Sermon: “Changing Minds”
Reverend Mark Thompson
Lansing Central United Methodist Church, Lansing, MI
January 21, 2018
Scripture – Mark 1: 14-20
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
I believe that each person has a calling on their life, a calling from God. I believe that we are each created good for good; not only created good, but created to do good things. We are each created to do our part in the transformation of the world into a place where all of creation can experience heaven on earth. Some of you might agree with me.
Many of us have heard of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers Movement. She, along with Peter Maurin, saw the need to empower the poor to live lives of dignity and equity.
Ms. Day’s answer to the calling came in the midst of a life journey. Dorothy experienced the San Francisco earth quake at the age of nine. Her father lost his job due to the devastation that destroyed the newspaper office where he worked. In the midst of it all Dorothy was aware of the response not only of her family, but of the neighborhoods. It is said of her that,
“From the spontaneous response to the earthquake’s devastation, the self-sacrifice of neighbors in a time of crisis, Day drew a lesson about individual action and Christian community.” 1.
This greatly impacted her view of life. Along with the likes of authors such as Peter Kropotkin and Leo Tolstoy and many life events, she was a student of the ways of Jesus. She came to grips with the dim reality of the need of the poor caught in the struggles of class warfare. She was called to the work of the transformation of the world and answered that call.
We all can’t be Dorothy Day type people, or can we? Can we realize that we are all students of life, learning lessons with each encounter, each item we see, each place we visit? We are forever impacted by even the air that we breath, discerning whether there is fire nearby, what perfume or cologne the person beside us is or is not wearing, what style of clothes the person we are talking to is wearing and thereby discerning a bit about their station in life…. We are continually studying the world around us. What do we do with that information that we naturally gather? What paradigm are we using as a foundation for the classroom we call daily life?
A description of paradigms comes from a worksheet offered to teens:
Paradigms are like glasses. When you have incomplete paradigms about yourself or life in general, it’s like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. That lens affects how you see everything else. As a result, what you see is what you get. If you believe you’re dumb, that very belief will make you dumb. If you believe your sister is dumb, you’ll look for evidence to support your belief, find it, and she’ll remain dumb in your eyes. On the other hand, if you believe you’re smart, that belief will cast a rosy hue on everything you do. 2.
What do you suppose was the paradigm that Jesus had? I think we can make a pretty good guess based on the scriptures that we have.
Jesus stated that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything thing that we have and are.
He also stated that just as important was the command to love yourself and your neighbor in like fashion.
He lived his live based on these two premises or paradigms.
The common word of these two is the word love. His view of people was not as some would have it, that people are born deprived. He did not see humans as born less than or born in total depravity thereby needing to be rescued.
No, he saw people as being more than worthy of love. Lepers, women caught in adultery, foreigners, mentally deficient, those who are insane, drinkers and non-drinkers… you name it, Jesus believed that all persons are worthy of becoming aware of God’s love for him, her, them. He believed that each person deserved to have the entanglements of life removed so that each person could experience the unconditional love of God.
This was good news for those caught in poverty or jobs that didn’t pay enough to make ends meet. It was great news for those cast aside due to prejudice or fear. It was amazing news to the majority of people who heard of him.
So, it is not surprise to me that when the gospel writer painted a word picture of the calling of the first disciples that it was pretty simplistic. Guys were fishing. Jesus called them to follow him. The guys left the boats, fellow workers, even dad, and followed Jesus.
It is part of the larger picture, that when seen, helps to make sense of the simplistic story of the calling of the disciples.
When we consider the job of a fisherman in the time of Jesus, we might assume a free enterprise system of economy. That is actually wrong according to Dr. K. C. Hanson. 3. The economy was set up as being ruled and profited from well to do families. The working class received little of the profit.
The message of Jesus that proclaimed value of human dignity and equity for all was refreshing. It was mind bending for those caught in the throws of working hard and never being able to move forward in life. When the masses heard this message, they proclaimed, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mark 1: 27)
No wonder these men left the life of being trapped in making high profits for the elite, struggling to feed their families to follow Jesus. They were ready for change that could bring dignity to the work place, sustainability to their families and strength for their community.
