Sermon: January 22, 2017 – Knowing You are Right”

“Knowing You are Right”

Text: Matthew 15: 21-28

 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

I guess I have a little confession to make. Chances are, if you think about it, many of you would have to make the same confession, but I’ll leave that up to you. The thing is, that I’m likely to assume that what I think and what I believe is the correct position. Throughout my entire life, most of the time, I have been right. I don’t think this is really an ego thing, it just is what I have experienced.

I have always done well in school. I graduated with honors from both institutions for my advanced degrees, once for my BFA and again for my MDIV degree. I often have the experience of seeking the advice or counsel of someone who is supposed to be an expert in a particular field, and then after visiting with them for a few minutes, I get the feeling that I know at least as much about their supposed field of expertise as they do; perhaps more. I know a lot of things. I have had the benefit of a good education, exposure to a lot of different cultures, I have traveled in different parts of the country and around the world. All of these things combine to create a situation where I feel like I am well rounded and have solid opinions on any number of topics.

I don’t want to go overboard here. There have been lots of times when I have been wrong. But what’s really interesting, is that in a lot of those situations that I can remember, I’m so glad that I was wrong! It is a great thing to discover the up side of being wrong!

For example, when the first digital cameras came out I was not a fan. I didn’t expect digital photography to ever turn into anything. I thought it was a passing fad. For a long time I felt that if you were a real photographer, you shot film. There just wasn’t any possibility that a computer image could rival what a properly exposed transparency could produce in terms of color saturation, sharpness and clarity. I just didn’t think it was possible. I resisted changing from film to digital for quite a long time.

My first exposure (pun intended) to digital photography was when we decided to purchase a fairly inexpensive point and shoot digital camera for Heidi. At this point digital cameras had been out for quite some time and had already improved way beyond what I ever expected them to become. So we purchased a small, convenient, easy to use digital camera for Heidi. If I remember correctly, it was an Olympus, but that doesn’t matter.

Shortly after our purchase we went on vacation to the New England states in October to witness the fall color that is there that time of year. We went to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and then went on up north into Maine and visited Acadia National Park. During this trip, I carried all my film photography gear in a large backpack. I was also carrying with me about 50 rolls of film that represented quite an investment and I also carried prepaid mailers with me for the processing. When I would finish a roll of film I would put it in one of these mailers and send it off. That way, by the time we got home, some of my transparencies were already beginning to arrive and I could look at my photos.

The short story about this trip is that I went to a significant amount of effort and expense to produce some of the best images I could of the magnificent fall color of the New England states in October. All this time Heidi kept her little Olympus in her pocket and when something interesting popped up, she would point the camera in that direction and shoot a picture.

Everybody knows what is coming, but sure enough, the images on Heidi’s camera were in almost every way, just as good, if not sometimes better, than the ones I had labored over. That was a wake-up call about how wrong I was about digital photography. Since that time I have abandoned film and educated myself about digital photography to a certain degree. There is still much I don’t know and the technology changes so fast, it is hard to stay current. But the point is that I’m having so much more fun and significantly better results now than I ever did shooting film. I’m so glad I was wrong!

I could tell a lot of stories about how wrong I have been about any number of things in my life. But here’s what I think we should think about. When you believe you are right, and all of us do, all the time, then it is very difficult for us to receive any new information about that topic. When we assume we are correct, it is very difficult to actually listen to an alternative position. In most cases, I think the new information comes to us by accident; sort of like what happened to me on our New England trip.

For example, almost everyone I know who has had a significant change of opinion about marriage equality or LGBT rights has discovered that someone close to them that they have known for years has recently come out of the closet. This new information comes to them by accident, and it changes how they think about a particular topic.

Part of this is just human nature and I think it is a condition from which we all suffer to some degree. But I also think it is getting worse. It seems easier today than ever before to insulate ourselves from any dissenting opinions or information. Consider what has happened to our news industry. We used to simply watch the news on a local channel and they reported what had happened that day. The news wasn’t entertainment, it was the news. But all that has changed, we now have cable news networks that run news 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Further, we have cable news networks that cater to a particular mindset and particular opinions about how the world works. In other words, we only hear news that agrees with what we already think. There isn’t any new information we are likely to receive.

Social media has also become a great insulator of dissenting information. We can log onto Facebook and scroll through the opinions and information presented there and most of us will ignore anything we don’t agree with. If it gets a little irritating, which for me it often does, it is very easy to unfriend someone or request that we no longer get posts like that.

In our social circles we also tend to hang out with those who think like we do or believe the same things. It has become very easy for us to never have a single instance where what we think or what we believe is ever challenged.

So this leads me to my basic question for today. What are we missing when we are never presented with new information or a new idea? In almost every situation I can remember when I have had the opportunity to change my mind about something, I’m so glad I did. The process of changing your mind is called growth. Our lives get richer; we have more empathy and compassion; we understand the world around us more completely. So with all these positive aspects that come from a new perspective or new information, why do we resist it so much? Why do we avoid it at almost all costs?

I wanted to get back to the text I read at the beginning. Jesus was pretty certain he was right when this woman confronted him. The disciples were people who Jesus had surrounded himself with that agreed with him. Jesus was insulated a little bit in the environment in which he was functioning. The disciples agreed with Jesus that the woman should be sent away; Jesus told the woman she wasn’t eligible for benefits. She was the wrong nationality or the wrong color or came from the wrong part of the world. She simply wasn’t eligible for benefits. The ministry of Jesus wasn’t going to be wasted on people like her.

But the woman persisted and by some miracle Jesus actually heard her. The daughter was healed. The ministry of Jesus suddenly expanded to include others and not just the Jews.

Where would we be today if Jesus had missed this chance to expand his ministry? Where would we be if Jesus had been so convinced he was right that he could not hear this woman? Where would we be if the advice of those surrounding Jesus had been followed and the woman was sent away? What would we be missing if Jesus had not changed his mind?

To be confronted with a new idea or a new thought is not always the most comfortable thing in the world. But sometimes it is the best thing in the world. What are you missing when you know you are right?

Food for thought.

Amen.

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