Sermons That Work

As We Get Closer…, Proper 19 (C) – 2004

September 12, 2004

As we get closer to the general election, it is more and more common to hear someone suggesting that because Candidate X once thought this, and now says that, he or she isn’t being honest! Changing one’s mind may be thought to be a sign of insincerity or weakness.

Imagine God changing God’s mind! The thought is enough to bring on an attack of insecurity. Wouldn’t God be insincere or weak if God changes his mind?

The lessons today show God is quite willing to take another look at a situation or a person. We begin with the story of Moses. He’s has an extraordinary religious experience, a mountain top conversion! If you’ve ever had a moment or time in which God has seemed breath-taking, real, and close, you will understand the feeling of exaltation which possessed Moses after he’d met God on the mountain top. It would have been easy for Moses to feel special, better than others, ready to judge and exclude.

But when he comes down from the mountain, the people have gone back to their idols and God is ready to destroy the lot of them.

Moses must have been embarrassed, disappointed, and full of shame. It would have been easy for him to strike out, to agree with God that such people had no place in the church, among the chosen people.

Instead Moses implores God to show mercy. He reminds God that these are the people who were brought out of Egypt. What would the Egyptians say if they now came to harm? Moses reminds God that these people are the chosen-ones, the heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

In the second lesson, St. Paul reminds young Bishop Timothy that God changed his mind about Paul himself. Paul’s fault was that he had been a self-righteous zealot ready to persecute and strike down anyone thought to be doctrinally unsound or impure. He held the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen to death.

But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

So wrote the forgiven Paul, whose words overflow with thanksgiving because God had changed his mind and delivered Paul from being a stiff, unforgiving religious bigot. Perhaps you may think that Paul didn’t change much, but that’s to judge him on part of his record and to ignore the breadth and depth of Paul’s God-love.

In the Gospel today, we see the religious leaders condemning Jesus because he ate meals with religious and social outcasts, those who had offended in thought, word, and deed. Let’s not trivialize the faults of these outcasts. Like the people in the story of Moses, like St. Paul, these people are living self-destructive lives, hurting themselves as they hurt others. It’s not that the Pharisees were wrong about these people. They were wrong about God.

Jesus tells two simple stories, one about a shepherd who has lost a lamb, and the other about a woman who has lost what we would now call a wedding ring, but also her dowry. Both search frantically for the thing they prize most.

Jesus says that the point is that the person you despise most, perhaps with great cause, is prized by God who is ever ready to change his mind and in the process change self-destruction into integrated holiness.

Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

We live in troubled times in both church and state. Our religious, political, and social divisions make it easy for us to take sides and to damn those who don’t believe as we do. There’s plenty of evidence in the media that even notable people live self-destructive lives. In the church press we read of religious leaders who easily condemn those they believe to be in error and would readily drive them out of our fellowship, or break communion with either “conservatives” or “liberals,” depending on which side they have taken.

God wants to change his mind about people. That’s what love means. Judging comes easily to us. Changing our minds about people isn’t that easy. God has changed his mind about each one of us. God is in the process of turning our lives upside down. This morning God will change his mind about each one of us, yet again, with enormous patience and love. And so we pray that the changed-mind love of God will fill us and redeem us as we pray:

O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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