Sunday, May 27, 2012

Spirit and Memorial

Spirit and Memorial
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 27, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Acts 2: 1-12

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

2 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  

Any time Easter is in the beginning of April this strange phenomenon happens. You get the combining of two important holy days. This weekend is of course in this country Memorial Day weekend, a weekend of observance and celebration where we remember those, who have fought, and many who have given their lives fighting for this country. We sing the stirring songs, like America the Beautiful, and my favorite hymn, our national hymn, God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty hand, which the choir sang this morning for the anthem. The ba, babababa ba ba ba, intro to that gets me every time, and the part where the unison goes to harmony, so symbolic of the way Americans throughout our history have been able to master the double edged identity of the individual spirit and the sense of the community spirit that somehow works in harmony when called upon to do so. We have cook outs, and barbecues because Memorial Day marks the start of the summer. Swimming pools across the state are opening this weekend. War movies are on television, helping us to remember the stories of so many brave men and women who have served and paid the ultimate price. Our prayers and our thoughts go out to them always, but having this day set aside to reflect is so important.
On the other hand, this day is also a special day in the life of the church. You will notice that the paraments are red, and my stoll is red. This is the only day in the year where Red is used. Today is also Pentecost Sunday. It is the day we celebrate the birthday of the church. This day marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended, filling the disciples with a new fire, and the church was born. So this morning we also celebrate the wonders of the Holy Spirit, and how the church through the blessing of the Holy Spirit has served the Gospel in this world for the last 2000 years.
I have been struggling this week trying to figure out what the balance should be between these two important observances. On one hand, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform is very much a crucial church message. Only a foolish man would not realize how the sacrifice of so many have made it possible for us to be gathered here in church on these Sunday mornings, in the security of our protected safety here in America. But at the same time Pentecost is possibly one of the most holy days in the church calendar, one of the most holy, but also one of the least understood by many people. We all celebrate and know the story of Christmas, we tell it over and over again in song, and story, and nativity scene. If I asked anyone of  you to tell me the Christmas story, you'd easily do so, but how many of you could tell me the Pentecost story if I asked you to, putting you on the spot? I even would need notes to give the story sufficient details.
Finally I decided to work to combine the celebrations together, weaving patriotic hymns and anthems with Pentecost hymns and prayers, trying to create a web of connected balance, but what to do with the sermon. Which do I preach? Is it possible to preach both? Is there a logical stretchless connection between Pentecost and Memorial Day? A connection that is not forced or strained. I thought about it and thought about it all week, and then I came across a quotation in my research from Ghandi that reads, "Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life." I saw that quote and I was like, Yes! Freedom is the breath of life. Freedom is the Holy Spirit, and our soldiers, our fighting men and women here in America fight so we can be free.
One of the hardest things, I think, for a Christian to do, and it is typically significantly hard for Presbyterians, who desire above all to do things "decently and in order" to be led by the spirit, but imagine how much harder it would be without freedom. Freedom gives the space for the spirit to function through us, and us the flexibility to follow it. I've always thought that the requirements of law and the ways that governments, who restrict freedoms try to force and foster responsible behavior, but do not go as far as the Holy Spirit. There is a sense that laws create a baseline of where good actions end and bad actions begin, whereas the spirit directs us into the difficulties of the moment, pushing us not in a one size fits all black and white, good and bad, existence, but a more messy and fluid, higher standard, where things are not so simple and real virtue is possible. I gave my exam this week to my Junior World Literature students, and one of the questions was "What is freedom? Is it important for humans to be free? Why?" I got some incredible answers. One of the best was:
Human beings must be free. Humans were created free. With mistakes there are successes, with losses come wins. If you cannot make bad choices, good choices mean nothing.  

That really seems to get at it. Freedom allows people to make good  choices, only because we have the ability to also make bad ones. In not so simple black and white terms, freedom allows us to act as the spirit leads, not as government, or kings, or dictators mandate. Let us not forget that this idea, this idea of freedom is not a universal phenomenon, not found in most countries, and most areas, throughout this world, but rather a rare commodity that we enjoy, and sometimes take for granted as Americans.
I came across a poem this week called Freedom is Not Free. I'd like to share it.

Freedom Is Not Free
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.

I heard the sound of TAPS one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That TAPS had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.

No she's right, freedom is not free. But oh so important for the actualization of a true Christian Spirit led life. I think we often take for granted what freedom truly means. I talked last week about the Hanover Presbyterians, who despite it being illegal for them to do so, decided to dissent from the state religion, in order to be led by the spirit to practice their own. And here we are enjoying the rewards of their sacrifice, and we cannot even imagine a world, an existence where we did not have the right to worship as we please.
Another of my students wrote this about freedom:

Freedom is being able to control what you do while not knowing the effects of your decisions. It is very important that humans be free because freedom teaches life lessons and creates a natural consequence for decisions and actions, making the person learn and either change positively or negatively, ultimately helping people if it doesn't destroy them. 

