given on Sunday, August 29, 2010
How Open Are We?
Did you really hear that first verse from Hebrews?
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Hebrews 13:1
What about that second verse?
Do not forget to entertain strangers,
for by so doing some people have entertained angels
without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
Those two verses certainly spoke to me when I first read them this week. This is the week to get ready for the local fair. Here is a time when family and friends who have moved away from our community come home to visit. The fair is a time when everybody stops for a visit. In a sense, the fair is like one huge block party when the neighbors—far and near—come out their doors and visit, eat, and play together.
What better time to stop and evaluate whether are not we, as Methodists but more importantly Christians, are truly opening our hearts, our minds, and our doors to our brothers and even strangers! This is a time to review whether or not we personally can be so open as well as whether we as a congregation can be open.
Let’s begin with the open doors. During the Sunday services, the doors of the church building are open. Do people passing by see the doors open? Do the doors look inviting and beg to be opened? Do the doors stay sealed and shut even if they are unlocked?
Obviously the answers appear to be “Yes, the doors are open;” but put yourself in the drivers’ seat and glance over at the building. How do you know whether or not the doors are open? The building is well kept. You can see into the building, but only if you get out and walk up to the glass doors. The sign says when services are being held.
But what if someone needs a prayer? What if someone needs help? Our churches may open their doors for services and for pre-arranged events, but how does that provide for the needs of the strangers who are seeking God? This is when the question switches from the concrete to the abstract: Just how do we, the members, keep the doors open? This level of review means we have to look deep within ourselves and ask, “What am I/we doing to make sure our church is open to others?”
Look back at Hebrews and these closing thoughts that the author really wanted the Hebrew congregation to keep in their minds:
3Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
4Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.” 6So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
7Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
These words really challenge us, yet today, to review what is in our minds and hearts. If we honestly compare our personal openness to what these verses ask us to do, can we say we are Christians with open hearts, open minds, and open doors?
Getting out and about in the community, we may easily walk around and greet others without fear of opening up to them. We may have heard all the gossip going around or we know their history, but are we open to them. Are we able to say, “Hope you can join us on Sunday. We certainly would like to have you. You know our faith helps us to manage those tough days during the week.”
Being open as a church does not mean that the doors to the building have to be open all week long. Certainly it would not hurt for the community to know that it is open and there are resources and respite from the outside world. But, and this is a big one, our doors cannot be open to others, literally, until we as Christians truly open up to others not within our comfortable group.
In those verses, the list of the brothers, the sisters, and the strangers, who are shut off from God is huge. There are those who are in prison, those who are suffering within relationships, the greedy, and the leaders of our society. We all have strong mental images of these individuals. We may or may not have personal experiences in or around us with those type of people, but our mind creates a boundary between them and us. How in the world can we answer that we have open minds when we allow our mind to draw a line between us and them?
Keeping an open mind is important to keeping an open door. It may be easy to open the doors and welcome all types of people inside one weekend a year, but can we do it year round? The open mind is capable of making adjustments. There is nothing that says an idea, a belief, or a practice that we have implemented both personally and communally cannot be opened up. The time to review may be right now. Stop and honestly ask yourself who are you shutting out—and why?
John Wesley worked so hard to make sure that his followers knew how to be open to anybody, anywhere at any time. He felt that God uses us to open doors for those with needs. He knew that if we opened our minds, we could find ways to open the hearts of those who had no God in their lives.
As an individual, just how open-minded are you? Are you willing to take some risks and open yourself up to others in Christian love? It is so easy to be comfortable in our own daily routines. It is hard for us to see the needs of others.
The United Methodist Church emphasizes serving one another. The efforts of UMCOR as an organizational arm reaching out to those in need all around the world certainly provide evidence of the open door policy. The various programs such as the Mozambique Initiative, the Nothing but Nets project , the Festival of Sharing, and the Volunteers in Mission all are ways of opening doors. But these programs developed by members who opened their mind and began thinking outside of the box. The efforts of so many open-minded individuals have lead to open hearts around the world.
If our small congregations, right here in the communities, really are open-hearted, then the open doors will draw others in. If our small congregations really have open hearts, then minds will open with all types of creative ways to open our doors to others. The review must be personal, it must be honest, and it must be congregational, too.
God asks us to open our hearts to him—accept his grace. Then he asks us to realize that with our hearts wide open to him, we will see the others whose hearts are closed and damaged. With God speaking to us and leading us to open our hearts to others, we will discover that our minds are open to new ideas. With the new ideas, we can open the doors to our communities in ways that demonstrate God’s love, his grace, to one another. We will have open doors, open minds, and open hearts in a community that is struggling to find God’s grace.
This week, open up your hearts to God in prayer. Ask him to speak to you. Then listen:
15Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 17Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Do you hear God speaking to you? Are you ready for the weekend of being open to others whether friends, family, or strangers?
Just how open are we? Are we open enough to serve one another in love? Are we open enough to share our faith with others? Are we open hearted? Are we open minded? Are we opening our doors in order to serve?
Honest answers can sometimes be scary, but remember that as Hebrews reminds us:
. . . God has said,
“Never will I leave you:
never will I forsake you.”
So we may say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
Yes, there are risks when we open ourselves up to others. But as long as our hearts are open to God and our minds are open to what he tells us, then of what do we have to be afraid? We can open our doors and welcome others in. It is through that radical hospitality each one of us exhibits that others discover God, too.
Dear Loving God,
We are facing a busy week and we know that we are your arms and hands in our community. Sometimes it is hard to open our doors to others, sometimes is it hard to open our minds to others, and sometimes it is hard to open our hearts so that we can hear you talk to us. Give us the strength and the confidence to serve one another in love. Give us the strength to demonstrate your grace to others. Give us the confidence to open our doors so that others may know your love. –Amen