321) Keeping An Open Mind (part one)

     I once knew an old Swede named Karl.  Karl was a good man, friendly, active in the church, and always willing to help out in the community.  But Karl, like everyone else, had his faults.  Everyone who knew Karl knew that he was of 100% Swedish descent and proud of it, and if you were not also a full-blooded Swede that was just too bad for you, because according to Karl, Swedes were the best and the smartest.  So Karl wasn’t all that impressed with me, a young, just out of seminary, full-blooded German.  But at least I was not a Norwegian.  Norwegians were the lowest on Karl’s list.  Such prejudice was the main fault of this otherwise good man.  Our church was a merger of an old Norwegian church and an old Swedish church, and Karl was quick to vote no on anything he thought that the Norwegians might be in favor of.  And you better be careful want kind of jokes you tell around Karl.  If it was a laugh on the Norwegians, he would laugh louder than anyone; but if the joke was on the Swedes he would take it personally, and you would get a dirty look from Karl.

     I remember one particular joke that I told Karl.  I remember it because Karl did not know how to react to this one.  The joke was about an old Swedish farmer who walked into the County Sheriff’s office one day and told him there had been a bad car accident near his farm the previous week.  “Last week!,” said the sheriff, “You should have come to tell me about this sooner.  Was anyone hurt?”  “Well, yes,” said the old Swede, “three Norwegians were killed, and so I just buried them.”  “What?,” said the sheriff, “You buried them?  Are you sure they were dead?”  “Well,” said the old Swede, “one of them kept saying he wasn’t dead, but you know how those Norwegians can tell lies, so yes, I buried them all.”  Karl wasn’t sure if he should laugh or give me a dirty look.  He knew I was making fun of the Swede, but Karl believed the Swedish farmer had made a good point about Norwegians.

     The old Swede in the joke had a firm and solid belief that Norwegians always told lies, and so even if a Norwegian was telling him that he wasn’t dead, that stubborn Swede was not about to believe him.  That is what can happen when you are so close-minded that you are not even open to any new information that could possibly change your beliefs.  We should always be willing to keep an open mind.

     It is rather outrageous to believe that a decayed or cremated body can live again.  It certainly doesn’t look that way.  Many people do not believe that is possible and will not even look at the evidence.  Just like Karl had a firm belief that Norwegians never told the truth, there are many people who have the firm belief that dead bodies cannot live again.  It does seem scientifically preposterous to believe in life after death, and many people are not open minded enough to even consider the prospect.

     In Luke 24 there is the story of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Several women had gone to visit the tomb of Jesus and were told by an angel that Jesus was not there, but had been raised from the dead.  They ran and told this to the disciples, but the disciples immediately dismissed the report as nonsense.  They had a firm and solid belief that dead people stay dead, and so, says verse eleven, they did not believe the women.  Only Peter kept an open mind to the possibility that the women were telling the truth, and so, says verse 12, he got up and ran to the tomb.  And though he did not yet see the risen Lord, and though he did not, like the women, hear from the angels, he did see that the tomb was empty, and was left “wondering to himself what had happened.”  He did not, like the other disciples, dismiss the story out of hand.  He had seen enough from Jesus to keep his mind open to any possibility.  But he did not yet know what to make of it all.  Before long, however, he and all the disciples, would see the risen Jesus in person, and would put their faith in him (Luke 24:36-49).

     Think about this.  It is not a recent scientific discovery that dead people stay dead.  The situation is not that today we are smart and sophisticated, and people in the ancient Israel were stupid and gullible and would believe anything.  They knew that the dead stayed dead, and so the disciples did not right away believe that Jesus had risen from the dead– not until they saw him alive.  It was no easier for them than for us to believe that a dead body can live again.  Yet, they came to such a strong faith in the resurrection of Jesus and their own eternal life with Jesus that they all risked, and in most cases, gave their lives to proclaim that truth to others.  (continued…)

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Mark 10:27  —  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Luke 24:5b-6a  —  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

Luke 24:12  —   Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.  Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

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Give me an open mind, O God, a mind ready to receive and to welcome such new light of knowledge as it is your will to reveal to me.  Let not the past ever be so dear to me as to set a limit to the future.  Give me courage to change my mind, when that is needed.  Let me be tolerant to the thoughts of others and hospitable to such light as may come to me through them.  Amen.  –John Baillie