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With Open Minds
September 12, 1999

Romans 14:1-12

Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, likes to attend the annual Grand National Old Time Fiddlers' Contest in Weiser, Idaho. More people than live there show up for the festivities. There's fiddling in the streets, dancing at the VFW hall, fried chicken in the Elks Lodge, and free camping at the rodeo grounds. It used to be that those who came were country folks--with short hair, church on Sunday, women in their place, and all that. Then long-haired hippie freaks began to show up, and the hippies could fiddle, how they could fiddle!

In the middle of the night by the light of the moon, about a thousand people were picking and singing and fiddling together--some with bald heads and some with hair to their knees, some with a joint and some with a long-necked bottle of Budweiser, some with beads and some with Archie Bunker T-shirts, some were eighteen and some were eighty, some with corsets and some with no bras; all together, having a wonderful time. One old crusty gentleman summed it all up, "Son, I don't care if you're stark nekkid and wear a bone in your nose. If you kin fiddle, you're all right with me!"

That philosophy pretty well sums up the Scripture lesson for today. If you honor the Lord, you're all right with me. Paul was pleading for tolerance, pleading for open minds. He asked in Romans 14:10, Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Evidently the Church in Rome had some people who were intolerant of one another's behavior, theology, worship practices, and life styles. And Paul said, "Cut it out!" What's important, he said, is to honor the Lord and give thanks to God. The meat eaters criticized the vegetarians. Some believed special days had significance; others felt all days were alike. Today we have those who worship on Saturday and the rest of us worship on Sunday. Is one day really better than the other? Romans 14:6-7, Paul wrote,

Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.

In other words, "If you kin fiddle, you're all right with me!" John Wesley said, "If your heart is right, give me your hand." If you love the Lord, you're my brother and sister.

We're an OPEN church. I'm beginning a series of sermons this morning on the theme, WE'RE AN OPEN CHURCH. The opposite of OPEN is CLOSED. Have you known some closed people? Have you known some closed minds? Have you known some closed churches? I ran across a cartoon the other day where the pastor is teaching a class of new members. On the board is a list of headings: Creedal Statement, Duties and Obligations, Theological Vocabulary, Dress Code, Worship Etiquette, Parking Procedures, and Unspoken Expectations. To the prospective new members, the pastor says, "God may have already accepted you, but our standards are just a little higher."

How about our church? We're an open church! Everyone is welcome. We are not closed to people who may be different. We are not closed to differing opinions. We are not closed to various theological perspectives. With open minds, we are tolerant, welcoming, accepting. Just the other day, one of our church members said that she really appreciates the fellowship here because she does not feel judged; she feels supported. Over and over, I am hearing appreciation being expressed for the affirmation and support people receive from one another in our church. An open church supports, rather than judges. We're an open-minded church.

Amy, age 15, had always earned straight A's in school. Her parents were extremely upset when she got a B on her report card. "If I fail in what I do," Amy wrote to her parents, "I fail in what I am." The message was part of Amy's suicide note. If I fail in what I do does not mean I fail in what I am. We're an open church. We welcome imperfect people. As I said in the baseball sermon, the best hitters in baseball only hit one out of three times. Two out of three times they fail; yet they are the best!

With open minds has another meaning. Jesus told his disciples the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. With open minds, love the Lord. What does it mean to love God with your mind? Some interpret this to mean we love God by being submissive. They say, to love God with your mind means to submit your mind to God, submit your will, submit your heart, submit your soul, submit your strength. I don't think so. Rather than submit, I believe Jesus is telling us to use our minds for God. Develop, train, and use the gift God has given you. Your mind is a gift from God. God gave you your capacity to reason. God gave you your I.Q. to develop, train, and use to be Christ's disciple, and to do God's work on this earth.

You are a good person. You were made by God. You are not junk. You are a unique, special creation of God. God loves you and calls you to become his disciple, to become one of his co-operators, to co-operate with God in the redemption of this planet and all the people on it. You are good. You are special, and that includes your mind, that includes your thinking power, your ability to reason and think things through for yourself.

Therefore, trust your mind. Trust your reasoning ability. Open your mind, open it to new ideas, open it to new ways of thinking, open it to the fresh blowing of the Spirit. Don't just take someone else's word for what you believe. Think it through for yourself. Develop your mind. Get all the education you can. Today is Rally Day. We celebrate Christian education. Study the Bible. Join a Sunday School class. Come to my class on Tuesday evenings. Stretch your mind. Don't be content with childhood ideas you were taught who knows when. Don't just imitate what your parents believed or didn't believe. Trust your own mind. Develop it, use it. Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi, Philippians 1:9-10, And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.

Friday's Merced Sun Star had an excellent article about George Ogletree, Harvard law professor and lead counsel for Anita Hill. George was raised on the cotton fields of Merced. He was the first black student body president of Merced High School. He graduated from Stanford University in three years, and is a shining example of the American success story. He is quoted in the paper as saying, In Merced, I came to know knowledge could empower me. The quest for knowledge was a diversion from the realities of despair in the 1950s and 1960s. Develop, educate, and use your mind.

With open minds, love the Lord. I don't mean you are never to have a belief, or a position. You are not to be wishy-washy, and vacillate from one opinion to the next. No, form your theology. Form your beliefs. But, be open constantly to new winds. Be open to the ideas of others, and be tolerant of opinions that differ from your own. Is your mind made up? Then, you live alone. For like a bed that's already made-up, no one can get in with you unless you're prepared to unmake it. In fact, you can't even get into your own bed or into your life until that made-up bed is unmade. Made-up minds belong to some of the loneliest people around.

In the Methodist tradition, we have been given an approach to developing our theology, developing our belief system. We call it the Quadrilateral approach because it has four ingredients. When you are deciding what to believe, when you are deciding what is the right course of action for you to follow, when you are determining what is God's will for your life, or for a particular situation, ask four questions:

What does the Bible say?

What does tradition say? What have we learned from history?

Is it reasonable?

Does it fit my experience?

Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are the four ingredients in developing a theology, a belief system. We're emphasizing reason this morning. As a Christian, you are not expected to believe something, or accept something, that to you is unreasonable, that does not agree with your common sense, that does not agree with your understanding of the world. For example, based on my limited world-view, based on what I think scientists have discovered about the origin of the universe, the length of time the universe has been in existence, and the evolutionary development of life on this planet, I consider the current, popular so-called Christian belief in Creationism unreasonable. To believe that God created the world in seven days 6,000 years ago is unreasonable, incredible, and, besides that, it is based on an interpretation of Scripture which I consider unbiblical. At the same time, I must be open-minded; tolerant of those who believe in Creationism, and open to consider their point-of-view.

The ability to think and reason is a gift from God. The mind is a precious gift. Don't waste it. Don't lose it. Don't close it. Be tolerant of others. We're an OPEN church. With open minds, let us love the Lord.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris