Sermon Proper 23a 10-11-2020
October 11, 2020, 12:00 PM

Proper 23a: 19th Sunday after Pentecost


If your childhood was anything like mine, you (or maybe your best friend) had a copy of the Giant Dell comic book, Moses and the Ten Commandments.  Do you remember the pictures of the Red Sea parted, a wall on the left and a wall on the right? Or the picture of Moses holding those oversize tablets.  I recall the golden calf.  The calf was smaller than I thought it would be, but Moses held his arm over it and shouted. “Throw it back into the fire.”   But when we hear the actual words from the Exodus, the story is mostly about an argument between God and Moses. God is done with the Hebrews.  He says to Moses, they are your people and Moses stands up for the Israelites and he appeals to God's honor for his own name as a motive to prevent the destruction of the Hebrew people.  If that doesn't work Moses reminds the Lord of his promises to Abraham.  But the truly amazing line is this: 

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

Whoa! Did you think God could change his mind?  Even the folks who say that there are no mistakes in the Bible and who believe all the words of the scriptures are perfect, inerrant, and infallible, do not believe this amazing sentence.  I googled it and I saw hundreds of arguments that said God cannot change his mind and therefore these words of scripture are not to be taken literally.  The Bible fundamentalists have ways to get around the plain meaning of this passage.  They say that God only pretended to plan on destroying the Hebrews, but he never really planned to do so.  The reason even fundamentalists can't accept the words of Exodus has nothing to do with the Bible or Biblical theology.  No, it is all about the Greek Philosophy we have inherited and taken for granted for 2500 years.  According to the Greeks, God is immutable.  God is perfect and perfection can't change.  And if God can't change he can't change his mind.  But you and I grew up in a different world from the Greeks.  From our childhood we have heard of Einstein and relativity and quantum physics.  We don't think of the universe as unchanging substance but a constant flow and infinite series of events and happenings and process.  So I would like to stand up for Exodus and I would like to say God can change his mind.  And I would like to stand up for Genesis 18 where Abraham argued with God about the city of Sodom and persuaded God to change his mind.  There are other examples too.  God does change.  I believe that God is flow, process, and change.

For this reason we can argue with God.  We can plead with God.  We can pray to God.  We can argue with God about healing our parents of cancer.  We can plead with God about addiction among our friends.  We can pray to God to hurry up and get us a cure for Covid.  In other words, we can talk to God and God listens. We can argue with God and win! The old notion of a God who never changes really has no place for prayer and intercession.  Intercession is a very important form of prayer.  Martin Luther King taught that intercession constituted prayer in its highest and most authentic expression.  Intercession was at the heart of his vision of the beloved community or the completely integrated society.  For King prayer was about persuasion. King wanted to persuade God to help us be better people. For example he prayed:

God give us leaders!  A time like this demands great leaders;  Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;  Leaders who the spoils of life cannot buy;  Leaders who possess opinions and a will; leaders who have honor;  Leaders who will not lie...Tall leaders, sun crowned who live above the fog in public duty and private thinking.

King engaged with God, pleaded with God, prayed to God to change the hearts of people.  To strengthen those who fought for civil rights and to soften the hearts of those who opposed justice.  A year or so ago I saw a TV program about two African American men who were on a road trip to explore racial progress and racial injustice in the south.  They ended up in Montgomery, Alabama at the Legacy Museum.  If you don't know the Legacy Museum,  you should.  It is a memorial for peace and justice and was named Alabama tourism's attraction of the year in 2019.  This museum was the idea of Bryan Stevens, who grew up in Delaware but after he graduated from Harvard Law school went south to fight and argue for people on death row.  (There is a great movie about his life and work called Just Mercy. Bryan designed the Legacy museum to dramatize the enslavement of African Americans and the evolution of terroristic lynchings, segregation, and white supremacy. Bryan connects the dots from slavery to lynchings to death row executions.   The most moving exhibit of the museum is a great room with slabs of iron hanging from the ceiling.  Each rusty slab of metal is for a county where African Americans were lynched and there are eight hundred slabs.  The museum is moving and it ties in with the struggle of Bryan Stevens' life which was to argue on behalf of death row inmates, mostly black men, who were innocent but condemned to death anyway.  Bryan argued with with God, he argued with district attorneys, with judges, with juries and with the system that condemns to death one innocent human being out of every nine.  Yes, one in nine persons on death row is innocent, and more deserve clemency.  And Bryan has had a tremendous success rate in arguing for life.  Perhaps because God hears us when we argue, plead, and pray.  It is a strong man like Bryan Stevenson who argues the most loudly for those who can't argue for themselves.  It was Martin Luther King who argued so loudly and nonviolently for all those who suffered because of segregation and unequal rights.  Let us commit ourselves to argue with God.  We must be be brave to stand with men like Bryan and Martin to pray with them. God will and does listen to prayers if we persist and have courage.  Amen.

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