Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse
We sure do love our opinions. Knowing what we know, and holding to it, is comfortable
– and it is easy. When life was dangerous – and the things we needed to know were
based on day-to-day survival – it was probably pretty helpful, too. But today the world is
complicated and nuanced and noisy. Yet still, our brains are better at processing
information when we agree with it. Once we have an opinion, we are likely to notice all
the ways the opinion is supported – and ignore or miss the counter arguments. Social
media – envisioned as a place of bountiful opinions – has only made it worse. You can
spend all day in that infamous echo chamber, having your opinions bolstered and never
challenged. The algorithm will make it so. This is indeed the tragedy of the commons –
when our minds cannot be changed, we cannot find common ground, we cannot see
when we have got things wrong, and we cannot hold sway when we are right.
And yet we know holding so fiercely to an opinion is wrong, even when we so
desperately want to keep it. We sometimes feel, in the fight for it, that we have lost
focus on the opinion itself – that we have become about winning and not about believing
something. Indeed, we see all sorts of times in society when people have argued
fiercely against something – how many of us had relatives who swore they would never
wear a seatbelt and are now grandparents who would never think of putting their
grandchild in the car without one? They came around. Research over time shows we
often do – about smoking bans, about not using plastic bags at the grocery store, even
when it came to sensible choices we made the during the pandemic. Our minds can be
changed, just sometimes it happens while we are still kicking and screaming.
So isn’t our first lesson a lesson for us? In that reading, God is angry. To Moses, God
announces plans to consume the people, who, having been delivered from their
enslavers in Egypt, appear to have lost their way. But Moses pleads their case: give
them another chance, he says. And what does God do? God’s mind changes. God
takes a pause, listens to Moses, and decides that, yes, maybe those people have been
through a lot, and they do indeed deserve a break. And what does that say to us – who
are fallible in so many ways– that God’s mind can be changed? Should our minds also
not be so open?
In fact, we have many historical examples of great change happening in the world
because people changed their minds. Martin Luther, for one, walked away from one
way of understanding our relationship with God to create another. Many of the disciples
of Jesus were people whose mind were changed when they heard the gospel. In
August, Mikhail Gorbachev died, a figure who would have loomed large among those of
us who remember the cold war. Gorbachev was a member of the Communist Party in
the Soviet Union, and a successful one. But the reason we know who he is, why he is
admired in history – is because he changed his mind. His radical reform of the system
he had once supported led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an end to communism and
the Soviet Union as we know it.
The Queen, who we honoured this week for her constancy and stability through 70
years on the throne, was, by nature of the job, less knowable to us. But for all those
resolute steps, the Queen who took the throne at 25 was a different thinker from the one
who formally appointed her last Prime Minister two days before she died. If reason
doesn’t change our minds, often life will take care of that for us.
And yet, wouldn’t it be better if it weren’t so hard? If we didn’t first dig in our heels, and
hold our position, and not just listen, or pay attention to the world around us? How does
any change happen? People share their opinions, and you begin to see sense in them.
Or you look around and see the way that what you believe is unsustainable for the
earth, or harmful to others, or selfish, or built on anger and not reflection.
This is what our gospel this morning is ultimately about: Jesus cares about the one
missing sheep because we have the room, the power to change our minds. We can
repent. We can choose to see the world differently. Surely this was true of the tax
collectors, who, having spent their lives taking, came to hear Jesus teach them how to
give. Surely this is true of so many sins of pride and judgement; letting go of them is an
act of changing one’s mind. What is the other side of hate but a mind changed to love?
Changing our minds, as God shows us in our first lesson, is not weakness, but strength.
The journey of being changed lies behind mercy and forgiveness, the two most life-
giving acts we have in our power. To do so, we must listen, and we must pay attention
to the world. We must know that when we plant our heels in the sand and refuse to
budge, we are, in truth, fighting for what matters.