Preached September 12, 2010 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC
Readings: Exodus 32:1-14: “And the Lord changed his mind” Luke 15:1-10: “Rejoice with me!”
Carrie Newcomer is a singer/songwriter from Elkhart, Indiana. She has been performing since 1980 and has toured with singers like Alison Kraus. Her latest album is called Before and After, and that’s where this song comes from. It’s called “A Simple Change of Heart.”
[Verse] There has never been a day, When the world wasn’t new,
When the sun didn’t rise, Or the light breaks on through.
Things might get a little worse, Before they get a little better.
But there are always clearer skies, Stretching out beyond bad weather and
the world holds its breath, To see where we’ll incline this time. Ha la la la, ha la la la, ha la la la
As a Southern Baptist kid, I was taught that God makes no mistakes. God is infallible, God is almighty, and all powerful. It comes as no surprise to me then, that I have never heard a Baptist preacher deliver a sermon on this particular passage in Exodus – because it depicts and extraordinary God, doing something very out of the ordinary – and something very dangerous for Southern Baptist children to learn about.
First, to set the scene – the Israelites are wandering in the desert on their way to the promised land after Moses has led them out of captivity in Egypt. Moses has been summoned to Mount Sinai, where he spent forty days and forty nights receiving directions from God which he wrote on stone tablets. While he was there, however, the people became restless without their leader. They go to his brother Aaron and say, “Y’know, we don’t know where Moses went, but we don’t think he’s coming back. We really need something to worship now that he’s gone.” So, Aaron gathers up all their gold and fashions a golden calf for them worship. Once God gets wind of this, he’s a bit miffed – or you could say, God gets completely pissed off. He tells Moses that he’s done with these ungrateful children of Abraham, and in his hot wrath, he will destroy them all and remake his nation out of Moses and his descendants.
This is where the Southern Baptist preachers get nervous – because Moses takes it upon himself to argue with God. His appeal to the almighty is interesting. He basically asks God, “what will people think of you if you do this?” He appeals to God’s ego and says why let the Egyptians say that you brought your people out of slavery only to kill them in the mountains?
If that argument isn’t persuasive enough, he goes on to remind God of his promise to the people. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, you servants, how you swore to them, by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendents like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.'”
Then the most amazing thing happens – something the Southern Baptists never discuss.
“The Lord changed his mind.”
Even God can experience the “Oh, Yeah” … of Remembering.
[Verse] I feel something has shifted, I know the story’s changed. In the window of a crisis, We can build a better frame.
Come on and look inside you, That’s the best place to start. The greatest revolution, Is a simple change of heart.
I can’t put the sacred in such a little box, Because it’s not. Ha la la la, ha la la la, ha la la la [Bridge] There’s no shame in learning something,
When there’s something that must be learned. But there’s danger when we will not see what our actions earn.
Have you ever been so angry with someone that you forget all the good things they’ve done in the past, or how much you’ve cared for them in the past? Have you ever gotten so angry with someone that you’ve vowed to cut them out of your life forever – and perhaps you did? In that moment of anger, you forget – you don’t think about a person’s redeeming qualities, or what drew you to them in the first place. No, in that moment of anger, in that moment of hot wrath, you have to be reminded that the person who has angered you is someone dear to you – someone you love and have made a vow to be with.
In that reminding … we say, “Oh, Yeah” … and we remember – and we can experience a change of heart – a change of mind, and lay aside our anger and renew that relationship.
Back in my early 20s, I was very angry with God. Having been raised in that Southern Baptist environment, I was taught that being gay or lesbian was wrong – that it was sick and sinful. So, in my teenage years, when I came to the realization that I was one of those “sick and sinful” people, I was very confused. I believed in God, but I also believed what people said about how God felt about people like me.
I was faced with a choice – it was either God or my sexuality. I resented having to make that choice. It seemed completely unfair and wrong to have to choose between God and something that felt so natural – so normal – to me. So, choose I did. I told God to go get bent. If he didn’t love me, the least I could do was return the favor. I forgot about God for years.
Then, one day, my girlfriend at the time – also a Southern Baptist kid – decided she wanted to go back to church. I told her not to wake me on Sunday morning when she left. But, she finally convinced me to go with her, but I did not do so happily. I had lived many years without God and had done just fine. Why did I need to go back now to some deity that hated me for who I was?
But, I went, and as I sat there in that congregation in Atlanta that day, I cried. It was the first time I had heard a preacher tell me that not only did God love me – but God had created me just as I am. I was neither sick nor sinful, but blessed – because God loved me enough to create me, to set me on this path, and sustain me on the journey. In that moment, it felt like coming home – and feeling God’s loving arms around me, welcoming me back. I was the prodigal daughter come home.
My journey back to God began with the “Oh, Yeah” … of Remembering. I looked back over those years that I had spent forgetting about God and I saw God’s fingerprints all over my life. There those times when jobs would appear just as I needed them … when money would appear, just as I was desperate for it … when friends would appear, just as they were needed … when housing would appear, just as I needed it. Over all those years, God had provided for me in amazing ways – in ways I had never imagined, and in ways that I had never acknowledged.
I realized that while I had forgotten all about God, she had never forgotten about me. She was there all along, providing for me, caring for me, crying with me in the bad times, and cheering during the good times.
