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Maybe God Will Change God's Mind

Sermon - 1/22/12
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 1:1-18

Can God change God’s mind?  This is the question posed to us in the book of Jonah today.  Now, when you hear me say Book of Jonah – what do you know?  What can you tell me about Jonah?

              

  • Prophet

  • Didn’t want the job

  • Nineveh

 

The passage I’m using today is in Chapter 3 but let’s review, for any who don’t know the story, what happens in Chapters 1 & 2. 

God comes to Jonah and asks him to go to Nineveh, and to tell them to repent. What does Jonah do?  Jonah gets on a boat going in the exact opposite direction. Then when a storm threatens to topple the boat Jonah is on, Jonah tells the captain to throw him overboard and kill him, rather than just telling the captain to turn the ship around and head for Nineveh. Thrown overboard, coming to the most remembered part of his story, A whale swallows Jonah up and carries him around for 3 days – just long enough for Jonah to recognize how fragile life is, how God’s desire for relationship with Jonah is much preferable to dying inside the belly of a whale.  He prays to God for mercy, and mercy he receives.  The whale spits out Jonah onto dry land.  Back to square one, so to speak, as God once again asks him to go to Nineveh and give them a message they need to hear.  And, Jonah does so, smelling no doubt like a bucket of fish-puke.   

Let us read Chapter 3: 

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Can God change God’s mind?  No doubt!  But not in the way that most of us hope for – like, change your mind God, about this task in front of me.  Don’t make me do it.  Not usually how God changes God’s mind.  God is relentless.  Seriously.  Once you have heard the voice of God – the voice in your head, your heart – God becomes the most patient, relentless, unchanging force.  Start running from that call and you’re likely to be in the belly of the figurative whale!  In some ways God does not change God’s mind.  Remember Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof?  My dad’s favorite movie, He says- "I know. I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in awhile, can't you choose someone else?"

In some ways God does not change God’s mind. But God is willing to work with you – That is what we Christians refer to as a relationship with God – because in that relationship, that conversation – it helps you change your mind – open your mind - and when you have done that difficult and important growth work, it is God who also changes – and meets you with mercy and love and encouragement for the journey.  That is why I refer to God as a parent because parents often know, from their own experience, that what is best for you is challenging and good parents aren’t willing to let a child quit just because it is hard.  I refer to God as a best friend because best friends know you so thoroughly and they listen to you complain and fret and worry because that is what friends do – but they see the whole you – and still can reflect back to you the path you already know you need to follow and offer you a helping hand for the way ahead. 

In a relationship with God – for Jonah – for me, for you – it’s not all one sided – God doesn’t just give up on the vision and hope for your life just because you don’t want to, or it’s hard – or may cause growing pains – and it’s not just God getting God’s way because I told you so…both can and do change and together…

Now, underlying all this is a big assumption that you may or may not share with me.  You, sister, YOU, brother are being called by God.  I don’ know what the calling is - mean you may not be called to be a preacher but when God starts calling, no matter the request, it feels like being called to be a prophet, preacher, evangelist.  Because it’s outside your box – your comfort zone.  Think about another text from today – Mark 1:  Jesus calls the fishermen from their daily duties to come and follow him – which on the surface does not sound like too hard a thing to do – follow Jesus – yeah, sign me up too – but what happens in that Invitation:  “come and I will make you fishers of men” – this implies some very heavy lifting, some deep soul searching – for I bet you know how challenging it can be to speak truth in the face of great dissent, to stand up to the powers that be (even if that is your own brain).  Once Jonah wrestles with his own denial, his own frustration and anger at God’s request – and faces his fear- he walks into the city…and says (in Hebrew) five words. Five words.

That’s it?  I mean going with the story theme my first thought is he thinks that that’s an acceptable minimum to get God off his back.  But apparently, it was all Nineveh needed too.  They all turn and listen and seek out God once again and all experience the wideness of God’s mercy – just as God gave Jonah a second chance – and a third chance – God sees how Nineveh is willing to make changes – and God changes too.

You know we can live a long life denying that we are called.  But once you have heard God call you to action and start to deny it– if you are anything like me – you’ll find the books you read, the TV you watch, your dreams, your conversations at work – all tend to circle around this same damn idea you’ve been trying desperately to rid yourself of.  It’s Amazing really.  Because in that way, God does not change God’s mind.  It’s a part of the covenant, the contract, the relationship - If you love God, you are called.  This is never made more simple than the experience Peter has with Jesus has over breakfast in John 21.  God is waiting, even now, for you to open yourself to the possibilities, the myriad of opportunities to participate in your relationship with God by serving God, serving others.  It is a repeated theme in literature and film:  look at these faces:  There’s Ellie Arroway, Carl Sagan’s heroine in the novel Contact, which of course became one of my all time favorite movies with Jodie Foster – she experiences a whole new world of possibility that she cannot deny or explain with her scientific knowledge.  There’s Severus Snape, driven only by love, and trusting in the love he does things any other normal wizardry professor would not.  Do you remember Bethany Sloane, from Dogma? who turns out to be the great…grand-niece of Jesus himself, called to save the world. There’s Katniss Everdeen, whom we have discussed at length – just a young girl who by circumstance is thrust into prophetic leadership of a nation.  Or Colin Firth here, as King George VI, doesn’t want to be king, embarrassed by a speech impediment.  This movie is awesome, let’s start there, but what I love about this relationship between the therapist, Lionel Logue and the King – is it parallels that relationship you are building with God.  At first the power struggle is obvious, the king should be in charge, but the therapist knows what’s best.  Overtime the bond is strengthened by trust, time, working together, depending upon one another, and in the end, at the scariest moment of the King’s life – where he has to address all of England – the world actually with a declaration of war – a time when the man in charge cannot appear weak or incapable -  Lionel is there, just the two of them and he says “Say it to me, friend.”

That’s the message Jonah can take to heart “say it to me, friend, say those 5 words to me.”  It is a message I hope you can take to heart – God is waiting for you to share of yourself, openly, deeply.  Saying don’t worry about what I’ve asked you to do – just remember I am with you – you can say it to me, friend.   

 ----------------

This is the week of the laity – churches all over the country this morning are celebrating in unique ways the ways in which God calls them into action in the world – Let’s start our week of the laity with an opportunity for you to respond to God’s call.   

A number of people have helped me develop a document that we call Celebrate/Participate and Serve in the Heart of Eugene – thank you to all those who helped to create a comprehensive list of every single opportunity to share of yourself as we build this community of God. 

Today I want you to take the time to fill one out.  Don’t let the day go by, where you can talk yourself out of something that sounds fun. Mark as many that sound interesting.  Kids too.  Teens too.  Visitors.  This is your chance for change friends- let’s say you’ve been a member here 10 years and in those 10 you have done the same jobs – this is your chance to say yes to something new – to open yourself to new possibilities.  I know it’s a lot – do not be worried about the details, this is about you responding to God – not to the calendar. 

When you are ready to turn it in – raise it up in the sky and say “Yes God, here I am!”

 


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