Text: Revelation 3:15-17
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
We are a little over a week into fall now and you’ve been able to tell the difference outside. Not quite so hot anymore, is it? This past week actually I had to turn on the furnace at the church as I sat in my office. We had a couple of days that were rainy and pretty cold. It is fitting then, that the theme that the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Canada has come up with for their LWML Sunday this year is “Love in a Cold World.” You can see how they have illustrated this on the cover of the bulletin today with a heart of flames on a cold black backdrop. But the “cold world” that is being referred to here is not a world that has moved from one warm season to a cooler one, this is not a physical coldness that we are talking about. Rather, it is a spiritual coldness.
When I saw this theme, “Love in a Cold World,” one of the first things that came to mind for me is something that Jesus said in Matthew 24. There, talking about the last days (the days that began when Jesus ascended into heaven and the days we now live in), Jesus said, “In those days because lawlessness will be increased the love of many will grow cold.” The love of many will grow cold, that is the kind of coldness we are talking about this morning. Jesus tells us that this coldness is coming. Because of sin, because of lawlessness, because of humanity’s continual rejection of God’s Word and rebellion against His commandments the love of many will grow cold. It is indeed a cold world that we live in.
All around us lawlessness, sin, abounds. And in that world of sin love is lost. Sin is the opposite of love. Sin thinks that it knows what love is, but it only knows self-serving, self-satisfying love. Sin’s version of love is based simply on emotions and what makes us feel good, or on desires and the things that we want, or on some physical kind of love. But sin does not know real love, the self-sacrificing love of God. And so as sin abounds the love of many grows cold. The world we live in grows colder and colder. This ought not to be a surprise to Christians like us, Jesus said this would happen.
But there is an important question that we need to ask. The question is, has our love grown cold? Are we, the church of God here in this place, among the many whose love has grown cold? We are Christians, we love one another, so surely this kind of thing can’t happen to us, right? But it happens all the time.
The theme verse that the LWML chose for this Sunday and our text this morning comes from the book of Revelation chapter 3. At the beginning of the book or Revelation there is a series of seven letters that are written to seven churches. These letters are dictated by our Lord Jesus and recorded by the apostle John so that they could be sent out to the seven churches. Our text this morning comes from one of those letters, the last of those letters, which was written to the church in a place called Laodicea. This is what Jesus instructs John to write to this church: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
This church in Laodicea had grown cold. Not completely cold, only lukewarm, but it would have been better if they were just cold all the way through. Instead they were just tepid, lukewarm, middling, and blah. Neither here nor there, hot nor cold. They remind me of something that happens sometimes when I heat food in the microwave. I try to time things up just right so that the food is hot, but not so hot that I have to wait forever before I can eat it. But if you get things wrong and don’t leave it in the microwave long enough you get food that is hot on the outside and cold on the inside. Not a nice combination. The people in the church in Laodicea are like that, neither hot nor cold, and here Jesus tells them that because they are neither hot nor cold He will spit them out of His mouth. He is disgusted by them. They deserve to be sent away.
Churches do grow cold. God’s people do grow cold. Our love grows cold. The coldness in the world around us that Jesus says will increase as lawlessness and sin abound creeps into the church and even our love grows cold. The coldness and sin that is out there in the world is also alive and well in our own hearts. Lawlessness, the desire to rebel against God’s Word lingers in our hearts and because of it our love grows cold. We get tired of loving the people around us because they aren’t all that loveable sometimes and loving isn’t always much fun. So our love grows cold. We get complacent sometimes and are content just to sit back and watch the world go by without lifting a finger to love and care for anyone. And our love grows cold. It happened in that church Laodicea and it happens here too. Like them we become lukewarm Christians, the kind that are spat out by Jesus and sent away.
All of this paints a pretty bleak picture. The thought of being “spat out” or cast away from Jesus is terrifying. It is hard to hear words like this spoken to Christians and even to ourselves. So where do we find love in this cold world? If we look into ourselves we will never find it, but if we look to Christ we will find more love than we could have ever imagined. We find love in this cold world in the manger in Bethlehem where love was born into the cold darkness of sin. We find love in this cold world on the cross where love died for us and our salvation. We find love in the empty tomb where victory over this cold world was sealed. We find love in this cold world in Jesus. His love for us is eternal and unending. Jesus is love in a cold world, not you or me, Jesus. Despite our constant sinfulness, despite our lack of the love for one another, our Saviour’s dying love remains warm and true. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He warms our hearts with His love and forgiveness and gives us love so that we might love one another.
With this perfect love in mind, St. Paul wrote these words in our epistle reading today: “fan into flame the gift of God… for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Fan that gift of faith into burning flame, Paul says. Your God has so loved you and cared for you so deeply that through His Son He has rescued you from this loveless, cold world. He has given you the gift of faith to believe in this glorious salvation from sin and death so that you might know God’s love for you. And now, Paul says, fan that faith which has been given to you by God into a flame.
So how do we do that? How do we fan into flame this gift of faith that God has given to us so that our love is not lukewarm but a warm glowing love for the world to see?
It would be tempting to think that we just need to commit more energy to our faith, try harder to love, work harder as a Christian. A lot of people think this way. The world is full of people who claim to be “on fire for the Lord” or “on fire for Jesus.” They are energetic, enthusiastic, and seem anything but lukewarm. They try and try and try to live lives that are filled with love for Jesus. God bless them for trying, but those efforts will always come up short. Anything we do will always come up short because sin remains in us.
The only way that our faith is fanned into a flame that glows warmly in this cold, dark world is through receiving Jesus again and again through His Word and Sacraments. There Jesus gives us Himself, His own body and blood, His own Word, His own forgiveness, His own love so that we can be so filled with His love that we love one another. Only there, only in that way, is the coldness of our own hearts dealt with. Only Jesus and His blood shed for us, not our own efforts, can forgive our cold hearts and create in us new hearts that are filled with love.
So how do we avoid becoming lukewarm Christians? We go back to God’s Word and read and hear His words and learn again of His forgiveness. We come to the altar and receive Jesus body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. Then, filled with Jesus, we can go out into this cold world and love. We can be the love of Jesus in this cold world. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, the lips and voice of Jesus, to this fallen world.
Because of sin love grows cold. It is a cold world that we live in, sin and lawlessness abound. But we know Christ, the one who conquered sin and the grave. His love warms the coldest heart with the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life. May we be filled with that love so that we too may love in this cold world. Amen.