"Opinions Rule Our World”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 14, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 82; Romans 14:1-12


    This morning we are going to be discussing our ability for having an array of opinions about everything under the sun.  If we tune into a televised sporting event, we are greeted with a table of men and women who are giving their opinions about the athletes, the coaches, the problems with one team’s defense and what the other team needs to do to improve its offense.

    Since the beginning of recorded history, humans have never had a shortage of issues that evoked differences of opinion between people.  We have learned that some opinions are well-informed while others are not.   Of course, whether we agree with anything we hear depends on what we value.

    A number of you joined us last Sunday when we went for a cruise on a glass-bottom boat.  As we were entering the Lake of Paradise with all its small islands, Renee was standing next to me at the front of the boat.  She said, “Just think, we have all this peaceful, magnificent beauty surrounding us and people somehow have not learned how to get along with each other.”

    When we look at our lesson this morning, we find Paul trying to help those in the small congregation that he had started in Rome.  The issues featured a clash between differing values.  The one issue pitted people who ate meat against those who were vegetarian and vice versa.  They must have been busy pointing fingers at each other over who best represented God’s plan for humanity.

    The second issue dealt with the Sabbath day.  The Christians that came from their Jewish background preferred Saturday.  They had centuries of tradition on their side. The Christians that evolved from their Greek heritage wanted the Sabbath to be celebrated on Sunday.   

    To be fair, everyone faces what is coming up for them each day equipped mostly with their personal history, a history that absolutely no one else has.  Our inner-filters have been created over years of development and they do not permit us to see or hear the same thing.  We have all evolved in different directions and possess different skills of interpreting what we have been experiencing.

    My father was the pastor of a church for 35 years.  We came from the Evangelical United Brethren Church.  Our denomination and the Methodist denomination ran parallel to each other for years.  The two merged in Dallas, Texas in 1968 forming the United Methodist Church.

    We had a tradition of saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  The Methodist said what we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    When my father retired, the new pastor wanted to change the “old way” of saying the Lord’s Prayer to the “new way.”  What could be more straight forward than establishing a minor change?  It didn’t happen. For months the congregation engaged in a word-war during the service.  Some said debts and others said trespasses. The battlefield was The Lord’s Prayer. 

    This is like the senseless division created by Christians on how the world has evolved.  The Creationists insist on seven days because the Bible says so.  The Evolutionists insist that the geological evidence is overwhelmingly in their favor.  There is a third response – Who cares?

    Has any position on the topic of creation ever led people to live a more loving and compassionate life?  We must always remember that it is better to be kind than to have what we believe is the correct opinion.  Sometimes people who believe they know the truth about a topic need a dose of humility. 

    For example, during a convention of high school teachers, one of the presenters projected on a large screen a rectangular box featuring 10 small windows close to the top and two wheels at the bottom.  She said, “This is a school bus.  How many of you can tell what direction the bus is traveling?”  The question produced considerable laughter from the teachers and administrators.  She asked for a show of hands from those who knew the answer.  Predictably, no one put up their hand.

    The presenter next told the audience that the same slide had been shown to elementary school children and all of them immediately had the answer. How did they know?  These kids boarded a bus every morning and they knew that the door was on the other side of the bus.  Some in the audience had their doctoral degrees but for many years, they had been removed from having intimate knowledge of riding on a school bus.   We do not interpret identical information in the same way.

    Another example took place in a fourth grade art class.  Emily stood in front of the easel as she painted.   Every stroke she made on the newsprint was dark.  She was a girl that had a disposition and attitude that was the envy of every teacher.  However, the teacher and the supervisor knew that she was communicating a form of denial, covering up something sinister that must have been happening at home. 

    Day after day they monitored her art work.  She was invited to tell stories about her drawings, but she revealed none of the themes typically associated with domestic abuse.  Clearly this was a situation requiring deeper probing by one of the school district’s child psychologists.

    Fortunately, Emily’s easel stood next to another student’s desk.  That student had noticed the concern and asked his teacher if she would like to see Emily paint with brighter colors.  The teacher was embarrassed that another student had observed the concern of so many adults.  She drew on her skills and said, “Why that would be a nice variation” and dropped the issue.

    When Emily began to paint again, all her creations were bright and cheery.  The teacher was astounded.  She discretely asked this student, “How did you get Emily to brighten up her paintings?”  Jimmy said, “She is left handed and I noticed that she was only using the two paint wells on the left side.  I switched the darker colors to the right and moved the reds, yellows and light blues to the left.”

    Sometimes the expertise we bring to a problem is so filled with learned ideas and responses that we become blind to a reality that may be obvious to someone else.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote words that really define this process:

When you assemble a number of people to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those people all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish points of views.

    How did Paul remedy the strong differences of opinion in his new church family?  He rendered his opinion in our lesson today.  Listen how Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s opinion in his Bible, The Message.

We are only answerable to God – all the way from life to death and everything in between – not to each other.  That is why Jesus lived and died and then lived again:  so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother?  And where does that leave you when you are condescending in your attitude toward a sister?  I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly – or worse.  Eventually, we are all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God.  Your critical and condescending ways are not going to improve your position there one bit.  Stop being critical of each other. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your life before God. There is no need to evaluate the worth of someone else’s journey.  (Ro. 14:8-12 – Peterson’s The Message)

    Jesus once gave his listeners very careful instructions when it came to proclaiming their opinions to the world.  He taught,

Do not give your spiritual knowledge to those who could not possibly understand it.  They will only turn on you and attack.  Do not cast your pearls of wisdom before ignorant people because they will only sweep it up in a dust pan and discard it with everything else that they consider trash.  (Matthew 7:6)

    If we choose to voice our opinions, let them be ones that point to what will heal and soothe hurt feelings.  Let our opinions light the path to more wholesome lifestyles that do not judge the past mistakes of others.  Let them be filled with love and compassion knowing that many people are searching for what will heal their spirits in places that cannot provide it. 

    Most of us are not here to engage in sound bites that will improve our culture’s social condition. Social Reformers do not come along every day even though some of us feel we are quite qualified to tell the world what it needs.  Everyone has an idea of how to make our world a better place. 

    All of us would like to get along better with others than we do.  However, as long as some people want to be contributors and creators in the world while others are committed to cutting off the heads of everyone who is not like them, the world’s population is far from that level of evolution.  Perhaps the most wholesome opinion we can have is reflected in the hymn that ends with these words, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  What a marvelous place to start.