There is brilliance in that statement. Freedom "Being able to control what you do, while not knowing the effects of your decisions." When you are led by the spirit, and hence completely free, it is impossible to know where the spirit will lead, so you do know what the effects will be. . . then he said that this freedom can "ultimately help people. . . if it doesn't destroy them." Wow how profound! Freedom gives us the chance to destroy ourselves, if we were left alone, but gloriously we are not. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit who sustains us, and so today on this Memorial Day we celebrate the freedoms that we have been given, thanking the soldiers who have procured them for us with their service and their lives, and on this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit that fills us, that empowers us, that makes real life possible, and especially that sustains us, making sure that we do not destroy ourselves, as glorious freedom gives us the chance to do.

Let us pray,

Father God, thank you for the gift of your spirit, the dove, the wind, the breath of life, the fire, the invisible force that fills us with the possibilities of goodness, goodness formed by and directed toward You. These possibilities of goodness make freedom possible, sustaining us despite ourselves, making life much more deep, full, and dear. And we also thank you for the lives of so many brave men and women who have served this country. We thank you for their sacrifices, for the time spent away from loved ones and family, for the fear and bravery they must fear to put their lives in harm's way. Protect those who are serving now. Be with them and guide them, so that they may come safely home to their family and country, who love them.  Thank you too for all who have paid the ultimate price and now rest with you. Their gifts, and the holy sacrifice of their lives make possible the freedom we have, the freedom that we have to follow our conscience, the freedom that we have to follow you. We humble pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who also paid the ultimate price to make us free, Amen.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Love as if Life Depended on It

The Commencement Address delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 26, 2012
at The Blue Ridge School, Saint George, Virginia

Members of the board, Mr. Darrin, Parents, Friends, Faculty, Underclassmen, and finally the class of 2012. . . Thank you for the honor of addressing you on this your commencement day. I'm truly moved, and touched. . . May I begin this morning with a brief prayer, join me if you will, let us pray.
Almighty, Loving, Father God,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show us the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
Last night I emailed the entire school community a poem that I penned last year for commencement. I will close this morning with those carefully chosen words, so I know exactly where this message is heading, but I want to offer this speech as a preface to that concise piece of advice, if I could, because one line from that poem I think needs emphasis. I want that line to stand out when I read it later because it is the central focus and the climax of the poem. It is central to your lives as young men, heading out into the world, and also is central to everything that I know to be true about this our world: that line is, "Love as if your life depended on it," simply that, "Love as if your life depended on it."  In the poem I follow that line with "because it does more than you could ever know." I believe to my soul that it truly does, but first why. . .
Our world is difficult, and frustrating, and cruel. There will be times when you will dream about the chance to do a "walkabout" to erase a mistake you made, but in life there is no such thing. You will dream, too, that the phrase, "but that's not fair," actually holds water because it won't. You will dream about having opportunity period because that kind of set aside time to get your work done, would be like gold, but it doesn't exist. Believe me, I know, I have two kids under the age of two. . . I dream of having an opportunity period. And all of that is if you actually get everything you want: a good job, a wife, a family, success. . . but it's not a new phenomenon. Men have struggled throughout history. Whitman writes. . .
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;  
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)  
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;  
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;         
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;  
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
You will and you must contribute a verse; it is a simple as that. What will your verse be is the question. Shakespeare asked it a different way, when he wrote "To be or not to be," that is his question, asking "who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life?"
I suggest to you this morning that the answer to both, the answer to solving the ills of our world, and the answer to the question of what makes life itself worth living, even fraught with those very ills, is the same thing, and that is love.
I've started every class that I've taught here at Blue Ridge the same way. Every September, when most teachers are going through the syllabus, we start with our first vocabulary word. Those of you who had me last year for English, do you remember it? I ask my students to do their best, and write a definition of what "Love" is, and I tell them that their definition must define love completely, all aspects included in their complete definition. After saying they can't use the dictionary, I always get the same kind of thing, "Of or pertaining to the emotion of great care for another person." Anytime  you hear "of or pertaining to" you know that you've already lost. As Big Daddy said in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, "if you gotta use words like that to describe something its 90 proof bull and I'm not buying any." So I hand it back, and they try again, and they go a little deeper, but they always seem to be missing something. They'll include love for a woman, but will leave out the kind of love they have for sports, or family, or their dog, or they'll talk about bliss, but not pain, and we all know that love includes both.
So the next thing we do, to try to spur our thoughts on, is try to come up with phrases that have love in them. . . like Puppy Love, or Young love, or Lost in Love, or Love/Hate Relationship, or What's Love Got to Do With It?, or Love Bites, love bleeds. .. It's bringing me to my knees. . .  Sorry I guess singing Def Leppard shows my age. This exercise always expands the student definitions a bit. Usually a phrase like "Tough Love" hadn't been thought of yet. So after that I have them try again, and now they are writing full paragraphs, trying to list as many aspects as possible. . . but then there is always one in the class ,who writes something like love is a roller coaster. .. and that's when I know I've got 'em. Yes, I celebrate inside, poetry and figurative language are needed to get at an idea like love. . . and now on the first day of class I've got little poets, and class can begin.
Even though I taught them that love is indefinable, I have a working definition that I use, so here goes. This is what I think Love means: Love is "giving of your complete self to and for something that is not you, holding nothing back, but giving of you to else, all of you. . . every single bit, including any thought for what you will get back in return." I think that encapsulates it: the joy, the pain, the suffering, the beauty, the uncertainty, the nausea, the tears, the laughter, the memories, the moments, the fear, the lack of control, the dedication to a sport, every dream ever dreamed, every poem ever written, every love song ever sung, every movie, every story,  the heart break, the risk, the sacrifice, the nervousness, the importance, sex, parenthood, the only hope for our world, and, to be honest, life itself. Can you give all of yourself for something else? Have any of you risked that much? Probably not yet. I stand here this morning struggling with it myself. It is the most difficult thing that a human can do, but I can think of no nobler aspect of life.
What makes it so difficult? You may disagree. . . you may be thinking to yourself. Mr. Atkinson, talk about 90 proof bull. I've loved, and it is not that hard. But have you given of your complete self? Do you even know yet what your complete self is? That is part of the difficulty. To truly love, you must know who you are because how can you give all, if you don't know what all is? So find out who you are. . . The world needs you to, because the world needs you to love. Each one of you has a self that is completely unique to you, and the world needs you to give it. No one else can give the gift of you, and the world needs all of us, so begin your search for yourself. Build it up, but build it up to give it.
Many of you will have that chance in college. You will have the opportunity to find out who you are. Do so, search, seek, and be true. One of the biggest problems that men face in this world is remaining true to that self because there are many defining voices in this world − voices that will try to put you in a confined box and trap you in a group, by race, by political affiliation, by your job, by income, by where you are from. We actually add another one to you today.
You are now Blue Ridge Graduates.  It will forever be a part of who you are, but it must remain exactly that, a part. There is so much more that you will welcome under the umbrella of you, as your world expands. Let it continue to expand. There is nothing more valuable to give than a self that is continuing to expand. Think of the possibilities that makes for love. They are infinite, which is good because our world has seemingly infinite problems: political polarization, failing economic systems, war, hatred, violence, terrorism, misguided protest movements, the constant threat of total annihilation. . . Yes what the world needs now is love, sweet love, and that means that you, each of you must be willing to give love. You will carry the torch of humanity into the future. Will yours be the generation that finally figures it all out? We can hope. We can have faith because we can believe in the power and the existence of love. Be a part of that truth.
I hope you are starting to realize something about love, in what I've been saying. Love is like life. It's hard; it takes your all; it's filled with risk, and when lived right, when loved right, it's actually lived. It leaves a growing, glowing, glorious trail of life behind it. We started with Whitman "That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse." Life exists, love exists, and identity. You are unique manifestation of life, created by love, to give love. It seems so simple. May it be so.
Now, having given the preface, my poem:

