Listen With An Open Heart & Mind

Ephesians 3:14-21

I want to repeat a portion of the lesson today, from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

The title of today's sermon is: LISTEN WITH AN OPEN HEART AND MIND. Most folks think they can easily do this if they simply pay close attention to what is being said. But, in fact, it's almost a clich when folks use it because they think it's a given that one can comply if one is asked to do it.

However, it is NOT easy to do. Especially since folks think they're paying close attention, with an open heart and mind, and don't realize that they are far from having an open heart or mind when listening to particular subjects.

If I were to talk to you about "tithing" and explain it, and its importance and its joy, most of you would not have an open mind when listening to what I was saying. Those who do tithe would have no problem, but those who don't, they would already have a mind-set through which they would hear what I was saying, and so their mind would not be open.

If I were to talk about forgiveness, forgiving someone in your life who hurt you, physically or emotionally, or who continues to hurt you, if you hadn't forgiven that person, you would not be able to listen with an open heart because your heart would be closed because of the unforgiveness you harbor.

I could give you example after example. Perhaps even what I'm saying about "listening with and open heart and mind" you would not be able to hear it that way because you feel you do listen that way when asked to, or that I'm making too much of something that is a minor point in the scale of living one's life.

But if you can't listen with an open heart and mind, you can't even begin to comprehend the scriptures. You may hear them, hear the words, understand the sentence, but not comprehend. Do you remember taking English Comprehension tests where, within a certain time period, you had to read paragraphs, and then were asked questions concerning your comprehension of what you just read? It's a bit like that. You can read the words alright, but understanding the meaning of what the sentences say is a very different matter.

Take today's Gospel lesson. It is very familiar. It is found in more than one Gospel, and there is also a story about feeding the 4,000, which most folks don't even know is there in the Scriptures. But, the story is so familiar that listening to it with an open heart and mind is very difficult. You have read it and heard it many times if you read your bible, or go to Sunday Church School, or study your bible, or attend worship regularly, and your mind is set to hear it a certain way.

What I'm going to say in just a minute or two will require you to be listening with an open heart and mind. If you can't get beyond the story you are so familiar with, you will not hear what I am going to say, let alone comprehend it. It's not because it is very deep or that it is something radically new or different, or mystically theological. It's just that you will process it through the same understanding of the story you have always had and therefore, you won't be listening with an open heart and mind.

We all have moments when we listen with an open heart and mind. If we didn't we wouldn't be able to grow in our relationship with God. Having an open heart and mind is the only way we can grow closer to God.

The beginning of having an open heart and mind is when you accept that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died and rose again from the dead, and believing in what he taught, believing that he conquered death, and because he did that, all those who believe in him can also conquer death and experience life eternal after this life.

You can only believe that if you have an open heart and mind. You can't come to that belief through logic or analysis. It is only by having an open heart and mind that the Holy Spirit can bring you to that belief.

You have to have an open heart and mind today to comprehend what the Gospel lesson about the loaves and fishes is teaching us. It's NOT about the miracle. It's NOT about people opening up and sharing what they each have rolled up in their garments (they used to do this when going on trips or when going to be gone for the day). It's NOT about understanding how those few loaves and fishes could multiply to feed so many people.

If you can forget reasoning those things through you will find that the Gospel story today is about love and compassion and caring. Those are the basic ingredients for such a story, for such a miracle, for any miracle for such a thing to happen at any time, not just back then, but today, here and now, and not just something Jesus could do because it's meant to show us that we all can do this. The most incredible things can happen, both on a small and large scale, when a person acts out of love, caring and compassion.

I've had many people tell me stories about their lives that they can only conclude with 'it was a miracle.' There is no other explanation. It is beyond reasoning, beyond logical outcomes, beyond analysis, beyond scientific measurement. As I think of every story they told me that was labeled "a miracle," and even ones of my own, I recognize that the basic ingredients of 'love, compassion and caring' were present in all of them.

I'm not saying that every time 'love, compassion and caring' are present that there will be a miracle-but then again, we don't see or recognize most of the miracles that happen daily in our lives-our own lives or the lives of those around us, those whom we work with or volunteer with, or even those with whom we just have a brief encounter. Life is full of miracles. It takes an open mind and heart to see, be aware of them.

Today's Gospel lesson is just another story unless we go beyond being amazed at the miracle-and we have to admit that having heard that story so many times, we are not amazed by it any longer. And if we read the story to someone, we hardly read it with any sense of amazement in our voice. We don't teach that part of the story to our youth. They just hear it as another story, a sort of 'ho-hum' story because they really can't relate it to anything in their lives.

But, if you read the story realizing it is a story of 'love and compassion and caring' then you can't help but put some of the amazement and excitement into it and it relates to young and old alike. It is relevant to this time and place.

How do deeds of help or assistance or healing or saving, whether great or small-how do they happen? They happen because the ingredients of "love, compassion and caring" are present.

That's the important point of our "multiplication of the loaves and fishes" Gospel story today. Jesus knew the people gathered there were hungry. Jesus cared; Jesus loved; Jesus had compassion for the folks and because of this wanted to do something about seeing that they were fed. The important point is that the story is about life today; about hunger in our world today; about the on-going need for love and caring and compassion in our world today.

You have to have an open heart and mind to care, to love, to have compassion. Most times judgment comes in first and that closes the heart and mind. Or maybe its logic and reasoning that close the heart and mind. Or resentment or fear or anger or an unforgiving heart or holding a grudge.

Listening with an open heart and mind is not as easy as one might think. And remember, when you DO listen with an open heart and mind, it is the Holy Spirit that speaks to your heart and mind and allows you to care, love, feel compassion. God is still speaking. We may be reading stories that took place many years ago, but the elements that made that story happen are STILL operating today. God is STILL speaking through acts of kindness that spring from caring and loving and compassion.

This week work at listening with an open heart and mind; recognize the difference between listening with an unforgiving heart and listening with an open heart, and the difference between listening with a judging mind and listening with an open mind. And let random acts of kindness flow from the seeds that Jesus planted within you and me through his teachings: seeds of compassion, caring and loving.

Amen.

Read more sermons by Pastor Brie