Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Often the message of preachers is that we need to be firm in our faith, strong in our belief, and sure of where we stand what we believe. Popular culture, also, is against changing your mind. You may think today’s newspapers are bad, but many of you will remember Margaret Thatcher saying this, on 10 October 1980,
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
I don’t wish to undermine certainty of faith, or question everything. Neither do I want to suggest that we should all become woolly minded dithers. I don’t think the old joke, “I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not so sure”, is where we should all strive to be. But what I do want to suggest to you is that there may be a case for changing our minds sometimes, and that we should not always dig our heels in for the duration regardless. I suggest to you that today’s Bible readings have a message for us about not being afraid to change our mind.
Paul is writing the Philippian Christians in his typical fashion. He’s boasting that he was more Jewish than any other Jew: circumcised on the eighth day, one of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; a Pharisee; a persecutor of the church; follower of the law. It all means that he was as Jewish as it was possible to be.
Yet, he explains that he has thrown all that away to follow Christ. In fact, he goes rather further than that – our Bible politely translates it as “rubbish” – the Greek word is rather less delicate, and the best English translation is “shit”. That’s what he things of the Jewishness of Jewishness in order to follow Christ.
That is surely a clear reminder to us that changing your mind is not only OK, but something to be encouraged.
We encounter a similar phenomenon in our reading from Matthew’s gospel. The fisherman are quite happy fishing, expecting to earn their living, and Jesus calls them to follow him, and they go! How’s that for a sudden and dramatic change of mind?
Perhaps you remember The Hobbit? Bilbo Baggins lived a comfortable, wholly respectable, and unadventurously ordinary life, until one day some surprise visitors walk into his life – thirteen dwarves and a wizard – and invite themselves for tea. They’re looking for someone to go with them on an adventure, which Bilbo considers a very un-hobbit-like thing to do, so he declines their invitation. Yet, almost immediately, his mind is changed and he leaves home to join the adventure. In later years he fails to remember how he had left his old life behind so immediately!
You might have noticed that most churches don’t have a reputation for doing things immediately. We’re rarely accused of being impulsive, as Jesus’ new disciples were. Why is this? Is it because we’ve found it difficult to leave things in the past? Is it an advantage to take things slowly and consider carefully, moving as rapidly as a tortoise on a particularly sleepy day? Or is a disadvantage to take so long thinking, that the boat has gone before we realise it, like the two dinosaurs watching Noah’s Ark sail away and realising that was today? What is it that holds us back from leaving everything and following? The disciples changed their minds to follow Jesus. Have we the capacity and the ability to change our minds on important matters?
I once belonged to a church that called a Minister. After a few months it became quite clear that things were going disastrously wrong, and the Church Meeting, in effect, rescinded its call. I don’t mention this in order to give you ideas! At the time of these difficult events, the Church Secretary said that he believed it was God’s will that that Minister had come to the church, but it was now God’s will that he left. That wasn’t an easy time, and we all know that knowing God’s will is very difficult. I think this example was a time when changing one’s mind was very difficult indeed, and came at considerable cost, but was the right thing to do.
To offer a quite different example, in the debates about human sexuality in the United Reformed Church, let alone other churches, some people have found that through meeting gay and lesbian Christians, they have come to realise that, like them, all people are made in the image of God. Others have looked again at the scriptures, and discovered that, with the benefit of greater knowledge of the context and setting of the scriptures, it is possible to see that the passages condemning same sex acts are not as straightforward as might appear. Some Christians have, at risk of great personal cost, changed their mind about accepting gay and lesbian people in the life and ministry of the church.
In that passage where the disciples drop everything and follow Jesus, in Paul recounting how he abandoned the mother of all Jewishness, we see a clear message from the Bible that, although it may be very difficult, we do need to consider changing our minds. I don’t mean changing our minds over trivial things such as which sized tin of beans to buy in Sainsburys or which socks to wear, but the changes of mind that cost us something. Those for which we risk losing face.
I wonder if you’ve ever been in the situation where you had to decide whether or not to change your mind about something? Have you ever wondered if you might be wrong about something, but not been brave enough to change your mind? Or have you ever changed your mind, but not been at all sure that you were right to change your mind?
Perhaps you remember Jonathan Aitken, the former Cabinet Minister, who was gaoled for perjury and perverting the course of justice? During his time in prison he made a Christian commitment, and renounced parts of his former life. Clearly, for him, being a Christian meant that he changed his mind and his behaviour about what was right and wrong.
Perhaps you remember the British Olympic athlete Jonathan Edwards? He lost his place in the 1991 World Championships because he would have had to compete on Sundays. However, he changed his mind and competed in the 1993 World Championships, because, he said, he’d come to realise that God had given him his talent in order for him to use it.
Margaret Thatcher famously announced that the lady was not for turning. Many of us, at different times and occasions in our lives, have not been able to change our mind about things, but the Bible tells us that sometimes changing your mind can be a good thing.
It can be unsettling to change your mind, of course. It can require great strength and courage, and yet it might ultimately bring us more peace of mind than not. There’s a famous prayer by St Augustine, which reminds us that we can eventually find our rest in God:
Lord, you are great, and greatly to be praised. Awaken us to delight in your praises, for you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.
Our calling as Christians is certainly not to have empty minds, but it is to have open ones. Are we open to whatever God might be calling us to, as Paul was, as the disciples were?