IGNITING MINISTRY: OPEN MINDS

 

 

SCRIPTURE: ROMANS 14:1-13; MATTHEW 22:15-22

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

          A woman tried for years to persuade her egotistical husband not to be so set on himself. He was one of those people who whatever the setting, was always boasting about his own accomplishments. He was first in sales with his company. He knew more than anyone else in the field. He was due for the next promotion. It was always him, him, him. Whatever the subject, he would bring it to himself quickly.

          One day the man and woman were walking downtown. He saw one of those machines that tell you your fortune and your weight. He put in a coin. Out came the little card, and he began to read. It said, “You are a born leader. You have superior intelligence. You have quick wit. You have charming manners. You have magnetic personality. You are attractive to the opposite sex.” The man read it, and handed it to his wife, and said, “There! Read that!” She did. Then she turned the card over on the other side and read. She handed the card back to her husband, and said, “It has your weight wrong too!”

          There are some people in our lives with whom it is very difficult to have an open mind. My understanding is that they are part of our lives though for a reason. Some how, by some great design, these people come along to help broaden our understanding, to deepen our patience, and even periodically to cause us to reflect or refine our own ideas and beliefs.

          Today we are in the midst of a three-part sermon series on Igniting Ministry. It is my conviction that it is God’s Spirit that ignites us in ministry that gives us the power to be God’s people and to do God’s work. It is also God’s Spirit that leads us in ministry. The question always is, are we combustible? Are we willing to be combustible? Are we willing to follow the lead of God? God gives us the resources. Are we willing to use the gifts that we have in God’s work?

          Last week I talked about having “open hearts”. To be part of God’s work we need to have an open heart. I said that we believed that God has an open heart for all creation. Jesus instructs us to open our hearts to God and our hearts to those around us. Today, I am preaching on “open minds” as a second ingredient in an ignited ministry.

          Let me tell you what I mean when I use the phrase “open minds”. I am not saying, anything goes. I am not saying you can believe anything you want because it really doesn’t matter. I am not saying don’t be critical in your thinking; don’t evaluate various beliefs and ideas to try to find the truth.

          G.K. Chesteron best captures what I am saying, when he said, “We open our minds for the same reason we open our mouths, to close around them something good and solid.”  We open our minds to close them around something that will nourish us, something that will feed our souls and strengthen our life in faith.

          In Paul’s letter to the Romans there is a major section in which he talks about the Christian life. He calls us to a new, more dynamic, ignited ministry. He is certainly calling the Roman congregation, but we believe he calls all Christians. In the 26th chapter Paul writes these words: “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought. Be genuine in love, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

          Paul is telling us to have an open mind so that we can understand those around us. That does not mean that we are going to accept everything they say, or everything they do, but he is calling us to understand those around us.

          It was Steven Covey in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People who quoted St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” To understand someone is to stand under their character, their ideas, their beliefs, and their life experience. We seek to receive from that other person all that they have so that we might be able to see if they have a perception on the truth, which is new to us. Again, I am not saying take all that they have as absolute truth, but see if there is some new window on the truth from them and their experience.

          When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, Pilate dismisses Jesus with a question. (It’s a very strange practice, but we humans are pretty good at it) Pilate’s question is, “What is truth?” He doesn’t ask it to learn the answer. He doesn’t ask the question to learn what truth is. He asks it to send Jesus away.

          It is the very question that should be asked in that setting to open new arenas and new light for Pilate. Truth is standing right in front of Pilate, and he sends it away. That is a closed mind. That is not what we want happening in our minds. There is wisdom in the old Native American saying, “Let me not judge another until I have walked a mile in their moccasins.”

          The two passages that we have for our scripture readings this morning, the one from Romans and the Matthew passage, give us glimpses of a closed mind and an open mind. Let’s look at the Matthew passage first. It comes in the section of Matthew’s gospel that is called the “conflict” section. It is where Jesus has conflicts with the authorities time and time again. The Pharisees have already decided to kill Jesus, that he deserves death. They are now trying to trap him so that they will not responsible for is death.

          The Pharisees meet up with Jesus. They say nice things to him to begin with, but they don’t mean a single thing they say. They call him, “Teacher,” or Rabbi. It is a term of great respect in the Jewish tradition, but they don’t mean it. They say, “We know you are sincere.” They don’t mean it. They say, “We know that you teach the way of God according to the truth.” It’s true, but they don’t mean it. They say, “We know that you show deference to no one.” That is also true, but they don’t mean it. It’s all a set up. It’s all a trap. Then they say, “Should we pay our taxes?”