For the 2012 Graduates of Blue Ridge School

To commence, to start, initiate;
To gather together and begin,
So here we are together one last time
And off you go, at the outset of a journey,
Having completed the twelve year tutorial,
Embark, with guided steps.
Good luck, bon voyage, congratulations,
All are certainly in order.
You’ve earned this day,
The culmination of past days,
The first of future days.
Burst free and fly, it’s you now,
Your choices, your plans, your work,
Your future, your life,
And we who’ve played a part,
Go with you forever,
Just as you stay with us forever,
For bonds made in relationship don’t break,
Impact is reciprocal when it’s honest,
Teaching is learning when it’s true,
The intersections of life are life,
Thank you for what you brought,
And I hope you can use what I gave,
Then as your path winds on,
May the way build you as the past has done,
And know that there is only one instance of you,
One original creation,
One glorious blessed uniqueness,
That has much to offer a world in need.
Know yourself, be yourself, always,
One unified searching soul.
Encounter each challenge as it comes.
Remember that suffering strengthens,
That pain deepens your soul,
So instead of avoiding, attack.
Attack life and live.
Taste each breath you take.
Feel each tear you shed.
Treasure each time you laugh.
And love as if your life depended on it
Because it does more than you ever could know.
I can give no other advice
On this your commencement
Than to stop for only a second,
Smile, take a breath, and go. . .

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Heritage and Identity

Heritage and Identity
A sermon delivered by Peter T. Atkinson
May 20, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Matthew 1:1-6 

