CHANGING YOUR MIND - A SERMON ON EXODUS 17:1-7, AND MATTHEW 21:23-32 - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Excerpts of a Sermon Delivered on the
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7 & Matthew 21:23-32
The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
“Changing Your Mind”
Flip flopping--changing your mind on an issue or principal--can get you in trouble. Particularly if you’re a politician. But it is held up as a virtue in today’s readings. In fact, the problem seems to be when our minds are closed. When we are absolutely certain that we are right.
The religious authorities in today’s gospel are trying to trap Jesus. They begin by questioning his authority. Like shrewd a politician today, Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question but puts forth another question about whether John’s baptism is of human or divine origin.
And then Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. The father asks both sons to go and work in the vineyard. The first says no; then changes his mind and goes. The second agrees to work but doesn’t follow through with his answer. It’s the first son that is held up as an example. Good intention isn’t enough. It’s follow through that makes the difference.
A little flip flopping might not be so bad! Einstein once said: “Everything has changed but our thinking.” Our minds get locked into a certain way of looking at life, at the world, at people, at ourselves, at God. Unfortunately, religion is where many of us are the most close-mined.
Maybe it’s because life is filled with so much change that we want this area of our lives to be constant.
With passage of time we see how incredibly slow the Church has been in responding to new information or insights. Whether insisting that the world is flat. Or on issues of slavery, civil rights, the ordination of women, issues of sexuality.
Like the religious authorities in Jesus’ day the problem is often that our minds are closed because we think we are right.
Much if our thinking is negative. We are judgmental not only toward other but towards ourselves. We are trapped in a cycle of endless worry, fear, bitterness, hatred, envy and the list goes on. The problem is that this kind of thinking keeps us from living in the present moment.
Changing our mind. Sometimes is a very good thing. That’s what the Greek word metanoia means. To change your mind. The religious authorities had closed minds.
It was the least expected and the least respected ones, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, who changed their minds and opened their hearts. And received the surprising grace of God.
St. Augustine was born in Africa in 354. His young adulthood was a stormy period. It included fathering a child out of wedlock. In his twenties, Augustine moved to Milan, Italy, where he became a professor of rhetoric. His personal life, however, continued to be stormy and wayward.
While in Milan, two things happened to him. First, he became increasingly unhappy with his personal life. Suddenly he broke into tears and began to cry out to God: “And you, Lord! How long will you be angry with me? Forever? Why not at this very hour put an end to my evil life?”
Augustine said later: “I was crying like this when suddenly, I heard the voice of a child. It seemed to say, “Take and read! Take and read!” “I stood up. I got a Bible and opened it. “The first words my eyes fell upon were from the letter of Paul to the Romans. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
When Augustine read this, he stopped. There was no need to go on. He says: “My heart was suddenly flooded with a light that erased all my doubts. And my soul was filled with deep peace.”
That episode triggered Augustine’s conversion to Christianity. Shortly afterwards, he enrolled himself in the catechumenate in Milan. He was baptized the following Easter.
The remarkable change of heart that Augustine experienced is the same kind of change of heart that Jesus talks about in today’s gospel.