I’m quite a fan of science fiction, reading it and watching it on TV and films. I love the way it opens up ideas and allows us to explore “what-ifs”. One of my favourite science fiction short stories describes the way in which a group of scientists invented an anti-gravity machine. At the beginning of the story they were all called together and shown a film of someone using an anti-gravity pack that lifted them off the ground with no evident means of propulsion. Unfortunately, the device blew up, destroying it and killing the original inventor.
The scientists were given the task of recreating that invention. The first thing they had to do was to open their minds to the possibility of an anti gravity device, and re examine what they thought they knew about physics. It was only when they did this that they were able to tackle the problem and solve it. After they succeeded, they were told that the original film they’d been shown was a mock up – its purpose had been to force them to open their minds and look for new possibilities.
This morning we are continuing our sermon series looking at our value of Exploring. Last week Nick helped us to think about what it means to be Spirit Led, and this week we are thinking about Openness. What does it mean to be open, why do we value it, and how can we put that value into practice. It does seem a bit ironic to be talking about openness when the building is shut, but maybe it is the shutness of the building that is giving us opportunities to be open in new ways.
In Psalm 18 the writer talks about God bringing him out into a spacious place, an open place. Sometimes it seems to me that we think that the Christian life is like walking a tightrope – if we get the least thing wrong and lose our balance then we will fall to our doom. To be sure, Jesus does talk about the narrow way, and we are called to holiness, but I think that there is also a spaciousness, a sense of open spaces that God gives us to explore in the Christian journey. In our Bible readings today we hear of the choices that God gives people.
These are real choices. God has given us free will, and different alternatives are truly open to us. There are real consequences to these choices as well.
In Deuteronomy, we hear Moses putting a choice before the people of God, at God’s direction. God has rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, and they are looking forward to getting to the land that God promised to Abraham. It is a matter of life and death, that is the choice the people face. If they choose to love and obey God faithfully and exclusively then they will live in blessing and prosperity. If, on the other hand they go after other gods, then they will die and the nation will be destroyed. If they were to choose life, then the people of God had to open their minds, their hearts, and their hands.
They had to open their minds because they needed a new world view. Up until this point, it is likely that they would have seen the world as the people of the surrounding nations did. They would have believed in local gods -the gods of Egypt were in Egypt, the gods of Canaan were in Canaan, the god of the moon and the god of the sun had their places. But Yahweh made a greater claim, the claim to be God of the whole world, of every place, of all creation, Creator of sun, moon and stars. Accepting this claim would take minds open to a new way of seeing the world, and God’s relationship to it.
They had to open their hearts, because God was commanding their love. The other gods didn’t demand this. There were the right sacrifices to be made and rituals to be gone through at the right time to ensure a good harvest, a safe birth, or victory in battle, but a command to love was something else. To love God takes an open heart.
They had to open their hands, because God was commanding their obedience. Part of that obedience was to love God, but as Jesus summarised for us so many centuries later, the other half was to love our neighbours. And loving our neighbours takes open hands. Not closed, grasping hands of keeping, but open hands of generosity. Not the closed fist of violence but the open hands of welcome and peace making.
It seems to me that we see the same pattern in the conversation that Jesus had with the rich, young ruler, though perhaps in a different order.
Most obvious is the call to have open hands. The reality is in life that sometimes you have to put something down so that you can pick something else up. I wonder if you’ve ever had the experience where you’re clearing up after a meal, and you’re taking the dirty dishes through to the kitchen, and you realise half way there that you’ve picked up more than you can carry and it’s all starting to slide. Jesus looked at that young man and knew that he had too much in his hands for him to be able to pick up following Jesus. For that man, and for many of us, it was wealth. He was secure in his finances and property, and he wanted to hold on to it. He wasn’t willing to let go of it and to reach out to Jesus with open hands. For us it might be money, but it might be something else. What is it that we hold on to that prevents us opening our hands to receive what Jesus wants to give us?
I wonder if this man’s closed hands were a symptom of a closed heart towards God. Why do you think that Jesus only lists some of the commandments? Why did he miss the others out? Lets look at the ones he includes – they are all ones to do with relationships between people – which the man says that he has kept. There are five missing from the ten commandments though. Two of these are about work and possessions. Do not work on the Sabbath, and do not covet. I wonder if Jesus saw that here was a workaholic driven to accumulate wealth by a desire to have what others have.
The other three missing commandments, the first three, are all to do with the man’s relationship with God. Have no God but Yahweh, don’t make or worship idols, don’t misuse the name of God. This man was not loving God, not only were his hands full of his stuff, but maybe so was his heart.
And what about open minds? Just as Yahweh challenged the world view of the people that Moses was speaking to, Jesus challenged the world view of the people he was speaking to.
As we read on in Luke, we hear Jesus’ disciples saying, “who can be saved – we’ve left everything – if not even the rich can get into the kingdom, no-one else stands a chance”. You see, they had read what Moses had said, which linked prosperity with God’s blessing and turned it on it’s head. They thought that anyone who was rich must have been blessed by God, and if those who were obviously blessed by God couldn’t enter the kingdom, then who could. Jesus opens their minds to see that the kingdom isn’t about earthly wealth, but about storing up kingdom treasure of love, hope, faith, joy.
In this church community we value exploring, and as part of that we value openness. We serve and love a God who brings us out into open spaces, and gives us choices. Will we make those choices with open minds, open hearts, and open hands?
Are we open to new ways of doing things? This isn’t about throwing out all the old ways. Sometimes those who insist that the new ways are better are as closed in their minds as those who insist on the old ways. It is about having open minds to consider and weigh the possibilities, and what the Holy Spirit might be saying.
Sometimes our thinking, our world view will be turned upside down – not in the fundamentals of the faith or doctrine, but in how we see them being worked out in our lives.
Do we have open hearts to love God wholeheartedly? Having an open heart can make us vulnerable to being hurt, it’s true, but if we don’t open our hearts then we cannot receive the love that God pours into our lives. As we open our hearts to that love, so they are expanded with a love that overflows back to God and to those around us.
Do we have open hands to give out generously, to welcome others in. Will we make space for new people in our church gatherings, in our small groups, in our friendships? Will we put down the things that we hold on to so tightly, that are preventing us from being able to receive what God wants to give us?