History is important. It was written by American philosopher, George Santayana, that “Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Though I agree with him in some aspects, I think that his understanding of the importance of history falls short. We do not only learn from the mistakes of the past, we learn from the triumphs of the past as well. We learn from the struggles, the sacrifices, the songs, the stories, the thoughts, the dreams of the past because they are us. Their story is our story. The settings change the characters have different faces, but the story is one. It is our human story and our relationship with our maker. When we study the past we find out about who we are today, and we see the presence of God in our lives.
The Gospel reading for this morning was taken from the beginning of Matthew. I can bet that you have probably never heard this text as the center piece for a sermon before. Genealogies typically do not make for compelling messages. When we read the Bible and we get to those parts of Genesis or this passage in Matthew we tend to skip over them. And we don’t miss much; they are just lists of hard to pronounce names with the word begat or the father of mixed in between. There is no story just the list. Its like reading the phonebook, lots of characters but not much plot. Why does Matthew the evangelist decide to include something so seemingly trivial?
The Gospels are a unique genre of literature because they are not really histories, though they have elements of history. They are not merely stories, though they have many narrative qualities as well. They also are filled with parables and the teachings of Jesus, conversations that Jesus had with his disciples and accounts of miracles that he performed. The word Gospel, or Euaggelos, in Greek, means the Good News. The Gospels’ main function is proclamation. They are sermons. They are describing who Jesus is and what his life means. So Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy because in order to teach about Jesus’ identity, who Jesus is, he must place Jesus in his historical context. Human beings are not separated from those who come before us; instead we are creatures of our heritage, shaped by our heritage. None of the four Gospels begin with Jesus’ birth, instead they begin with his fore bearers. A genealogy begins the Gospel of Matthew. The other Gospels begin with accounts of John the Baptist. They go on to preach about the works of Jesus himself, but always within the framework of the past, his ancestors and their legacy within him.
Likewise if we are to truly understand who we are as Christians we must study the history of the church. It is impossible to know who we are without it. All of the triumphs and glory as well as all of the baggage that comes with 2000 years of history; it is part of who we are. 1500 years after the church was founded on Pentecost, our own denomination of Presbyterianism was founded in Scotland, by John Knox who studied and learned under Calvin in Geneva. For the past 500 years Presbyterians have been creating the heritage that we celebrate today.
On this day we look to that past with nostalgia. We've invited Tim MacLeod to join us this morning and share with us and the town of Gordonsville his beautiful piping, helping  us celebrate the history of our Presbyterian Denomination. This morning I would like to focus on just one era in the history of Presbyterianism because it is close to home for us in Virginia. This church shares roots with the earliest Presbyterian churches in the former colony of Virginia. This history  also serves as a challenge to our own modern conception of our identity as Presbyterians.
I’m going to read to you two different descriptions of churches both of which are written by those from the outside, voicing their perceptions of the goings on within the church. I want you to try to figure out which one is describing a Presbyterian Church and which one is not. The first:

The church has spread with its appeal focused especially on the common people. The churches are convened sometimes by mere enthusiasts, who, in these meetings read sundry fanatical books, and use long extempore prayers and discourses—sometimes by itinerant strolling ministers, and at present by a permanent preacher, who is well known to be intimate with known evangelical rabble rousers. Their sole purpose is to spread their religion to all parts of this colony, using emotional frenzy, undermining the true church at every step.[1]

Ok that is the first, here is the second.

The church is in a low state. A surprising negligence appears in attending on Publick worship; and an equally surprising Levity and Unconcernedness in those who attend. Godliness is not common. There is a general malaise in the congregation. The sermons are dull and the people are contented by the stale teachings from the pulpit.[2]

Which is the Presbyterian Church as described in those two passages? Is the Presbyterian Church the one described as filled with emotional frenzy, or is the Presbyterian Church the one described as stale and dead? People on the outside never quite understand do they. Many look at Presbyterians today and stereotype us in certain ways.  