They were ready to hear some news that brought hope. It changed their thinking, moving them from lives of dismal outlook to one of a kinder, more progressive future that would bring quality of life to them, their families, friends and nation.
They left the old life behind and followed the one who was in the business of “Changing Minds.”
It sounds like a good thing to have happen. Those men and other followers of Jesus had to pick up the proverbial cross and carry it. Following Jesus is not without cost. They had to participate in marches and listen to life altering speeches (such as what we call the Sermon on the Mount). These disciples had to withstand ridicule from religious, political, and the authorities poised to enforce the status quo and laws. They had to have a profound change of minds in order to take this Jesus seriously and to follow his ways.
For them, the major change of their minds didn’t happen until after Jesus was arrested for being a political and religious radical, sentenced to death, crucified, and risen from the dead. Even then, it was only when Jesus said, hey guys, it’s up to you to carry on the teachings that I have taught you, just do it… and then the story goes that an angel had to ask them why the heck are they staring up into the sky to when Jesus asked them to get to doing the work of transformation that the moved off to do the work. And further… actually, it was only after they were infused with the awareness of divine presence that they actually began to make a difference in the world around them.
We too, need to have a change of minds; change of minds throughout our lives. We too need to become aware of the divine strength already within our bones, divine strength that empowers us to speak truth to power, to set the captive free, to proclaim that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
What motivates us to follow this radical Jesus?
For some of my days, I am like Jonah. You remember him. He’s the guy we hear about in the Old Testament. The story goes that God wanted the people of Nineveh to understand that they were doing some pretty nasty things. They were thugs par excellence.
Jonah agree with God’s supposition. Too add to that thought, Jonah was of the mindset that those Ninevites were born a bad lot, born totally deprived of goodness, born evil. They were not like him. They didn’t deserve to even hear that God wanted them to change. Jonah was ready for God to bring in the big guns and wipe them off the face of the earth.
As the story unfolds in the book of Jonah, we find God changing his mind. You see, Jonah did end up going to telling the people that if they didn’t change their ways then destruction would come, the city of Nineveh would be destroyed. The people took the message seriously and changed their ways. God didn’t bring fire and brimstone down on them.
(Jonah 3: 1-5, 10)
Jonah was not a happy camper. He wanted those foreigners out of this world. He didn’t like them, trust them, nor see the need for their existence. He didn’t get the memo that read that God is a god of mercy, love and justice.
Jonah never did change his mind. As far as the story goes, we see that Jonah went to his grave believing that God should have killed those people who became kind folks, who became rehabilitated. Jonah was not a man of mercy, only one of judgement. The death penalty was the only way to treat people who use to do evil things.
He never accepted truth that God is a god of second changes, a god of 70 x 70 chances. Jonah would not have like Jesus at all.
Do we? Do I like this Jesus? This Jesus who is about proclaiming that people are intrinsically good? This Jesus that lived a life showing that people can choose or be led to choose behavior that goes against this innate goodness, and that these same folks are worth saving, redeeming, rehabilitation? Do you and I like this Jesus who states that those who disagree with us are worthy of love, yes, even unconditional love?
I believe that we are. Lord, help our unbelief.
We are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are ones that believe that all people are created in the image of God. We, like Jesus, are in the work of “Changing Minds” for the sake of all creation.
Listen to our, The United Methodist Social Creed.
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.
This is who we are as United Methodist people.
Fishing was an important part of the Galilean economy in the first century. But it was not the “free enterprise” which modern readers of the New Testament may imagine. Even fishers who may have owned their own boats were part of a state regulated, elite-profiting enterprise, and a complex web of economic relationships. These are symptoms of an “embedded economy.” That is to say, economies in the ancient Mediterranean were not independent systems with “free markets,” free trade, stock exchanges, monetization, and the like, as one finds in modern capitalist systems. Rather, only political and kinship systems were explicit social domains; economics and religion were conceptualized, controlled, and sustained either by the political hierarchy or kin-groups ( Polanyi, et al. 1957; Dalton 1961; Polanyi 1968; Finley 1985; Malina 1986; Garnsey & Saller 1987:43-63). For an overall assessment of the setting of Jesus’ activity, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of political economies in the ancient Mediterranean in terms of the flow of benefits upward to the urban elites, and especially the ruling families.