Today in the Mission Yearbook

Like MLK before him, the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon urges Presbyterians to be more like thermostats and less like thermometers


The Board of Pensions’ Vice President for Ministry Innovation concludes the Policy, Benefits and Mission Conference with a prophetic sermon

December 11, 2023

The Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon, vice ;resident for Ministry Innovation with the Board of Pensions, preached during closing worship at the Policy, Benefits and Mission Conference. Photo by Randy Hobson.

It was up to the Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon to wrap up the Polity, Benefits and Mission conference with preaching laced with both insight and inspiration, and Cannon did plenty of both during closing worship.

Cannon, Vice President for Ministry Innovation at the Board of Pensions, preached as others had during the conference on Ephesians 3:20–21. In addition to accomplishing abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, what else does Scripture say God has done? That long list, Cannon noted includes rescuing God’s people from a fiery furnace and from a lion’s mouth, restoring sight to the blind, keeping many from stumbling “and making every grace overflow to you. God can work exceedingly abundantly beyond our wildest dream,” Cannon said.

There is a “but,” however: Those works are “according to the power that works within us — the believer’s strength, the believer’s capacity, the power to believe … God is doing things that blow your imagination, if you will let God be God,” he said.

In the letter to the church at Ephesus ascribed to Paul, the audience can include preachers and teachers and executive presbyters and denominational leaders “warning that the diligent will face trial after trial, but don’t give up,” Cannon said. “God is still able. Not the church, not our intellect or finance, but God is still able. Not our social network and definitely not our politics, but God is still able.”

Cannon shared portions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” published April 16, 1963. The “most pertinent” epiphany from that famous letter is this, according to Cannon: “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

King “replied in a disarming, conciliatory tone” in response to white clergy who questioned the timing and the tactics of civil rights leaders, Cannon said, “and he was throwing shade while he was doing it.”

A thermometer reflects the temperature, but a thermostat determines the temperature, Cannon noted. “The thermostat allows you to set the temperature to what you need it to be,” he said. “Once it reaches the desired temperature, the thermostat still works.”

“I believe the writer of Ephesians would say that we still need to be a thermostat,” he said. “Don’t let public opinion determine how you think. Be a thermostat. Don’t let circumstances dictate how you feel. Be a thermostat.”

Imagine what a better life we might have if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) functioned as a thermostat, Cannon said. “I have a sneaking suspicion there are some thermostats sitting in the audience this morning. Somebody is going to turn up the heat in a cold church. I just have a sneaking suspicion and a Holy Ghost inclination that you are serving a God who has a future you have never seen, but a God who’s prepared you for right now.”

“God is able to accomplish more in our lives than we can ever imagine,” Cannon reminded those in worship. “May our shared plans become shared actions. … May we march toward the promise of a better tomorrow, knowing that the path becomes wider and we never march alone. … On our way, let us become the thermostat that changes the world for the glory of God.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Jerry Cannon preaching at the Polity, Benefits and Mission Conference

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Barbara Soete, Ministry Specialist for Special Offerings, Ministry Engagement & Support, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Samuel Son, Manager, Diversity & Reconciliation Associate, Advocacy, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious God, fill us with power to proclaim your name boldly at every age, until all come to the knowledge and love of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.