One common stereotype of us is that we are the frozen chosen, based on our unwillingness to show any emotion in church, and also our affirming of the doctrine of Predestination. There is also a popular YouTube personality called Betty Butterfield, ( )  her shtick is that she is trying to find a church, so she goes to different churches participates in the service then reports back on YouTube about her experiences. Her descriptions are very irreverent but filled with stereotypical denominational characteristics, satirically exaggerated but pretty spot on. The Presbyterian one is exceptionally well done. First off you have to picture Betty Butterfield’s character. She is actually a he, dressed up as a southern woman who wears a moo moo and way too much make up. She has a leaning toward speaking in tongues and such things like that, so the Presbyterian Church for her is a culture shock. She first off the bat is surprised by how quiet the church is. She says that you could hear a pin drop, and even the children were quiet, she says if any of the kids opened their mouths at all their mothers would just pinch ‘em! I can remember being pinched like that on occasion. She also complains that the service is old fashioned and boring, which is why she says that the average age in the church is 95. And she says that she cannot understand the sermon because it is too academically rigorous. She is complimentary on one aspect of the Presbyterian Church, and that she says is the program for the women. She says that you can’t sneeze in there without 6 women bringing you a casserole. All of them green beans and onions. Obviously, there is much more to us than that, but these are some of the perceptions of the Presbyterian Church outside of these walls.
The truth is that the first of the two readings describes the Presbyterian Church in Virginia in the 1740’s and it was written by an outsider, the Reverend Patrick Henry, whose nephew and namesake, was the famous American Patriot. He describes the group of Presbyterian dissenters in Hanover County as enthusiastic, rabble, fanatical, and frenzied. Rev. Henry was the head of the Hanover Anglican Parish, the established state church, which is the church described in the second of the two readings. His description of the Hanover dissenters is very biased and a little off base, but it describes a church that is a real force. It is very interesting that both his description of the Presbyterians in the 1740’s and Betty Butterfield’s satire of today are both stereotypes of the same church. They could not be any further apart.
The people he is describing are supposed to be in his church, but refuse. The Hanover Church is alive and flourishing despite the fact that attending services was all but illegal. Colonial Virginia did not have religious freedom like we know today. The Anglican Church was the established church. Failure to attend the Anglican services resulted in fines. So these Presbyterians were fined, persecuted, and sometimes jailed for their religious convictions, but yet they were not swayed from their faith. If we were not allowed to worship here in this fine old building because it was against the law how would we react? Would it matter? Would we be here? Would we care?
The Presbyterian preacher who came to lead the Hanover dissenters was the child of a Scottish Immigrant by the name Samuel Davies. If you’ll notice in your bulletin that the Prayer of Preparation and the Prayer of Confession both were written by him as well as our opening hymn. He was a published poet and famous for his oratory skills. I’ve read a great many of his sermons and they definitely were not mindless rabble, but they were filled with life and emotion. They are very intellectual, highly evangelical (or based in the Gospels), and quite inspiring even today.
My purpose for telling the story of the Hanover Presbyterians is three fold. The first is to challenge us. The Presbyterian Church in Virginia has a rich past full of energy. It has a tradition of being the place to be, a place of life, a place busting at the seems. In Hanover they were forced to worship outside because they could not fit everyone in their small meeting house. They were lively, and they were missional, they were among the first to baptize and educate African slaves. They cared for each other. They cared for their communities, and they expanded. We can create that again. We can have that same energy here; it is in our Tradition, much older than anything rigid and stuffy. Our tradition holds education high, literacy high, mutual forbearance, the free exchange of ideas, and above all caring for each other. Let us always strive to do so.
The second reason to bring up the Hanover dissenters is to give us a chance to be inspired by our fore bearers. Their zeal, their talent, and their piety is truly inspiring. Presbyterians have been established in America for so long now that we often forget that it was not always the case. It was on the backs of these peoples’ piety and audacity that our religious freedom was won. Their stubborn belief in strong teaching and pious living made their church strong in the face of opposition. Today we have our own opposition, dwindling numbers, growing antagonism for faith in the public arena, expanding secularism, educational systems that are ambivalent about faith at best and downright hostile to it at worst, but we can overcome it because of the third major reason I chose to talk about our unique history.
That third is a major part of the first two, and is no doubt the most important. God is with us. Many times it is easier to see the Spirit working in the past. It surely was working with the Hanover Dissenters. The presence of God, God’s providence, directed their steps as they created the Presbyterian Church in Virginia. They are witnesses to that fact. God is working with us too. Oh God our Help in Ages past IS our hope for years to come. It is harder to see the spirit working today as we struggle through difficult transition, but it is there. Guiding us, may we just allow ourselves to be led. The fact that an English teacher is called to preach this morning about God guiding the steps of his 8th generation great grandfather is a testament to God’s working in the world. There is no way it could have been predicted outside of the Providence of God. And I thank God that I have this opportunity, and that we, standing on the shoulders of the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us, directed by God's Holy Providence can do amazing things in this little church, in this little town.  Let us pray!

