Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Welcome Mind

A Welcome Mind
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
October 21, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:16c
Luke 12: 54-59
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.

As we move further through the Marks of a True Christian, nearing the last few weeks of the series, this week we look at the third part of verse 16, which is "do not claim to be wiser than you are," so taking a look back at the journey we've been on. Romans 12, starting with verse 9: 

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.[1]

I wanted to pick a good passage to pair with this one, especially because the Old Testament lesson from Proverbs was so strong, and so I chose this, Luke 12: 54-59, a passage that has two sections, the first suggesting the limits to our wisdom, and the second showing that at other times it is important to think for ourselves. But I'll get to that in a second. . .  

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

It is interesting that Luke strings these two stories together, one after another. It really does get at the idea that you just can't figure Jesus out. One minute he is saying one thing, and then the next, seemingly just to keep us on our toes, he challenges our simple understanding, always one step ahead, making it more, pushing it further. Look at these two episodes. In the first he is basically saying to the crowds how lost they are. They can see certain signs in the sky, the weather patterns, but there is a limit to their knowledge. They can read the weather, but they cannot, as Jesus puts it, "interpret the present time." He even goes so far as to call them hypocrites for it, as if not only can they not interpret the present time, but that they think they can. They think they can and they horribly miss the mark. Just to give you a little context for this quotation, it comes right after, in Luke, where Jesus is talking about bringing division rather than "Peace on Earth." Here the child who was born in the manger, and the angels sang to the shepherds singing glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth to men of good will, is now saying, starting in Luke 12: 51:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  

If you would think Jesus is simple, with simple ideas, and simple lessons this passage really challenges that notion. There is always more. Again, back to our passage, "do not think you are wiser than you are." Just when you think you've got it locked down, challenge yourself and think again, it seems to say.
But then, just when you are sufficiently confused and ready to you check your own brain at the door, and do whatever you are told without questioning, you know, since now  you know that you are not wise, others should be making your decisions for you right? Follow those who are wise. . . know your role. Right, just when you may be beginning to think that, Jesus goes on to the second half of our gospel lesson for this morning, saying, "and why do you not judge for yourselves?" Judge for ourselves Jesus, you just told us that we don't know what we are doing, that we are lacking in judgment, that our thoughts are misguided and our knowledge is full of holes, and now we are supposed to judge for ourselves? Yes he says, "Why do you not judge for yourselves?" and I paraphrase, because if you don't you will be manipulated, taken advantage of, you will be a pawn, a victim, a stooge. The powers that be, will certainly make a decision for you, and then you will have to go with what they say, and their decision may not be just, it may not be fair, it may not be right, and you have given up. Why do you not judge for yourselves? The history of the Christian Church is fraught with this problem, from the Medieval Catholic Church's manipulation of Europe, through indulgences, crusades, witch trials, inquisitions, and misguided teachings, all the way to the Pat Robertson's going on TV and claiming to know for certain that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment for sin. Many people accept that kind of teaching without question, assuming that the leader has more knowledge, more wisdom than them, because we shouldn't think we are wiser than we are.
Just because we do not know everything does not mean we know nothing. Wisdom exists and should be sought. Ron read from the opening of Proverbs, the prologue of Wisdom, I would like to read from later in that chapter, starting with verse 20, it is subtitled in my Bible as "The Call of Wisdom:"

20     Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
21     At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22     “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23     Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24     Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25     and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26     I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
27     when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28     Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29     Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30     would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
31     therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
32     For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33     but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”  

Yes wisdom exists. Just because we do not know it, that we do not control it, have a grasp of it, it does exits, and as this passage suggests, it is calling us to seek it, to constantly seek it, to be willing to learn.
Many, today, would call this being open minded, open to new ideas, etc.. but have you ever noticed that when people tell you to be open minded they really just want you to think like they do? They say, "come on open your mind, or hey, you need to be more open minded about this," in other words, forget what you know, forget what you think, forget what you believe and listen to me. If you look to the first half of the gospel lesson you may see Jesus telling us to be open minded when he says, "you Hypocrites, you cannot interpret the times," but then what about the second half, saying, "why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" So the term open minded is lacking because it doesn't take into account the wisdom that you do have already. Open minded could be akin to being an air head, ideas going in and out without any lasting power. No we need another term to be more in line with the complexity of Jesus' teaching, and also the call from Paul, to "not think yourself wiser than you are." Again it doesn't suggest you lack all wisdom.
Take a look at the prayer for preparation, I penned this a few years ago.

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. 

The poem seeks to communicate the idea that real knowledge is being aware of what you do know and being aware of what you don't know, but what really struck me about it, was that when I centered it, as you can see it takes a shape. I didn't shape it that way on purpose, but don't you see the pineapple? Of course, as many of you know, the pineapple is an international symbol for welcome, and since this poem was all about seeking more knowledge, while being aware of the knowledge that you have already gained, it made me think of this very idea we've been looking at today, and the term, "Welcome Minded," came to me as a better, more accurate, term to replace "Open Minded," which we have shown to be lacking. I started to write down some ideas, and this is what came to me as the defining statement of "Welcome Mindedness:"

I hear people speak about being open minded,
But usually they use "open" as a close minded tool
To further their own agenda. Openness is closed to
Tradition, openness is closed to the past,
Openness is closed to standards, claiming to be tolerant,
But actually are quite intolerant of any who do not share
Their open views. I'd rather be welcome minded,
Welcoming other ideas in for a visit,
All who come are surely welcome,
But any decision made on who will stay
In the house of my mind's gracious hospitality,
Is forever the right of the owner of that house.
I refuse to allow another to rule my mind, for I
Am the one who pays the eternal mortgage.

Presbyterians have historically understood and advanced this concept. In our Book of Order in the first section outlines the historic principles of Presbyterian Church Order. The first of those principles is " 

 (1) (a) That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and
hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men
which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters
of faith or worship.”
(b) Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment,
in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable:
We do not even wish to see any religious constitution
aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection
and security, and at the same time, be equal and common
to all others.
It is one of those aspects that has always appealed to me about the Presbyterian Church, that we are all seekers, seeking God, seeking truth, seeking wisdom, because we acknowledge that those things exist even though, and at the same time we acknowledge that we do not know all there is to know about it. So let us walk together, seeking together, sharing what we know, and welcoming in the ideas that we do not know, going to God's Word, finding in it not simple truisms, but more complex eternal truth. As such we will "not be claiming to be smarter than we are," we will be remembering that knowledge of God is the source of all wisdom, so let us go forth and continuously seek to gain that wisdom. Amen



[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 12:9-16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.