TEXT: Isaiah 43:15-21; Luke 19:41-44

(During the children’s message we played and acted out the following song to set the sermon theme)

by Harry Chapin

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said.... What you doin' young man
I'm paintin' flowers he said
She said.... It's not time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There's a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one.

And she said....
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said....
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

Well the teacher said.... You're sassy
There's ways that things should be
And you'll paint flowers the way they are
So repeat after me....

And she said....
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

But the little boy said....
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

The teacher put him in a corner
She said.... It's for your own good.
And you won't come out 'til you get it right
And are responding like you should
Well finally he got lonely
Frightened thoughts filled his head
And he went up to the teacher
And this is what he said....
Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.

Time went by like it always does
And they moved to another town
And the little boy went to another school
And this is what he found
The teacher there was smilin'
She said.... Painting should be fun
And there are so many colors in a flower
So let's use every one

But that little boy painted flowers
In neat rows of green and red
And when the teacher asked him why
This is what he said....

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen.

From the album "Legends of the Lost and Found"
Arranged by Stephen Chapin ©1978 Five

If you remember, last year our Church Council decided to adopt a three-year progression of themes for the church that would mirror the slogan of our denomination—Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.  Last year we focused on the first one—open hearts, and so this year it is time to open our minds.  

Most of us understand what the phrase "open mind" means. Generally it means what other people should have when it comes to our ideas, lifestyle and practices. So I want to first of all to help us shift from pointing at the closed minds of others to looking for the ways we ourselves lack an open mind and then, more importantly, to explain why having an open mind is critical to our spiritual development.

To begin with, an open mind does not mean an empty mind. To be open does not mean that you have no opinions and no preferences. You can even have strong opinions and preferences and still have an open mind. The difference between a person with an open mind and a person with a closed mind is humility.

I am a Christian minister because I have some very strong beliefs and opinions. There are certain things I believe are good and bad, right and wrong, and I believe those things strongly enough that I am willing to spend my life preaching and writing about it.  The trick is always to remember that I will never have the entire truth, and in some cases I might be actually wrong.  A number of the strong beliefs I hold today are polar opposites of the strong beliefs I had when I was in my teens and early twenties. And maybe 20-30 years from now they’ll change again.  I have seen that I can have a very strong, biblically supported belief and still be wrong.

That realization doesn’t keep me from proclaiming what I believe, but it does stop me from insisting that if you don't believe exactly as I do that your salvation is in jeopardy or that your faith is somehow less than mine. I don’t knowingly preach things that are not true or things that I do not believe and sincerely try to put into practice. But I am not the source of truth...nor is any human being. God is.  And God is too vast to be completely known by any one of us, or even by all of us together.  There is always more of God that is beyond our understanding.

One of my favorite quotes is from the first act of Hamlet. Hamlet's murdered father has returned as a Ghost to speak with Hamlet, and Hamlet's friend Horatio sees the ghost as well.

As the ghost is speaking with Hamlet, Horatio turns to Hamlet and says:
"O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!" Hamlet responds, "And therefore, as a stranger, give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

The open mind says, “Come on in, stranger.  Let me hear what you have to say.”  That stranger may or may not become your friend, but the open mind never automatically slams the door on something, just because it’s unfamiliar or different.  There are more things in heaven and earth than are taught in church doctrines or proclaimed from church pulpits. We experience part of God, but the vastness of God is beyond our ability to see or understand it all.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, we only see through dark glass.  The truth is not clear while we’re on this earth.

And that’s part of the beauty of a community of people who think differently.  If we really listen to each other, we might discover that often our differences are not so much right or wrong but simply different facets of a diamond.  Organized religion hasn’t been very good at this.  Just in the last year the United Methodists signed onto a 1999 Lutheran and Catholic accord which agreed that five hundred years of debate between Catholics and Protestants about whether it was grace or works that saves us wasn’t truly a difference at all…that we both were really saying the same thing all along. 

The statement says, "By grace alone, in faith through Christ and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”  Five hundred years it took!  We don’t need to be that stubborn.  But there are reasons to be open minded beyond helping organized religion be a little less kooky.  

The first reason is in order to have hope. The world around us is a pretty difficult place, and sometimes the world within us is just as difficult. There are beautiful things, but the world has a definite dark side, as we came to know intimately five years ago tomorrow.  Injustice abounds, precious children of God are abused, tortured and killed. Good workers lose their jobs. People we love die. We get terrible illnesses. Some people starve while others throw food away.

When confronted with the dark side of the world, or the dark side of our own lives, it is hope that gets us through. But in order to have hope, we have to be open to a reality different from our experience.  Dogs do this well.  Every morning, my dog Ruckus comes bounding down the stairs, convinced that the day is about to present him with untold wonders.  Who knows, there might be steak in his breakfast dish.  When he goes out the dog door this time, there might be a huge green field filled with squirrels and fire hydrants.  Those things have never ever been his reality, but every morning he is filled with the possibilities.  Like Ruckus, we have to be able to imagine things that have never been dreamt of in our philosophy.

In fact, the greatest hope that the Christian faith has to offer is almost as odd as Hamlet's ghost. We, too, have this proclamation that someone has come back from the dead...but not as a ghost, as a living being. We place our hope in the resurrection of Jesus as the promise that we, too, will experience death merely as a passage from this life to a better one and a promise that here in this life God is able to do a new thing, even when every day of our lives so far has only been the old thing.  Only the open-minded can hope.

The second reason we should work to have open minds is shown in the Gospel lesson from Luke. If we are not able to think outside the box, we could well miss the presence of God among us. That's exactly what happened with most of the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus' day. A few of them had minds that were open enough to see...Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Gamaliel. But the bulk of them were so boxed in to their interpretation of the law that they could not recognize God, even when they were talking with God face to face in the flesh.

To be sure we don't miss God's appearing, our minds have to be open wide.  Jesus says he is right there in the people who are hungry and sick and naked and in prison. Jesus doesn't just say he cares for those people; Jesus says he IS those people. And yes, God is still showing up on a regular basis today. That's part of our Easter proclamation. We serve a living God...not a dead one. I've seen God here singing in the choir, greeting at the door, taking a lamb to someone who’s hurting, and preparing coffee downstairs.  God is here, in the pew next to you as well as out there in the prisons and on the streets.

Jesus stood on a hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem and wept. "You did not recognize the time of God's coming to you," he said. "If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace." If you don't have the sense that God is present with you, maybe it's not that God is absent. Maybe you just need to expand your thinking to include some new possibilities.  I am about to do a new thing, says the Lord to Isaiah, do you not perceive it?

"Flowers are red. Green leaves are green.
There's no need to see colors any other way
than the way they always have been seen."

"There are so many colors in the rainbow.
So many colors in the morning sun.
So many colors in the flower,
so let's see every one."

Sermon © 2006, Anne Robertson

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