Father God, Almighty and Just, guide our steps as you have those who have come before us. May we find strength and comfort in the witness of our heritage. May we be a strong part of that heritage, always building up your church. May we learn from them, from each other, and from You. As we head into the future lead us in your ways that we may walk along your path as so many have walked before beside you. It is only through your power that it is possible. To You, oh God who works all things to Good, we humbly pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

[1] Reverend Patrick Henry, et al. “To the House of Burgesses” from Meade’s Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia (Philadelphia, 1891), 429.
[2] Samuel Davies, The State of Religion among the Protestant Dissenters in Virginia; in a Letter to the Rev. Mr. Joseph Bellamy, of Bethlem, in New-England: from the Reverend Mr. Samuel Davies, V.D.M. in Hanover County, Virginia (Boston, 1751).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Love: Feed, Tend, Feed

Love: Feed, Tend, Feed
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 13, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 21: 1-19
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life. 

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.[1]  

I began this week, knowing that I wanted to preach on the "Feed my Sheep" passage from the Gospel of John. In this Easter Season we have looked at most of all four gospels and their big encounters with the Risen Lord, and this one makes a lot of sense to include, especially since one of our biggest and most successful Mission programs is named for a line from this passage. I thought it would be a simple passage, where Jesus is commissioning his disciples to take care of his people, by telling them/us to "feed his sheep." What I ran into instead is a very complex passage, that seems to have endless possibilities beyond and including this simple commissioning, we all know so well. It has a sending, it has another fit of overwhelming miraculous fishing success, disciples reacting to Jesus, it has a big breakfast, that would make our mouth water, had we not, many of us, had such a wonderful feast ourselves just minutes ago. It has a Peter professing love for Jesus, and then being hurt by Jesus, it has a parenthetical note about how Peter may die, and if you keep reading it talks about how one of the other disciples may never die. It is pretty heavy material, and on Mother's Day of all days.
But being never one to back down from a challenge, and inspired because it is Mother's day, here goes. Since it is Mother's Day, and for the past two weeks I have been living in the midst of a great mom with a brand new baby, I couldn't help but see the similarities between what Jesus tells Peter to do, and the amazing work of a mom: To feed, to tend, and to feed. It seems like a sandwich, of feeding around tending. That has pretty much been the way of it at our house for the past two weeks. The feeding is never done, and between the feeding times is the tending, all waiting around for the next feeding. I stand in awe of all the Moms for so much, but the work that a mom does with a newborn is truly amazing. With very little sleep, a mom is asked to give love, to give food, to create bonds, to give nourishment, and to give life. This must be a model for the kind of love Jesus is talking about. It is literally giving of self for another, self, energy, sleep, milk, time, endless time it seems.
But the most impressive thing a mom does, really gets to the bottom of what I think is going on in this text. Every mom, must build up her child's strength, character, self, education, and then set their child free to be the human being they were meant to be. As a dad I stand in awe of it because I am seeing first-hand the bonds that mom's make. This perfect relationship between a life giver and the person who has received life. What an amazing bond. Beautiful, breathtaking, words just can't describe it. And then eventually there comes the time when the child is prepared and ready to be sent out into the world, having developed enough. To me this is the situation going on in this passage.
Jesus says, "do you love me" Peter says yes. . . Well then great, "Feed my lambs." You are ready now, pick up here where I left off. Go forth and take over for me because there is much to do, and though I'll always be here for you, it is time for you now. In case Peter doesn't get the seriousness of this passing of the torch, Jesus asks him three times. Three is an important number for Peter, he denied three times after all. Does he erase all three denials here? It's on that third time where Peter gets defensive and hurt. But this is not about Peter's guilt, it's about a new mission. This passage opens just like Simon's call to disciple passage from earlier in the story. Simon, now called Peter was out fishing, and catching nothing, then in walks Jesus, and their nets are overflowing. Jesus says, I will make you fishers of men and the rest is history: Peter has become a disciple. Here we are again, same boat, same scenario, different time, and this time it is the Risen Christ, but the result is the same. The nets are full. Now Peter is being sent to do the work he has been trained to do. Feeding the sheep. He is now an apostle, one who is sent, sent to feed Jesus' lambs.
I tied this commissioning to motherhood because no other distinction quite goes far enough because the feeding goes so far beyond mere food. We are sent to feed the sheep of the man who said that man does not live by bread alone. Feeding Jesus's sheep, taking over for him means that we need to give life. We need to give the kind of nourishment that builds up life. We need to leave a trail of life behind us, just as Jesus has. There is no limit to the amount of love that is needed to give either. It seems like limitless. If Peter is taking over for Jesus, how can you feed his lambs less than Jesus did. He can't, he must do the job like Christ. Otherwise the "lambs," Jesus even claims them saying, "my lambs" will not be fulfilled, and it will result in decline. No that can't happen. Jesus has entrusted Peter, which means that Jesus has empowered Peter, which means that Jesus believes in Peter.
And look at where it goes from there, "18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)" It won't last forever Peter. Eventually you will be in this place too. And you will need to have feed my lambs enough for there to be someone else who you can pass this torch, too. You like me will be in this position, and there must be someone to follow you, just as you "follow me" The last verse in the passage, 19 is "After this he said to him, “Follow me"
Follow me, walking in my footsteps. He says this, not because Peter can't do it, but because he knows he can. He has been fed, nourished, forgiven, and given life, now he must pass that along to the next person. This is our legacy, passed for 2000 years to us. What do we do with it? Do we feed Christ's lambs, or don't we, feeding them enough to take over for us when we are gone.
This idea of passing the torch is found throughout the Bible. Abraham passes to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob. Then Moses to Joshua. This one has always been important to me because it really parallels Jesus here because when Moses passes his torch to Joshua, the job is not finished. Moses has led the Israelites from Egypt, but they have not yet reached the promised land. Moses only gets to see it, then pass on his leadership on to another. Look at Deuteronomy 34: 1-8

 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. 4 The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. [2]

Moses must pass on before he makes it to the promised land. He sees it but cannot enter it. He must give his responsibility to another, trusting that they can do the job. Jesus does the same to Peter, and Peter must do the same to us. . . and there will come a time when we will need to do so too. Have we fed those who will follow? Do we hold on to things, doing them ourselves because we are sure, positive that if we didn't do it, nobody would? It is not sustainable and it is not healthy, and it is not a part of how we are called to function in that way, always holding on, rather than building up and letting go. We should take a lesson from Jesus here, and we should see it paralleled in all the wonderful moms who have ever loved, built up, and then let their children stand. Such is the basis of true life, true discipleship, and true apostleship. Everything else is destined to die. Jesus steps aside because he has faith in Peter, he knows. He has faith in us too, may we have faith in each other, my how hard that is?
             This week I came across a quote from Nelson Mandela that I think is fitting to close this


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Imagine believing that about yourself, and then to truly believe that another has that same amazing gift. You certainly then could educate them, empower them, and believe in them, and let them take over just where you left off, just as Jesus does here. . . May it be so.
             A few years ago I wrote a song for Dr. Bob Gustafson, who was then the interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hampton. He was preaching at a meeting of the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia about the work of an interim, who must plant seeds and then say goodbye. I thought I would sing that now as a way to close this sermon. . .

Here I stand atop the mountain
The future lies in the Promised Land
But I, myself won’t reach that fountain
I have to place control into another’s hand

Passing on is never easy
Passing on is hard to do
‘Cuz passing on takes so much more faith
Allowing God to work in those who come after you

I have led from the changing moment
Not as myself but by the father’s will
I pass along just before fulfillment
T’ Those next ordained to walk the path I’s blessed to fill

Though I leave many friends behind me
My own path takes another road
I mustn’t let my fear to bind me
Because with God beside me I can’t be alone

I must leave let others steer now
Not my will but thine be done
I must let go with faith not fear now
I know their steps’ll be led as mine were led now on.
Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 21:1-19). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Dt 34:1-8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some Doubt

Some Doubt. . .
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
May 6, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 20: 24-29

Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life. 

