"Cold" has a bad rap among south Texans. The other day, I was sharing with a congregation member the different places which I have lived. "I grew up in Portland, Oregon, I went to St. Louis for seminary and also spent a year in Chicago." "Portland? St. Louis? Chicago? That sounds cold to me!" came the response. And indeed it could get cold in all of those towns. But then I suffer and sweat through literally weeks of 100 degree plus temperatures. I watch as the lawns around me turn brown and die as we teeter on the precipice of stage three water restrictions. And I think to myself, "Hmm, maybe cold isn't so bad after all."
Like south Texans who pride themselves in their ability to handle warm and even sweltering weather while eschewing the chill that states and cities farther north must regularly endure, "cold" also seems to have a bad rap among Christians. In our reading for today from Revelation 3, Jesus continues his letter writing campaign to seven first century churches, scattered throughout Asia Minor, and he saves his harshest rebuke for the final church he writes to, the church at Laodicea: "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" (verses 15-16).
Jesus, in his chastisement of the Laodicean churchm rebukes them for being "neither hot nor cold." Oftentimes, this rebuke is taken as a call to be either "cold" and disparaging of Christ and his gospel or to be "hot" and "on fire," as it were, for Christ and his gospel. In other words, Jesus is calling this church to be either clearly against him or clearly for him. A "lukewarm" and ambiguous attitude toward Jesus just won't do.
Even though this is the way these words are often taken, this is probably not what Jesus meant. Laodicea was infamous for its notoriously terrible water. Their water supply came either from the nearby Lycus River, which was muddy and undrinkable, or from a hot springs in Hierapolis, known for its therapeutic benefits, about five miles to the northeast. Sadly, by the time this water reached Laodicea, it was tepid and stomach turning. Conversely, about eleven miles to the southeast of Laodicea was Colossae, situated on the foot of Mt. Cadmus, which, as the snow from the mountain cap melted, proved to be a source of ice cold and refreshing water. Hot and healing water to the north. Cold and refreshing water to the south. Lukewarm and nauseating water in Laodicea.
Jesus says that Laodicea's ill-famed tepid water is an indicator of the tepidness of their souls. Indeed, this church's tepidness is expressed in one of their creeds: "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" (verse 17). Their wealth has led to spiritual apathy. But Jesus calls them to something more. Jesus calls them to something better.
Jesus calls the Laodiceans to be hot. For to be hot is to be healing. And this is a noble call. Jesus, when he commissions his disciples, sends them out "to heal every disease and sickness" (Matthew 10:1). Healing for a lost and broken world is sorely needed.
Jesus calls the Laodiceans to be cold. For to be cold is to be refreshing. And this is also a noble call. After commissioning his disciples to be hot and healing, Jesus says them, "If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). Especially interesting is this adjective "cold." For there was no refrigeration in this day. Thus, the only way to give someone a cold cup of water was to go and draw it afresh from a well. Jesus calls his disciples not to give someone stale, tepid water that has been sitting out, but fresh, cold water. For cold water is refreshing water. As the teacher of Proverbs reminds us: "Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land" (Proverbs 25:25). Cold water is good water.
Jesus calls the Laodiceans to be hot. Jesus calls the Laodiceans to be cold. Both are good calls. And both are calls to be for him, not to be against him. "Cold" really does have a bad rap. So today, in the middle of the dog days of summer, be cold refreshment for a human soul and share God's grace. For the message of God's cold refreshing grace can warm a human heart.