I have two words for you this morning: “thermometer” and “thermostat.” Regular, routine, and household words we rarely give a second thought to: “thermometer” and “thermostat.”
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Those are Jesus’ words from the gospel. They well could have been the prophet Jeremiah’s from the first reading. Jeremiah began his public ministry in the streets of Jerusalem when the good King Josiah was instituting religious reforms to bring the tribes of Judah and Israel back into covenant with God. It was the best of times. The people were being taught the Word of God and right worship – and Jeremiah was on the vanguard of the reforms. And so, it was for about 10 years. King Josiah died in battle and everything changed.
For the next 20 years or so, Jeremiah fought against the return of the old idolatries. Arrest, imprisonment and public disgrace were his lot. In the nation’s turning away from covenant and God, Jeremiah saw the sealing of the doom of Jerusalem and all of Israel. I wonder if while he was at the bottom of the well in our first reading, if Jeremiah foresaw the inevitable fires at the hand of the Babylonians that would destroy Jerusalem in the near future. I can imagine him saying, “…how I wish it were already blazing!” Not to bring about destruction, but to start over, to begin the restoration and renewal.
The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, crying out from the bottom of the well, “…how I wish it were already blazing!” – that seems about right. But those aren’t his words. Those are the words of Jesus, the one who tells us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. The one who blesses the peacemakers. Does anyone really have a refrigerator magnet that says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
Maybe there are two kinds of people who listen to prophets like Jeremiah and Messiahs like Jesus (not that there is any other Messiah!). There are thermometer people and thermostat people. All a thermometer can do is respond to the temperature around it. When the fire of prophet or Messiah is in the same room – they are on fire. When the room changes, the thermometer changes. All it can do is reflect the conditions of the room.
Are you a thermometer person? We all are at times. Let me give you an example. You’re at work, in school, in a social setting – and the conversation turns to gossip. Harmless? Just people talking, right? Did you know that gossip is a sin against the 5th commandment: thou shall not kill? Do not kill a reputation, do not kill a spirit… Anyway, there you are in the midst of a murder… I mean, gossip. Do you join in? Do you say nothing? That’s what thermometers do. They don’t change anything. They just reflect the conditions of the room.
When we are thermometer people, we are the one against whom prophet and Messiah rage. When King Josiah instituted reforms, the people were excited, pumped up and got on board. When the next King occupied the same throne and led the people into idolatry, the first of reform cooled off and the goodness of Josiah was undone. No wonder Jeremiah would have been happy to see it all burn down and begin again.
Jeremiah and Jesus were thermostats. Thermostat people set the temperature. Do you set the spiritual temperature of your life? Let me give you an example. You’re at work, in school, in a social setting – and the conversation turns to gossip. Wait weren’t we just here? We already know what a thermometer person would do. How about a thermostat person?
A thermostat person would be responsive to God’s word instead of all the other words in the room. Such a person takes action to change the room, to bring grace to the moment, to be a blessing to others in the room. And as soon as you do that you will cause division.
Some will think about you: “Well.. who do they think they are? All pious and holier-than-thou? Who died and put them in charge?” You will be the topic of the next round of their gossip. For others, you will be the source of grace that leads them to think to themselves, “What am I doing? Why am I participating in this gossip? It’s wrong!”
All kinds of moments in life give you choices to be a thermometer parent or a thermostat parent; a thermometer or thermostat spouse; or a thermometer or thermostat friend. It is a moment of grace that you can either use or let slip away. Such graces are gifts from God, and you are called to be a good steward of those gifts.
In being a thermostat person, you have chosen, in gratitude, to nurture and use God’s gifts to you. In the midst of the gossip you have a time to use those gifts justly and share them with others – and in so doing, return that gift to God.
Being a thermostat person is a way of living in the world. It is a spiritual stance in the midst of our incredibly busy lives. It is a way for each one of us to be good stewards of God’s graces in our own lives.