John 20: 24-29

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
           Doubting Thomas, this story, has been used for years to challenge people to believe. Nobody really wants to be considered a "doubting Thomas." It is safe to say, I think, that anytime a person's name becomes a label you are going to have problems. I know you've heard it before. It usually is proceeded by, don't pull a ________, then you insert someone's name. With Thomas though, I'm not sure that his forever label is really fair, or whether Jesus is as critical of him as the history of Bible Commentary has been. I mean really is doubt a bad thing, an unforgivable sin in a world where we are saved by faith alone?
I want to begin this morning by talking a little about my process for studying the Bible and forming an idea for a sermon because this process may give you a little insight into where I am coming from in what I'm trying to say this morning about this well known passage.
I was trained at seminary to always exegete and never isogete, when entering a Biblical Text. Many of you are probably wondering what the difference is. If you are like I was before going to seminary you'd have no clue. The two words were thrown around so much in my first year that I was afraid for a long time to ask what they meant. It seemed I was supposed to know; it seemed every else knew what it was except me, but I had absolutely no clue. What I found was that basically Exegesis, which is the good one is focusing on what the text is saying, what you get --Exo--, out of the text, beyond your own biases, listening to exactly what the text is saying. On the other hand, Isogesis, which is the bad one is reading --Iso-- into the text, bringing your own biases and preconceived notions on what the text says before you ever read it. I think it's is true that Exogesis is the better of the two, but how easy is it to completely divorce yourself from your thoughts before entering a text? It is nearly impossible, and it is even worse when a passage is well known. I also am never trustworthy of any thing, person, or process, which tells you to be completely devoid of personal thought. So what I do instead is try to question everything within the text, what I've heard, what I've thought in the past, trying my best to prove it wrong. Then when I get that figured out, I again challenge that, and then that again, and that again, until its Saturday afternoon/night and I'm ready to collect all these thoughts together into some kind of coherent idea.
So let's go through that process a little with this text. The first thing that comes to mind when you read this story, and I've heard it preached this way many times, is that it is better to not be a doubter, as I began this morning, "who wants to be a doubting Thomas." This is the interpretation that sees doubt as the opposite of faith, and faith is good, making doubt therefore bad. In other words, forget what you think, forget what you feel, forget what your mind tells you, and believe. You must, otherwise you are a heretic, a sinner, a "bad" Christian, and a bad person, and therefore unworthy of the grace that Christ has to offer. I mean we are saved by our faith right? Have you ever heard it interpreted that way? Probably, and regrettably so.
So according to my process, I wanted to do everything I could to poke holes in this interpretation. So here goes, the problem with this interpretation to me is that doubt is natural. We all have doubts. And if doubt is both natural and bad, then we have a major problem because the impenetrable barriers of dishonesty will be brought into our  relationship with God. Imagine it, God says that I can't doubt, but I do. . . now what? Somewhere along the way if I want to be good, then I've got to start lying to somebody, either to myself or to God, and is that the basis of the relationship that Jesus came to reconcile? It sounds to me a lot like what sin is, barriers to relationship with God. Is there room for doubt in faith? I would say yes. There must be, right. Great, so Thomas is not bad, but is somehow good. It is ok that he doubted, maybe even good.
Ok good, we've got that figured out. But before we go too far with it, let's poke holes in this thought now. I was doing ok with this idea, and I was ready to package it, but then I looked again at the text, and there it was, in Jesus' own words, giving credence to the other interpretation. Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now what am I going to do with that. It seems to really suggest that it would be a lot better if we didn't have doubts. But I'm not ready to say that doubts are bad. I still think going down that road is way too dangerous. I mean we've been down it before. It is the stuff of Inquisitions and witch trials and persecution and hypocrisy. It is ugly stuff.
So maybe I'm missing something about the word "blessed." Let's look that up. We usually see "blessed" as a synonym for "saved" right, at least when it is found in the Beatitudes, but maybe, just maybe this blessed comes from a different Greek word for blessed that means like lucky or something, rather than "saved". . . It can't be the same Greek word as the Beatitudes. . . You know

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake."

