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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Open Wide Your Hearts

Open Wide Your Hearts

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

7/24/12

The second letter to the Corinthian church consists of the strongest and most appealing argument of Paul’s theology, consisting of consolation, reconciliation, and our weakness.  It also explains what the apostolic life was like in Paul’s time.  In the passage we read today we get hints of painful conflicts between Paul and the Corinthian community which have intensified so much that the community is at odds with Paul.  In this part of his letter Paul appeals to a change of heart that is necessary for true faith to happen.  Hear his words to this community:  (read 2
Corinthians 6:1-13)

 

We had a wonderful vacation, filled with amazing things.  I don’t know if it was the change in my attitude toward life since the beginning of the year or the fact that we very much needed a vacation from doctors and politics.  One of the many unique events of our trip happened on the way home as we were traveling through Indiana.  We had been mired down in numerous construction projects and our fuses were a little short as we encountered sign after sign saying “Road work ahead.”  Many times we had to merge into another line of traffic as lanes were reduced.  We had just been through an hour delay as traffic merged from 3 lanes down to 1 in Louisville.  A most delightful thing happened a bit later.  We saw Jesus going down the highway!  At first I thought it was a woman chained to the flat bed of a truck, but as we neared we saw that it was a statue of Jesus kneeling and praying.  It was a beautiful full size statue and I wondered where it was going.  We followed Jesus for awhile, then impatience took over as he was not quite going the speed limit so I passed him.  Up the road apiece we once again encountered a sign that said, “road work ahead.”  And again we had to merge into one lane.  This time a slower person was ahead of me and I did not have time to get around her before the merge.  But there were some in the other lane who tried, and she let them all in slowing us down even more.  And then Jesus passed us by on the left and I said, “If she lets him I will be really ticked.”  Then it occurred to me what I had just said.  I was not for letting Jesus in when it meant that I was to be delayed further.  But the woman let him in also and we followed Jesus through the one lane traffic.  But I was laughing all the way and told Joe there was a sermon in that.

Paul’s Corinthian community was experiencing difficulties.  They were becoming a community of dissension and strife.  We don’t know what the specific difficulties were but it may be that many different agendas and ideas about the Christian faith were being talked about and explored.  It may be that some were saying this is the way to go and others were saying no, this is what Jesus meant.  Some were probably saying that Paul had it wrong, and others were adamant supporters of Paul’s theology.  There may have been some who tried to “merge” all the thinking down into one “right” lane of thinking.  Well, I think the same thing happened that happens when you try to merge traffic into one lane.  Tempers flare, some try to get ahead, some try to be nice and let people in, some go fast others go slow, some are tolerant and others intolerant.  And when Jesus shows up he becomes the brunt of our strife.  The very one who we are to follow becomes the one we don’t want to let into our traffic in life.  The very answer to our problems of faith becomes the one we don’t want to listen to because he might just contradict our thinking, our way of believing in him.  We close and lock our hearts because we don’t want to be changed or challenged.  We want to be right! 

Jesus didn’t call us to be at odds with one another, locked in those never ending battles about the little things in faith.  Jesus calls us to a ministry of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.  Some of the most heated battles in communities of faith center around how a sanctuary should look or how a worship service should be done or not done or whether a church should go from one service to two.  Those battles distract us from our real calling.  They consume energy, waste time and cause sometimes irreparable rifts and damage to congregations of faith.

I don’t think Jesus really cares about how a sanctuary looks, or the differences in worship styles.  What Jesus does care about are the minds, spirits and hearts of believers.  Jesus cares that we are open to the leading of the Spirit in all that we do in our lives, and in our faith community.  Jesus cares that we get along with each other, that we listen to each other in love and concern, that we seek ways of reconciliation when we find ourselves splitting on issues we think are important.  What Jesus cares about is how we are sharing our faith with one another, not to prove ourselves better in our thinking, but to struggle together to figure out this faith thing of ours.  We cannot listen to each other when our hearts are closed and locked.  We cannot grow in our faith when we think we have all the answers.  We cannot grow when we think we must always be right. 

The lady in front of me was doing the right thing, but, because I was stretched to my limit of tolerance with traffic, I could not see that.  It took a Jesus statue to remind me that getting ahead faster was not the only possibility open to me.  It took a Jesus statue to help me let go of the tension, the frustration and the anxiety I felt being tied up in traffic.  There was another way of looking at the situation, a way that helped me laugh and ease up on the tension of the moment, and even enjoy the scenery.

When those disciples were in the boat and the storm came up, they were frightened and even believed they were going to capsize or die.  They found it wrong that Jesus could stay sleeping in the midst of the turmoil.  And you almost can’t blame them for their reaction.  They could see no other possibility out of their predicament.  They were blinded by their fear.  But to give them credit they turned to the only hope they had available, Jesus.  “Don’t you care, Jesus?” was their response.  In spite of the incredible miracles they had witnessed from him, all they could think to ask was, “Don’t you care?”  And Jesus’ response was, “have you still no faith?”  Their faith was too small for the situation, their hearts were closed to possibility.  They had a lesson to learn.

When our hearts are closed our faith becomes too small.  We engage in arguments and strife about things that don’t really matter.  We get stuck in the small stuff.  We get stuck in traffic that puts us on edge.  We don’t see the possibilities that come with hearts open.  We don’t see the possibilities that come with tuning ourselves in with Jesus, of making Jesus the focus of our lives. 

But God is good!  When we get locked up in our thinking and our hearts become closed to the leading of the Spirit, God might just send a statue along to remind us of what is really important.  God just might send a vacation our way to get us out of our narrow thinking and our limited perspective.  God just might send us something amazing to remind us how to respond to one another and to life’s traffic snarl. 

When Joe and I were swimming in the ocean, he noticed a monster of a creature approach us. At one point it could not have been more than two feet away from us and when it raised its snout we knew it was a manatee, maybe coming to check us out, maybe curious about these four legs intruding into its territory.  We were amazed and wanted to share what we had seen with other people swimming nearby.  I was astounded that such a creature would come so close, but I was more astounded that it was part of an amazing vacation.  Nothing refreshes my soul more than the ocean and what it contains.  There is so much more to faith than what lies on the surface.  Our lives should be about exploring the possibilities that lie deep in our faith, beneath the surface of words and creeds, beneath the surface of ritual and liturgy, and certainly beneath the surface of buildings and structures of faith.  God wants so much to be a recognized, integral part of our lives, but often we only scratch the surface of that relationship.  Will it take a man sized statue of Jesus traveling down the highway to motivate us to dive deeper?  Will it take moments of awe that come our way as we experience life?  Not unless our hearts are unlocked and wide open.

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