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February 4, 2018

“Open for Business?”  

Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:7-8; Proverbs 4:23; Psalm 51:10; Colossians 3:12; 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2;1 Peter 4:9 

 

Today’s sermon focuses upon our church vision statement, which says as follows: 

Our Vision Statement 

Open Minds: We develop programs and practices that encourage spiritual growth and explore our relationships within the body of Christ. 

  

Open Hands: We believe in the biblical call to serve. We put our faith into action and commit our time and gifts to promote social justice, peacemaking, and stewardship of God's creation. 

  

Open Hearts: We honor the value and dignity of each person. 

  

Open Table: We are an inclusive, open and affirming community. We welcome all people. 

That is a lovely statement, and was adopted in 2009 by the session of this congregation to guide the vision of this church. Today we’ll unpack this statement a bit and see if and how it guides us as a congregation. 

We begin with-Open Minds- What does it mean for us as a congregation to have an open mind? Wikipedia says, “Open-mindedness relates to the way in which people approach the views and knowledge of others, and "incorporate the beliefs that others should be free to express their views and that the value of others' knowledge should be recognized." 

 Scripture guides us a bit here as well. In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he encouraged their congregation to not be conformed to this world, but to instead be transformed by the renewal of their minds. Paul told that congregation in Rome not to be conformed to the cynical, divisive, multi god, pleasure filled Roman society lifestyle they were surrounded by; but instead to be transformed and led by God’s will in their minds. How then does this apply to our minds today? What kind of world are we surrounded by today? 

God’s will is expressed to us in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, forgive as we have been forgiven, and to serve others before we serve ourselves. Our minds are renewed, given a different vision from the world that surrounds us, enabling us to live out our lives with an open mind, led by Christ’s teachings.  Christ wants us to open our mind to “the least of these” in Matthew 25: 30-46, who are Christ, according to him. This kind of open mind reminds us to love the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the person who lacks adequate clothing, the sick, and the prisoner. That also means we are to love and care for the immigrant from Mexico and their DACA children, the Syrian refugee who comes to our shore, the homeless people in our community, the senior who is about to have her electricity shut off, the cancer patient in Hospice, and the next door neighbor who may have a criminal record.  

And just as Jesus had dialogue with people of other religions- the Samaritan woman at the well(John 4:1-42), the Gentile Gerasene demoniac(Luke 8:26-39), we too can have open dialogue with people from different religious backgrounds, and learn to respect one another and find things we have in common, just as we did recently in our Belief Bible study- inviting the Imam form the mosque in Phoenix and one of the rabbis from Temple Emek Shalom  in Ashland to come speak to us. Those conversations don’t make us any less Christian. They do help us to understand other people, their beliefs, and to break down the barriers of difference. An open mind led by Christ allows us to have dialogue with those who are different from us, and see their worth as creations of the God who made us all. 

 None of those things are simple or easy, but when Christ has hold of our minds, they can be transformed by his power and spirit, and help us to think being led by God’s will, rather than being conformed to the world around us.   

The opposite of an open mind is a closed one- a narrow, bigoted, biased, prejudiced, inflexible mind. The society that surrounds us includes many elements of closed mindedness, especially when it comes to national policy, and we can keep ourselves from this kind of mind through following Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi- to focus our minds on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent and which praise God.  

Our next focus is “Open hands”- putting our faith into action and serving others. All you need to do to learn about this church and those who put their faith into action is to look at our annual report. You’ll find people from our church who have travelled all over the world to serve, as well as those who put their faith into action locally through our community dinners and homeless shelter. Then there is our Deacon’s fund, helping folks in need with shop n kart gift cards, bus tokens, and helping with utility bills. We serve a lot of folks here. 

Again, Jesus is a good model to follow here. Jesus said “For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) I believe service to others is linked closely to having compassion for others.  The word, “Compassion” is defined as , “a deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another.” (American Heritage Dictionary) “Compassion” is related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who suffers), from “patiens”. The Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer) is part of this word in its original Greek text. The word broken down then is “Com- with”, “passio- one who suffers.” When we are compassionate, we suffer WITH those who are suffering.  

The passages I’ve selected which deal with compassion are interesting to note. Paul suggests in Colossians that compassion is a garment. We choose whether or not to put in on each day. For example, I now know that layering with my clothing is important, since I no longer live on the coast in California, where the temperature rarely varied between 50-60 degrees. Here, especially in the winter, I put on a t-shirt before putting on a shirt or sweater. I have a lot of t-shirts which span back decades, each with messages on them, including a t-shirt that dates back to 1982, which has my Scottish clan, clan Donald on it. So I spend time each morning figuring out what my hidden message will be underneath my shirt. The correlation here is that EVERY day, our undershirts should have the word “compassion” on them, so that we can suffer with those who suffer and serve them.  

The second passage reminds us of why we are to put on those compassion t-shirts- Because God has been and is compassionate with us. Therefore we are to be compassionate to others. I saw a wonderful example of that compassion just a couple of weeks ago at our 8:00 a.m. service. About 15 minutes into the service, a homeless man named Andy came into the chapel. I admit I was nervous, wondering how our congregation would respond to his presence. Yet he was welcomed, given a place to sit, was served communion, had his hand shaken several times, and I even heard someone say, “I hope you can keep warm today, and take care of yourself.” That was a perfect example of having open hands and having compassion. 

Our next focus is to have open hearts. Now the Hebrews believed the heart was where the will was located. A person’s will is their intent, it is the center of their being. It speaks of their actions and activities in the world- how they live their lives, and tells us what they value and treasure most in life.   It isn’t easy to value the dignity of each person we meet during one day. How do we keep our hearts open to others? How do we keep them from becoming jaded, hardened, and hopeless? Proverbs reminds us we need to guard our hearts. We need to remember promises of scripture which remind us to serve others, to have compassion upon them. We need constant interaction with God through prayer to ask God to help us guard our hearts from hardening and becoming cold.  

The film Hostiles,  which I hope to see stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and Wes Studi, and tells the tale of an army captain in the 1880’s  in the American west whose heart has been hardened against Native Americans , and in particular a Cheyenne war chief with whom he has fought bitterly over the years. When he is assigned by the president of the United States to escort the dying chief and his family through hostile territory, in time his heart softens and he comes to see the humanity in the chief and his family. When we are forced to see the humanity of others, our hearts are opened. 

And when we realize our hearts have indeed become hardened, the psalmist reminds us that God can clean the center of our being. God can create a clean heart, and place a right spirit within us. I cannot count how many times I have sat in worship over the decades and heard words from a pastor or a hymn which cleansed and softened and renewed my heart, reminding me to honor and value the dignity of others. 

 

Our final focus is open table- That we welcome all people and are an inclusive, open and affirming community. The passages I have chosen give us some understanding as to the Biblical witness on being hospitable- being welcoming. First I’d like to focus on Hebrews 13:2, which reminds us not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for perhaps you are not aware you are entertaining an angel. In my last call a few years ago early on a Sunday morning, I heard a knock on the door of the sanctuary right as I was going over my sermon. It was about 7:15 A.M., and I remember being annoyed at the sound of the knock. Initially, I ignored the knocking, hoping it would go away, because I had a sermon to get under my belt. But as the sound persisted, I stopped practicing my sermon, sighed, put on my compassion shirt and went out in the narthex. I was surprised to see a young man already inside the church, standing in the narthex. I have no idea how he got in, because the doors were closed and locked. He asked if I had any food, because he hadn’t eaten for a while. I went to our food donation box and gave him some peanut butter and crackers and prayed with him. He then went out the glass doors of the narthex. I turned to go back into the sanctuary, but looked back over my shoulder once, and he was already gone. The only thing I could think of as to how he got in in the first place is that perhaps he was an angel, and God was testing my hospitality. 

The other two passages suggest to us that hospitality does not come naturally to us. Rather, we must practice it. The more we are hospitable to others, the better we become at it. Practice makes you better at doing something. Right now I am practicing on guitar for a song that Abby and I and Mimi Dryland will be doing for the Ash Wednesday service. The more I practice my fingering on the guitar, the better I’ll be. The more we practice hospitality as a church, the better we will be at it, allowing us to claim that we do indeed have an open table. 

 

So, may we strive each and every day to be open for the business, for doing the work of Christ here.  May our minds stay open to the teachings and leadings of Jesus. May our hands be ready to serve in compassion. May our hearts remain soft and pliable so that we can see the humanity of others. May we constantly practice our hospitality so that it will be more and more a part of who we are. And may this vision statement continue to guide us as a congregation, so that we are always open. Alleluia! Amen. 

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