October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:23-32
Philippians 2:1-13

“Changing our Minds”

Jesus told another parable in order to get his point across to the religious leaders of his day. They were acting like hypocrites – very good and holy in their teachings and ideals, but not living according to those same high standards. And as we hear the parable again today, we are invited to ask ourselves… “Which son do I most resemble?”

When God asks me to go to work in some sort of service or mission in the church or in the world, am I the one who hesitates at first? Am I the one who is unsure that I really want to get involved or put in the effort required? Am I the one who initially says “no,” but eventually decides to do what I am being asked to do?

Or am I the one who says, “Yes, Lord, of course I will help!” But then I get distracted. I get busy… terribly busy. I just don’t manage to make the time in my life for that service, and so I don’t go. I intended to go, but I didn’t go.

Of course, it is obvious to everyone that, although both sons in the parable say one thing and do another, the repentance of the first is preferable to the hypocrisy of the second. True righteousness is in the doing, rather than in the confessing. We’ve got to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

If you’re like me, this passage tends to bring up memories of times when I had big plans for ministry and service, and I didn’t follow through. I start to think about all the things I know I should be doing as a Christian that I don’t end up doing very much or very often.

I want to spend more time having faith conversations and sharing the gospel.

I want to do more practical work on healing and reconciliation – building relationships with Indigenous people in our community, and taking time to hear their stories.

I want to be more committed to caring for creation – conserving water, reducing waste, doing something about my carbon footprint.

And then there’s the specific work of congregational ministry. The possibilities for mission and service are infinite, and I can think of many times when the Spirit led me or my church community to an idea and we had a sense of call, but for whatever reason… fear? Apathy? Greed?… we didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.

Jesus’ message for us who sometimes only talk the talk, is a challenge to stop the procrastinating and get going. The hardest part about most things is getting started, breaking through the inertia that keeps us from actually doing what God is calling us to do.

But we can also be like the first son in the parable, the one who said, “No, I don’t want to go work in the vineyard,” but later he changed his mind and he went.

Doesn’t that story make you wonder about why he changed his mind? That’s what I am wondering. What happened to help him change his mind?

Was he just feeling lazy, and he thought it would be too much work? And did he realize how much his father needed his help, and his love for his dad got him up off his butt?

Was he afraid that he wouldn’t be any good at it? But then he decided that his father wouldn’t ask him to do something and then let him fail?

Might he have thought that the job was just too massive? How would his work make a difference in the grand scheme of things? But somehow, he decided that even the small amount he could accomplish could make a difference?

Whatever the reason that the first son said “No,” and whatever the reason that he changed his mind… the story is clear that his obedience will be rewarded. Better late than never. He changed his mind, and he will be blessed for it.

Jesus says that the sinners – the tax collectors and prostitutes – are like that first son. They made mistakes. They did wrong things. They said no to God and to God’s ways of goodness and love. But when they heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and when they met Jesus, they changed their minds.

Like Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who decided to repay four times as much as he stole from the tax payers, and to give away half his possessions to the poor. After just a brief encounter with Christ, he changed his mind, and he changed his life.

Changing our minds isn’t that easy, I know. Have you ever been in an argument or debate with another person? Maybe your spouse, or a colleague, or someone you serve with in the church? Remember one of those arguments in which your differing positions became immediately obvious, and you were both determined to win.

Have you ever changed your mind in the middle of one of those arguments? It’s not likely, because when you get debating like that, you’re not usually paying much attention to the argument on the other side, except in order to figure out how to refute it.

But even if you have found yourself being convinced of an alternate perspective, and begun to see the wisdom of the other point of view. Or if some new piece of information was revealed that changes your conclusion, I wonder if you could admit it. Or would that be too embarrassing… would it seem like you were “losing” if you said, “You know, I think you might be right. I made a mistake.”

Oh, how often we are determined to “stick to our guns” just to protect our fragile egos! How often we refuse to change our minds because we don’t want anyone to know that we were wrong in the first place!

The good news of the gospel today is that we are free to change our minds, and when we do, we are not diminished in God’s eyes. In fact, when we admit our mistakes and decide to think and act differently, God is overjoyed, and we are lifted up!

This idea of changing our minds makes me think of Jesus too. Now, we generally assume that because of his identity as God’s own Son, because of his divine nature, Jesus didn’t make mistakes or do wrong things. But there were at least a few times in the Gospels when it seems like Jesus changed his mind.

I’m remembering a scene from near the end of his life, shortly before he is arrested and killed. Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he’s very aware by this point of what his Father is sending him to do. It has become clear that unless Jesus decides to run, or decides to fight, that he’s going to be killed. This is the path that he’s been on for some time now, as he has increasingly upset the status quo and angered the religious leaders with his authoritative teaching, and healing, and talk about the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus is also human, and as the time draws nearer, I think perhaps he starts to get scared. Wouldn’t anyone have been scared? And so, he earnestly prays… “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Do I really have to go through with this? Isn’t there some other way? Please, if it is possible…

Jesus didn’t do what the prophet Jonah did, of course. When God sent Jonah on a difficult mission, Jonah ran in the other direction. He got on a boat and tried to sail away! But I expect that Jesus felt similarly… like the mission was just too much for him, like he wanted to run and hide.

But in the same breath that he prayed for release from the service he was called to do, he also changed his mind. He prayed, “yet not what I want, but what you want.”

And God, working in Christ, gave him the courage to do what Paul describes in this morning’s reading from Philippians. Jesus was able to change his mind, and do what God sent him to do – looking not to his own interests, but to the interests of others… humbling himself and being obedient to death, even death on a cross. “Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

As Christians, we are called to follow the lead of Jesus, the first son. We are invited and equipped to humble ourselves, to change our minds, and to serve God’s purposes with all the gifts God has given us.

The good news is that God’s love for us as daughters and sons is not dependent on our perfect obedience. God has already loved and forgiven us in Jesus Christ, and God simply rejoices when we turn in response to that grace, changing our minds, and doing God’s will.

Whether we have said no to God’s call in the past, or whether we’ve said yes, and failed to follow through on the commitment we’ve made with our words, we can still change our minds. We can still change our lives.

As we share in the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper today, may God’s Spirit work within our hearts to transform us into the Body of Christ, given freely and fully for the life of the world.