I Changed My Mind
Isaiah 43:18-19; Luke 19:1-10
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 10, 2019
I wonder if Zaccheus was just waiting for someone to say, “You can change your mind, your heart, your future.” The future is open, and the present is pregnant with possibilities that we have yet to realize. God’s will for each of us is always bigger than what we bargain for, always filled with surprises that beckon us to become more of who we have been created to be.
Sometimes it means that we must change our mind about something or someone, or even ourselves. William Sloane Coffin once wrote: “It’s always a good time to change your mind when to do so will widen your heart.”
If it widens our hearts, then we must be open to the possibilities to change our mind. If we are on a journey with this radical from Galilee, then we are going to encounter some of those pregnant possibilities for a change along the way. There are times when it won’t be easy. Neale Donald Walsh reminds us that: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
When faced with the possibility of change, often we dig our heels in and resist with all of our being. In fact, I believe that most of us change only when staying where we are becomes more painful than the pain of changing. In most cases, there is pain in the change. Otherwise, we would have easily made the choice to change far earlier in life. Sometimes the choice for change is made easier because the choice to stay where we are has become unfulfilling rather than fulfilling, life-crushing rather than life-enhancing, filled with darkness rather than filled with light.
Frederich Buechner’s book, Peculiar Treasures, is a description of about 100 of the biblical characters and by “characters”, I mean all that that word implies. They were a bunch of characters, from Aaron who led all the Israelites to dance around the golden calf to the very last character in the book, Zaccheus. Buechner describes Zaccheus in this way:
Zaccheus stood barely five feet tall with his shoes off and was the least popular man in Jericho. He was head tax-collector for Rome in the district and had made such a killing out of it that he was the richest man in town as well as the shortest. When word got around that Jesus would soon be passing through, he shinnied up into a sycamore tree so he could see something more than just the backs of other people’s heads, and that’s where he was when Jesus spotted him.
“Zaccheus,” Jesus said, “get down out of there in a hurry. I’m spending tonight with YOU”, whereupon all Jericho snickered up their sleeves to think he didn’t have better sense than to invite himself to the house of a man that nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole.
But Jesus knew what he was doing. Zaccheus was taken so completely aback by the honor of the thing that before he had a chance to change his mind, he promised not only to turn over fifty percent of his holdings to the poor but to pay back, four to one, all the cash he’d extorted from everybody else. Jesus was absolutely delighted. “Today salvation has come to this house,” he said, and since that was his specialty after all, you assume he was right.
Jesus calls on us to change our mind about people sometimes, and, perhaps hardest of all, to sometimes change our mind about ourself. It means seeing with new eyes, understanding with fresh ideas, and changing our hearts. Today, with all of the polarization in our society, and all of the overwhelming problems in our world, it is a time to say, “I changed my mind,” “I changed my heart,” “I’m going to look at this with new eyes.”
Last month, in Time magazine, there was a really interesting article about a man who saw with new eyes, a man who did not give up when faced with overwhelming odds. It is called “A Humble Solution to Global Depression” by Eben Shapiro:
In Zimbabwe, the term for depression is kufungisisa, which translates to “thinking too much.” Like many low-income countries, Zimbabwe is ill-equipped to care for its citizens suffering from mental illness. The country of roughly 16.5 million currently has about 12 trained psychiatrists.
One of those psychiatrists, Dr. Dixon Chibanda, has been on a mission to narrow this treatment gap ever since one of his young patients, who didn’t have the $15 bus fare to travel to a scheduled evaluation, killed herself. In 2007, Chibanda seized on the idea of creating an informal system of therapists from the community. “It suddenly dawned on me that one of the most reliable resources we have in Africa is grandmothers,” he says.
Chibanda’s organization, Friendship Bench, now trains hundreds of Zimbabwean grandmothers in problem-solving therapy, role-playing and behavior activation. Their therapy sessions take place outside, on wooden seats known as Friendship Benches. Grandmothers, Chibanda says, are often best equipped to provide care because they listen and guide their charges toward a solution, unlike other members of the community who tend to direct their patients what to do.
Chibanda’s benches are now expanding to four countries in southern Africa and even making their way to New York City. In January, he brought a Friendship Bench to Davos, Switzerland, as part of an effort to address depression, an escalating problem that destroys lives and costs the global economy trillions of dollars. “My dream is to take this to scale,” Chibanda says. “With something simple, we make a difference in the world.”
Let’s hear it for the power of healing from
We all need to look with fresh eyes at problems. Allen Klein wrote a wonderful book, entitled, Secrets Kids Know That Adults Oughta’ Learn. He tells the story of a man who was very stressed about a big sales presentation he was to make:
One salesman’s young son showed his father the power and profitability of lightening up. As his father was getting ready to go to work, the three-year-old removed all the papers from his father’s briefcase and replaced them with a toy hammer that would make a funny squeaking sound if you used it. That morning, the man had an important sales meeting in which a multimillion-dollar contract was at stake. Knowing that other companies were competing to close the deal, the salesman was expecting a very tense meeting.