          Jesus says, “Show me one of the coins with which you pay the taxes? The tax question was a head tax, or the census tax. It was instituted in 6 B.C., when Judea became a province of Rome. There was a special coin designated by law for the paying of tax. It had the image of the emperor on it, a graven image. It also had an inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, the august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”

            There’s some confusion as to whether the high priest referred to Augustus or Tiberius, but the Jews believed that neither one was the high priest, nor they certainly didn’t believe that Augustus was divine. The inscription was blasphemous according to them.

          Any good Pharisee would not have had one of those coins in his pocket. It was unclean. It would make him unclean. He would not be able to go to the Temple. This dialogue takes place in the sacred confines of the temple. When Jesus says, “Let me see one of those coins,” one of the Pharisees reaches in his pocket and produces the coin. It is utter duplicity.

          Jesus shows amazing openness. In essence he says, “Pay your taxes. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but render to God the things that are God’s.” What things are God’s? Jesus has already answered that question. “Give to God all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” It is in opening our minds to God that we receive those directions for our living.

          In the passage from Romans, Paul is trying to reconcile a conflict in the Roman congregation. There are differences of opinion in the church. (Boy isn’t that a surprise in church!) There is one group that says we ought to eat meat. There is another group that says no, you should be vegetarian. There is one group that says we ought to observe special days. There is another group that says no, every day is special to God. There is a conflict going on in the congregation. It is not about essentials of the faith. It is about daily religious practices.

          What is interesting here, Paul doesn’t take sides on either of the issues that are presented. He doesn’t say one is right, or the other wrong. In other parts of his letters, he does, but not here. What Paul does at this point is try to hold the congregation together, to keep the connected so they can begin to understand each other. He says, “If you abstain from eating meat, that’s fine. Or if you decided to eat meat, that’s fine. If you think that’s the way you are supposed to worship God, do it. It doesn’t matter at this point.

          Paul makes four points in this section of scripture, just as he did in the section we looked at last week. The first thing he says is, different people worship God in different ways. Different strokes for different folks. The way you worship God is best for you.

          The second thing he says is, be fully convinced of your way. Know what it is you believe. Explore it fully. Know why you believe what you believe. John Wesley is reported to have said, “If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, give me your hand.” This was his core theological position. In essence Wesley was saying, everything else is secondary, not nearly as important as that. Jesus is Lord and Savior.

          There is another phrase that is attributed to Wesley. It may or may not have been said by him: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.” If Wesley didn’t say it, he should have, because it really captures his spirit.

          Wesley had an amazing ability to reach out to all different kinds of people and engage them, and dialogue with them, and think with them. Did he agree with every single person? Of course not. But he never dismissed them. He engaged them.

          Wesley wrote hundreds of tracts throughout his ministry to convince people of his point of view. He preached ceaselessly in trying to convince people of his point of view. He was open to other ideas, but he wanted people to know what he believed, fully convinced in his own mind.

          The third thing that Paul says is, we don’t live to ourselves, and we don’t die to our selves. We live to the Lord, and we die to the Lord. What he us saying here is, what we attribute to God doesn’t make much difference. It is what God has done for us that makes all the difference. We say that we need to do this activity to bless God, to give thanks to God, but what we need to focus on is what God has already done in each of our lives. Don’t focus on your activity or your neighbor’s activity, and especially the differences, focus on what God has done.

          The fourth thing that Paul says is, we are all accountable. At some point we will stand before God, and it won’t do a whole lot of good to say, “I disagree with her, but I agree with him.” God’s going to know what you have done with your life.

          Paul ends the whole section with that phrase again, “Do not cause your brother or sister to stumble. Be concerned about those around you.

          In the 11th chapter of Acts, Peter, who is the leader of the Jewish Christians, comes under criticism from his own fellow Jewish Christians because he has eaten with Gentiles. In Peter’s defense he said, “I had a vision from God that said everyone was OK, to not make distinctions. So I ate with them.”

          Peter was able to grow in his faith because of an open mind, an openness to God. Then Peter said, “Not only did I eat with them, but I began to preach to them. As I preached to them, the Holy Spirit moved in them like it moved in us. The Holy Sprit gave them gifts like the Holy Spirit has given us gifts. Who was I to hinder God?

          Because of Peter’s witness, the Jewish Christians then began to accept the Gentiles. Peter had an open mind. Not all his life by any means, but his mind began to open, and as it did, he led others to a new openness as well, and it strengthened the church.

          God calls us to have open minds. Not to approve of the other person, but to seek for them that which is best, to understand them, and to, in our own way, help. The call to Christian discipleship today is for us to open our minds so that God might use is wonderful gift that each of us has.

          Pray that God will open your mind to God and to saving possibilities.

 

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH