This is the text of the message I prepared for a combined service of Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry on the occasion of a service of thanksgiving for a child. It was not a baptism (no water) and not an infant dedication (the child went home with her parents, no doves were destroyed). For privacy reasons beyond the congregation I have made the child and her family anonymous in this post.
Laodicea is probably not the first place you were expecting me to start the message from today; I dare suggest it probably wasn’t in your top five. And seriously, it’s a day of infant dedication: who preaches from the book of Revelation on a day when we’re all about thanks and praise for children and families? I mean, I mean where was Laodicea anyway? (Well actually it still is, in ruins at least, in Phrygia in Turkey, ten miles west of the ruins of Colossae.) And why isn’t it pronounced Laodikeia? (Well actually it is in modern Turkish.) But you probably weren’t even asking those questions; meh, anyway, well done you’ve got those answers for free.
But I think the reading I have chosen today better suits this special celebration than any of the passages offered by the Revised Common Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year C. Today’s reading talks about how hot you are in the outworking of your faith, how passionate for the cause of Christ.
One of the go-to stories for any preacher looking at Revelation 3:14-22 is the background story of Laodicea and its plumbed running water. Just north of Laodicea is the hot mineral spring at Hierapolis, and just east was Colossae where there was cold water springs, very refreshing. The Laodiceans had neither of these, and their town water came from five miles away via an aqueduct in to their city. Unfortunately with it being five miles, the water cooled down in the aqueduct, and what was hot in Hierapolis and cold in Colossae was lukewarm in Laodicea. The water was still warm, but not warm enough to have any healing benefit, and it was nauseating to drink. Bleuch!
Another go-to story for background to Laodicea is my story. I have actually been to the ruins of Laodicea; I was there with a Christian tour party in late September 1999. We were heading for a major worship event in the ancient amphitheatre at Ephesus, which is about one hundred and fifty kilometres from Laodicea, and as prequel to that event we toured Asia Minor and visited the “seven churches of Revelation”. On the day we went to Laodicea we’d also been to Hierapolis to see the hot springs, and we had stayed the night in the city of Izmir which is built on the ruins of what used to be Smyrna. Anyway it was hot, not “Kaniva in January hot”, but hot enough, and it was dusty. So by the time I’d had a bit of a walk around, and a scamper up and across the tops of the ruins (I was 27 years old then and much more able to climb than now), and we’d held our worship service (we worshipped in each of the seven ruined cities), I was ready for a drink. Nice cold water, waiting on the bus for me, ahhh! Except that the bus was hot, and my cold water got hot, heated to hot-tap-water-at-home hot. That bottled water was distasteful and useless for purpose, I was not refreshed by drinking it, and in fact I almost upchucked. Upchucking may have been a Biblical response in the light of Revelation 3:16, but it wasn’t one of the spiritual feels I was going for on a dusty and hot day.
So, not hot enough, or not cold enough: it seems that Christ was displeased with the Laodiceans for their tepid nature in life and faith, and I was certainly less than impressed by the local bottled refreshment.
How hot is your water right now? Would the Christ who walks amongst the lamp stands call you lukewarm?
The building we are gathered in today is ninety years old, and the Shared Ministry is twenty years old this year. My question is this, is that how much experience we have? As a church, particularly Kaniva Church of Christ congregation, do you have ninety years of experience, or do you have one year of experience which you have repeated ninety times? And you can say that our denominational presence actually dates back a good few years before that in Kaniva, but so does the question. So, has it been 1889 for one hundred and thirty consecutive years here? Have you grown? Have you begun to cool down the further you’ve run along the channel and away from the source? And what about each of us as individuals? How long have you been active in your faith, is it 20, 30, maybe 70 years of service? Or have you just the one year repeated endlessly (so far) for decades as a Christian? Are you any bigger, or are you just older, and therefore less patient and more tired?
You are a Christian and you still hold water, but maybe you need to return to the kettle, or the fridge, and be set for purpose. The water in my bottle on the day I went to Laodicea was too hot to be refreshing, but it wouldn’t have made a cup of tea either as it was not hot enough. The water was still water, it was clean and theoretically drinkable, but it needed either a kettle or a fridge to make it useful.
Today is a kettle day for this child: her faith is boiling hot as she’s welcomed into this family as a gift from God, and God is gloried for her presence because God is glorified by her presence. Your baptism was the same, and perhaps like this child’s father and mother today the baptism or celebration of your children was a spur to go again in God’s strength.
Again I ask you, the local people, as we add another member to our rolls has this church grown? Is this church bigger now than it has ever been, regardless of its numbers? Perhaps we have a solid core of 20 in Kaniva and another 20 in Serviceton, and only those 20 come, where once we had a solid core of 15 but with 50 hangers on? Again, are we actually bigger now than we were then? Are you bigger now? Serviceton used to be almost as big as Kaniva is now, (at which time Kaniva was twice the size it is now, at least by population). Now Serviceton is tiny, barely anyone left, and even some of those who live there now are actually new. The town’s core families who are there now are the same families who have been the core for generations. When the rail left the farmers remained, and these days it’s only farmers. But there are still farmers there, and they are there because they are invested in that land. Kaniva is the same, even if not quite so dramatic as there is still other stuff going on in Kaniva, but Kaniva has its families who have been here for generations as councillors and teachers and shopkeepers and mechanics. And there are farmers here too of course.
The Church is the same. It is true that people move between churches as they move between towns: I mean I have been here about six months now, and at best I’ll be here for another five years. This is not because I’m wavering in my faith, but because my job, unlike farming, is transient. If the metaphor for Kaniva and Serviceton is that you are farmers then I’m more like a season, here to help you grow for a bit, and then move over the horizon to help others grow for a bit while the next season follows me here. But I am always in The Church, just not this one: and I am always in a church because I am invested in Christ just as much as generational farmers are invested in their land.
So Christian how invested are you in Church? Are you hot on God’s behalf, constantly active, constantly nurturing, constantly maintaining and supporting growth? Are you cold on God’s behalf, like an ice-pack constantly seeking to refresh, and shade, and restore the burnt and broken? Or are you lukewarm in your ministry, “meh it can wait”, “meh I’ll just get another one”, “meh it’s just one sheep and I’ve got ninety-nine more”.
As Christians which of those conditions do we wish for this child? What do you desire for your Sister-in-Christ as she grows from girl to adolescent to woman, perhaps wife and mother some day, perhaps even farmer in her own right on dad and grandpa’s land and therefore, hopefully, a member of this congregation? And if we hope the best for this child, and her infant sisters, and her parents; and if we hope that this child’s father’s farming remains successful and that he and his family never needs to leave the district; and if we hope that we’ll see this child grow up her whole life in Kaniva and in Kaniva & Serviceton Shared Ministry, what sort of example and what sort of support do you hope to provide? If you are barely lukewarm, then this child can never be boiling hot: but then if you are barely lukewarm you probably don’t care. But then if you don’t care and are barely lukewarm why did you bother coming today? Well, probably because you are lukewarm and there is enough heat left in you to care a little bit, and, well this child’s parents seem nice, and someone said there might be cake afterwards and…well you know…who doesn’t like cake?
Christ is the water which flows into you and through you to the world. Are you a paper cup? Are you a travel mug with insulated sides and a lid? Are you an urn, with a thermostat?
Thinking back to my water bottle, my drinking water was not at all refreshing; in fact it was dangerous. Hot water is only good when it’s supposed to be hot: drinking water at 50 C is not refreshing, actually its mouth burning. Do people who know you’re a Christian come to you for soothing, and instead cop a face-full of hot water?
Today is kettle day for those who need to be hotter. Today is refrigerator day for those who need to be refreshed. Come to the source, this child needs you to.