of them.  As a result we are lukewarm, but, not because we never committed to anything but rather because of the fact that we have committed to everything.

Swathmore College Psychology Professor Barry Schwartz has written a book called The Paradox of Choice.  In his research, Schwartz has pointed out that the countless modern choices of our world are not making our society better they are making our society worse.  In his lectures, Schwartz talked about going to his local grocery store and counting the possibilities.  In one store alone, he found, 285 varieties of cookies, 75 types of iced tea, 230 soups and 40 options for toothpaste.   But rather than a good thing Schwartz says, this is a very, very bad thing in that it creates people who have some many options to choose from that they “find it very difficult to choose at all”.  Barry Schwartz, Ted Talk, September 2006

This happens every day you and all as people in terms of life and faith as well as we become so overwhelmed that we respond by choosing none of it or by trying to choose it all.  Whichever way you go, by not choosing or by choosing it all, the end result is the same – being lukewarm.

There is a story told about a horrific train wreck is said to have occurred in Spain the mid1940s.  According to the legend, the long Spanish passenger train was traveling with two engines, the one of the front which was piloting the train and the one at the rear which was attached as a reserve.  On the journey, the train went into a long tunnel and as it did the front engine stalled.  Not able to see or to communicate, the reserve engine in the back decided to fire up thinking that it should come to the rescue and back the train out of the tunnel that it had entered since the lead engine had stalled.  At almost the precise time that the back engine started up, the front engine reengaged and the train began to work against its own self going in two different directions.  Ultimately, as you can imagine, the center of the train broke apart due to the competing tension on both ends and countless passengers, stuck in the middle between the two engines were killed.  From Wayne Rice, Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, p. 208-209.

This is the story of many of our lives as the competing sides cause us to do nothing or call us to try to do everything.  Whichever place we find ourselves in today, let us be faithful as God’s people to move beyond the middle to firmly and completely investing ourselves that we might truly impact our world and live our lives in a more profound and far richer and healthier way.  Amen.