When the man got up to give his report, which could seal or sink the deal, he opened his briefcase only to find nothing but the toy hammer. Not quite knowing what to do (but knowing he had to do something other than just stand there), he took the hammer out and repeatedly hit his head with it. His action and the funny sound the hammer made broke the tension.
Everyone immediately started to laugh. The laughter led to a closer connection with those involved in the negotiation and eventually a signed contract. Moreover, people still say it was the best meeting they ever had.
Sometimes laughter makes connections with people that nothing else can. Klein also talks about how we sometimes lose our creativity as we get older, as we become more mature:
There is an often-told anecdote about a teacher in high school who drew a single dot on the blackboard. Then he asked his teenage class to tell him what it was. Most students had no response. Several said that it was “a chalk dot on a blackboard.” If you do the same thing with a kindergarten class, the story goes, it is more than likely that you will get an endless number of answers: “A space ship in outer space.” ”A squashed bug.” ”A star in the sky.” “A dog seen from the roof of the Empire State Building.” ”A fly on the windshield.”
We need to go back to those endless answer days. And then he describes the creativity of a world- famous composer:
When the musicians in Franz Joseph Haydn’s orchestra got mad because a promised vacation from the local duke never materialized, Haydn wrote and staged the Farewell Symphony. The performance opened with a full orchestra, but as the piece progressed, it required fewer and fewer musicians. As each musician completed their part, they left the stage. By the end of the symphony, the stage was empty, and the duke got the message.
Sometimes creativity accomplishes more than we ever expected.
Kathi Nacca recently sent me an article about something very creative and very positive happening in our country. It’s by David Brooks and it is entitled, “A Nation of Weavers: The Social Renaissance is Happening from the Ground Up.” He begins by describing the pain in our country:
These different kinds of pain share a common thread: our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.
Aren’t we all called at moments like these to do something extra?
My something extra was starting something nine months ago at the Aspen Institute called Weave: The Social Fabric Project. The first core idea was that social isolation is the problem underlying a lot of our other problems. The second idea was that this problem is being solved by people around the country, at the local level, who are building community and weaving the social fabric. How can we learn from their example and nationalize their effect?
We traveled around the country and found them everywhere. We’d plop into big cities like Houston and small towns like Wilkesboro, N.C., and we’d find 25 to 100 community “Weavers” almost immediately. This is a movement that doesn’t know it’s a movement.
Some of them work at organizations: a vet who helps other mentally ill vets in New Orleans; a guy who runs a boxing gym in Appalachian Ohio where he nominally teaches young men boxing, but really teaches them life; a woman who was in the process of leaving the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago when she saw two little girls playing with broken bottles in the empty lot across the street. She turned to her husband and said: We’re not moving away from that. We’re not going to be just another family that abandoned this place.
Many others do their weaving in the course of everyday life— because that’s what neighbors do. One lady in Florida said she doesn’t have time to volunteer, but that’s because she spends 40 hours a week looking out for local kids and visiting sick folks in the hospital.
We go into neighborhoods and ask, “Who is trusted here?” In one neighborhood it was the guy who collects the fees at the parking garage.
We’re living with the excesses of 60 years of hyper-individualism. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on personal freedom, self-interest, self-expression, the idea that life is an individual journey toward personal fulfillment. You do you. But Weavers share an ethos that puts relationship over self. We are born into relationships, and the measure of our life is in the quality of our relationships. We precedes me.
But the trait that leaps out above all others is “radical mutuality”: We are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us. “I am broken; I need others to survive,” an afterschool program leader in Houston told us. “We don’t do things for people. We don’t do things to people. We do things with people,” said a woman who builds community for teenagers in New Orleans.
Being around these people has been one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. Obviously, it’s made me want to be more neighborly, to be more active and intentional in how I extend care.
We live in a time of change. But we follow that radical Jesus of Nazareth, who saw things in people no one else saw, who called people to new eyes, new hearts, a new way of living. And he is calling us all to not give up, not give up on the people around us, and not give up on our own ability to change both our minds and our hearts. This church has been “weaving” for a long time. Let us continue to be agents of God’s change, using our hands and feet and voices to make a difference.
In 2019, we face many challenges, both as individuals and as a church family. We also face special opportunities, and unique possibilities. In some areas of our life, we may be able to make small changes and be fine. In other areas, we may have to dramatically change, deciding as a group that we will journey together in a new way, experiencing life from a different vantage point.
The good news is that God is a God of surprising goodness, powerful strength, and compassionate understanding. My hope is that in 2019, we will each hear or feel what Jesus said to Zaccheus: “Today salvation (healing and wholeness) have come to this house.”
And as a church family, may we feel the healing presence of God in our worship and in our dialogue, in our coffee hours and soup suppers, in our choir practices and church council meetings, in our visits to each other and in our caring for those in need.
May we also know in this church: “Today healing and wholeness have come to this house!”