January 21, 2018
Third Sunday after Epiphany
A few years ago, for one reason or another, I needed to get into an old hotmail account that I hadn’t used since 2005. It took a while, but I was eventually able to open it and to my surprise I found years of emails that I had no idea still existed. So, I decided to read a few, and let me tell you…very bad idea. You see, those emails came from a time in my life quite bleak. I found angry letters to ex boyfriends and ranty emails to friends in which I unleashed a crippling level of anxiety. I felt ashamed and mortified as I read them. I just couldn’t believe that those emails had come from the same mind that I carry around with me today. Because I don’t know about you, but I tend to go through life with the illusion that my mind more or less stays the same. As if my mind were like an invisible vacuum cleaner that holds the same overall shape, meanwhile it just keeps sucking up more and more stuff. But reading those emails, I just couldn’t believe that my mind, the same mind I have today, produced those thoughts.
But really, the point is that those words did not come from the same mind I have today. This mind of mine, this thing I perceive as constant has changed so much over the course of my life. I’ve changed my mind about SO many things.
Like I used to be terrified to even walk into a gym, now I’m sad when I can’t go.
I used to think TV was beneath me, and now Netflix is a way of life.
I used to think that the only cool belt was a braided leather belt and that the only way to wear it was by looping it over itself to let the long end dangle towards the ground.
And from those emails I read, I was reminded that I used to think I would never live without crippling anxiety, that I’d never be able to hold down a decent job, and that dark thoughts like these would control me the rest of my life.
But thank God I don’t think these things any more. Thank God I’ve been given the gift of being able to change my mind. Because I can get in some pretty bad spaces when I think that I can’t change my mind. When I think that the way I feel right now is the way I’m going to feel forever.
But in today’s gospel we hear that not only is it possible for our minds to change but it’s good and holy and it’s what God wants for us. Because when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent” the word he uses for repent is metanoia, which literally means to “change your mind.” Change your mind. I hear Jesus in a totally new way if what he’s really saying is, “The kingdom of God, this new culture of God is close by. So, change your minds!” That makes a lot more sense to me than Repent.
Just think how different things could be if we we got used to hearing that the call of Jesus is a call to change our minds. Like, perhaps we wouldn’t fall so easily into the trap that the way we think and feel is meant to always stay the same. Maybe we wouldn’t be so prone to call each other flip floppers when we do change our minds. And maybe, just maybe it would be easier for us to recognize when our minds are not serving us and need to change.
Because if we look around, minds seem to be more and more locked into their camps, while the engines of changes grind to a halt. Polarization freezes minds in place and leads to shutdown. So, what we need is a holy model for the changing of minds. And as Christians, we are in luck. Because we have one. We have a God who is invested in the changing of minds. Which ought not come as a surprise since God chose to step into this world first in the form of a baby. A baby, particularly the mind of a baby, is one of the most rapidly changing things on earth. Scientists say that the actual brain of a newborn will double in size in just the first three months after birth. Neurons lengthen, expand and connect more rapidly than at any other time during life. Which means that God chose to come into this world not with a fully formed and perfect mind, but with a mind that was far from perfect. God chose to take on a mind that needed to grow, a mind that needed to change, just like ours. And we know this not only from our Gospel reading, but we also hear about the changing mind of God in our first reading from the prophet Jonah. The prophet tells us that, “When God saw what [the people of Nineveh] did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
So, if God can change God’s mind, then why is it so hard for us to accept that we change our minds? After all, Jesus also said, unless you change your minds and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. We come into God’s presence the same way God comes into ours, through the imperfect childlike mind that needs to grow and change. However, we are made to feel as if we are betraying our very selves and those around us if we change our minds about our religious beliefs or political party or even a favorite food. Like when your mom is so happy to have made you your favorite meal, only to realize that you don’t eat meat anymore. And then gives you that look that only a parent can give. That look that says, “What have you done with my child?!” But it’s not just parents. As humans, it seems that we don’t really like giving each other permission to change our minds. And I struggle with even giving myself permission.
One of my most influential mentors is a priest named Will. Once I was confessing to Will that I hate how often I’m super judgmental of people and then I turn out to be wrong. But Will turned to me and said, “I love when that happens. I love how often I’m wrong because if I were right most of the time, then the world would be a pretty bleak place. Right?” And of course, Will was right, but the thing that struck me most from that interaction was how hard I was being on myself for not getting it right the first time. I was focused on the wrong part of the equation. I was focused on getting things wrong, but Will was focused on how God get things right. How God gets things right by changing our minds over time. Getting things wrong isn’t a bad thing. Because every time we get things wrong is another chance for God to get things right. The holy changing of our minds is good news. It’s a gift.
And it’s happening whether we like it or not. Every time we meet another person and hear another story and every time we gather around this table and look into the eyes of another child of God, God is changing our mind. God has created us with minds that are incapable of staying the way that they are. Our minds were created to be transformed by each encounter with another child of God. But I don’t have to tell you this, because you already know it. When I asked you on Facebook about what precisely has made it possible for you to change your minds in the past, almost every person said that it was an actual encounter with another person that did it. Because that’s how God comes to us, through real and living Human flesh. Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them, says the Lord. And when we encounter the life of another, we cannot help but be changed. God has made us in such a way that the story of another is irresistible to our minds. Despite all the defences we put up to change, nothing can get in the way of God’s spirit flowing directly between two people. Of course, we try and resist the changing of our minds, by hiding and walling ourselves off so that we do not have to encounter new people.
But ultimately God will tear all those walls down, and will save us from the prison of our own minds. Because our minds are too small to contain the awesome image of God that flows through us. And in order to let God in, our minds must change, they must expand and be transformed. The apostle Paul said “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”. Which is the reason we gather here each week. To encounter the image of God in each other so that slowly but surely our mind will be transformed into the mind of Christ. Slowly but surely each of our minds are changing and being drawn into that great mind of Christ that is big enough for the whole world. Because the mind of God will never stop expanding until all of us are in it.