Maybe that is my out, I can get around the blessed thing, and say it has a different meaning, but only if it's not the same word as that famous passage because we know what Blessed means there. But no such luck. It is the same Greek word,  μακάριος.  It is funny though as I was looking, even though it is the same Greek word, I found that it doesn't mean saved, but rather it  means "happy, or fortunate." So now I've opened up a whole can of worms with the Beatitudes, but it does open up the door for us in this passage.
Look at it, "Happy and Fortunate are those who can believe without seeing." The Beach Boys song, "Wouldn't it Be Nice," comes to mind. Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have doubts. We could walk again with God in the cool of the day, no doubts, no sin, just perfect relationship, but for most of us that is not the case. We do doubt. We do, so where does that leave us in this passage. Hey it would be nice if we didn't doubt, but we do, so Jesus says, "Thomas, Put your finger here and see my hands, reach out your hand and put it in my side." In other words, Thomas, I'm here put your doubts to the test. I can handle it, and I can show you. Jesus can do that because he is real. The scars are real, the cross is real, and the resurrection is real. The truth does not fear doubt, only lies do.
Think about it. How often when someone has something to hide, they aggressively deny anyone's right to doubt them. I mean this is an election year. We're surrounded by that kind of talk. You can go a long way by silencing those who doubt you. The history of the church is full of that type of doubt smashing. I always wondered why, what are we trying to protect people from? If it is all true why do we need to punish people for their doubts. It seems like a position taken in doubt rather than in faith,  but Jesus doesn't do that. He doesn't send Thomas and his doubts away, instead he embraces Thomas and his doubts, and shows Thomas the truth. It would be better if you could take my word for it, better for you, but since you can't here you go, let me show you the truth.
There is another important action in this story though. And that is Thomas, himself. He does it. He sticks his hand in the hole, he feels the wound on the side, and he allows his mind to change. This seems to me more important than his doubt. He is willing to doubt his doubt. He is willing to be proven wrong, and then willing to adjust his thinking. He is open to the change, to learn something new. He welcomes it. He poses a question, "Is Jesus really resurrected?" Then he challenges the question, "I don't believe it until I see it for myself." And then he does see for himself. . . Have you ever done this in your life? It is easy to pose the question, and it is easy to set the parameters of your doubt, but then it is so hard when the truth becomes apparent to then accept it as truth. Isn't that hard? It's hard because that type of thing forces you to change your life, to completely realign who you are, and what you believe. For Thomas that means living out a life of travel, preaching, and eventual martyrdom for his faith, all of which begins with "seeing" doubt challenging moment here. Maybe he would have been lucky to have believed without seeing, but you can't question the power of a faith that transforms life like his does. Is doubt our problem, or worry about where our faith will take us? Only you can answer that question for yourself? So I invite you to ask it. Ask yourself that all too difficult question. If you had the opportunity to put your hands into the holes in Jesus' resurrected flesh would you, knowing that when you do, your life would have to completely change?
Ok let's change direction for a minute. Let's look at this from another angle. Can you have faith without doubt? Are the words incompatible opposites or are they two important complimentary pieces of a whole? Is faith without doubt still faith? I don't think so, it's then knowledge or fact, things you merely acknowledge, rather than believe. To be honest complete knowledge actually creates sin, doesn't it because it creates arrogance instead of humility. Doubt allows you to empathize with others who have doubt, and to realize that you must be dependent upon Christ. I come back to the Blessed are those who believe and do not see. I can imagine Jesus saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if this were the case because I wouldn't have had to go to the cross." It would be nice, but then why would you need me? I said earlier that people, throughout the centuries have looked at this text and said "I doubt therefore I am not good." Exactly! Perhaps there is something to that. I had said that it creates a system where we are either lying to ourselves about our doubt, or lying to God to hide our doubt. Perhaps that is the very thing that can create a little humility in us, that instead of creating a breach in relationship based on lies, it can be a beginning to a relationship based on honest confession, bowing down before Christ in need. I cannot boast in anything, not my goodness, not the quality of my faith or my blessedness, I simply can only boast in Jesus Christ.
So let's rewind a little bit here because it has basically been a circular journey with many different stops and changes of direction. First we looked at the idea that doubt is bad, and if our salvation was based on our lack of doubt, as many have preached for centuries, we will have trouble because doubt seems to be natural to us. So I posed the opposite thought that doubt must be good in some way, or at least ok. But then we looked at the text and found Jesus saying that those who simply believe without seeing are blessed, and that blessed here is the same as the blessed in the Beatitutes, but that it means lucky or fortunate rather than "saved." This opened the door for us to look at how yeah it might be better for us to not doubt, but since we do it is ok, and Jesus allows us to work within it, for he makes himself available to Thomas, showing him the wounds. But then we looked at Thomas and the amount of faith and courage it took to actually reach out and place his hands in the wounds, knowing that his life would change forever. Then we looked at also how faith needs doubt, and that our doubt makes true our very need for the grace of Christ.
Yes. . . . What a whirlwind. . . Here we are at a new place, perhaps a new understanding. . . and it all started with a little doubt. One little question. Is this true? I've been told it's true, but am I sure. Let's test it. Part of it seems true, but there is this over here that doesn't fit so nicely. What do we do with this piece? Ok got that now, but that changes what I thought about that before, remember the Beatitudes. I'm going to have to relook at that sometime. One little question begins a new journey and a new walk, and a larger glimpse of the truth, and a truer relationship is formed. Do a little doubting, see where it takes you. I invite you to because I am confident of the truth. "Put your finger here, put your hand here, do not doubt, believe." Doubt is only bad if it cripples you scaring you from the questions. Don't let it. Ask away!
I preach this to my students almost every day. Some people call it being open minded, but I've never liked that term. It reminds me too much of a lobotomized air head. People that tell you to be open minded have an agenda. I prefer the term Welcome Minded. Your mind is like a house. Welcome all visitors, but at the end of the day you are the owner of the house because you pay its eternal rent.
I wrote this poem a number of years back, before I had thought about a term like Welcome Minded. It's called "May I Ever Come to Know"

May I ever come to know
That what I know
Falls far short
Of what I need to know. 

May I learn
That in my thirst
For what I don’t know
That I won’t forget
The truth that I do know, 

And that is that I know
Considerably less
The more I am blessed
To come to know.

 It is funny when I wrote that I didn't do it on purpose, but when I centered the text it was in the shape of a Pineapple, the international symbol for Welcome, and that's what made me come up with the term. So be humble, be faithful, doubt, and be welcome minded, ask the hard questions, be willing to go where they take you, though it may be a difficult journey, one thing is sure it will surely be a true journey. . . and it will be a journey of and with a God who is true. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 20:24-29). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.