And in that “Oh, Yeah” … of Remembering, I changed my mind about God, and here I am today – sharing my connection to the Holy with you in a hope that it will spark some “Oh, Yeah” … of Remembering in your mind, and in your heart.
Because it’s true: “The greatest revolution is a simple change of heart.”
[Verse] Courage doesn’t always shout, But whispers and reminds, When we get up one more morning, And try one more time.
We tried yelling at each other, It hasn’t worked so well.
Throwing gas on the fire, Never helped as far as I can tell Throwing stones cut deep, A little kindness goes deeper still.
Ha la la la, ha la la la, ha la la la
It’s amazing the things we do remember. We remember our first telephone number, our first kiss, our first concert, our first car, our first house, our first love, our first wife or husband! We remember old sports statistics, old lyrics, old hurts, old grudges. Every day we ruminate, retrieve, recollect, recall, relive, remind, retain, or reminisce about old memories. Some of these memories bring us joy, still others bring us pain. But it’s all part of the dance of life. We call up, or call back, those old memories. But, most often we forget to remember the most important thing in our lives: the Holy. God is in, through, and all around us, but how often do we completely forget about the Holy? We get engaged in the mundane tasks of life – the grocery shopping, the job, the house cleaning, the animal feeding, the garden tending – and we forget that each of those activities is a Holy activity. We can’t put the sacred in such a little box, because it’s not. The Holy encompasses the entire world. We are made for the Holy and the Holy is made for us, but we forget that everything we do in this world is infused with the Holy. For example, doing the laundry is a Holy activity, because even God does laundry. The first chapter in Genesis tells us that “God separated the light from the dark.” We all know that’s the first step to doing laundry. The laundry, or the dishes, or house cleaning may be boring, but in cosmic terms, they are acts of creation because – like the Holy on that first day – we are creating order out of chaos. Everything we do is infused with the Holy, and yet we forget. Every moment is a God moment, and yet we forget. Every step upon this earth is sacred, and yet we forget. Every smile exchanged with friends and strangers is Holy, and yet we forget. Every hug is a sacred embrace of the Divine, and yet we forget. Every act of kindness and generosity is filled with the Holy, and yet we forget. Every breath contains the wholeness of God, and yet we forget. Breathe deeply. “Oh, Yeah.” Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian singer/songwriter who has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. She started singing when she was in high school, and had her first hit in 1988. The song we’re doing tonight was a hit for her in 1999. I Will Remember You hit number 14 on the Top 40 charts and earned her a Grammy award later that year. Let’s try it:
[Chorus] I will remember you Will you remember me? Don’t let your love pass you by,
Weep not for the memories
In our Jesus story, we find our guy hanging out with his favorite kind of folks – the lowlifes – the tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees grumbled about his choice of company – which prompted Jesus to tell them some stories. The first one is familiar to the people in that culture. A sheep farmer loses a sheep – and does what any good sheep herder would do in that situation – leave the rest of the flock and search for the lost sheep. The second story is about a woman who has lost one of her ten silver coins. The coins in question here, it’s worth noting, was not actually worth a whole lot in this time and place. It would be sort of like one of us dropping a penny – and then launching an intensive search of the house to find it. But, that’s what she does – she lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house, and searches every nook and cranny. She’d probably have checked the fridge if she there had been one. But she looked and looked until she found it. The two stories are very different. The first story concerns something that is very valuable – a sheep. This was the livelihood of the herder and to lose one is a big blow to his business and the family budget. The second concerns a piddling amount of money. We spend more on a latte than this woman would ever drop on her floor over her lifetime. What she lost was not valuable to the world – but it was staggeringly important to her and she did all she could to recover it. What Jesus is telling us here is that no matter how much or how little the world values us, we are all important to the Holy. The tax collector, the sinner, and the Pharisee alike. Even a Pharisee can understand the importance of a sheep to a shepherd – and might sympathize with his loss, but the more privileged may sneer at the story of the woman – madly sweeping her house for something that, to them, would be pocket change not worth stooping down to pick up if they dropped it. But, Jesus is saying no matter who you are in this world – an important businessman or a desperately poor woman – God remembers you. God never forgets any of us – and never forgets the promises She has made to us. What these stories have in common are how they end – with a big party. Both call their friends and neighbors to celebrate. “Rejoice with me,” they tell their friends, “for I have found what I lost.” Then, Jesus delivers the punch line: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Just as the Southern Baptists avoid preaching about God changing His mind, we more liberal minded preachers tend to shy away from passages that talk about sin and repentance, but we shouldn’t be afraid to use these words, because they are all about the “Oh, Yeah” … of Remembering. Sinners are simply people who screw up – and that means me as much as it means any of you. Sinners are simply people who get it wrong – who believe the world revolves around them and their own wants, and needs, and problems, and forget that there’s more going on here than we can ever know or perceive. Sinners are simply people who have forgotten about the presence of the Holy in, through, and around them at all times, whether its acknowledged or not. The cure – the repentance – is to remember the Holy. The Greek word for “repent” – metanoia – literally means “to change one’s mind.” What Jesus is saying is that all of heaven rejoices when we remember the Holy. There are parties busting out all over heaven when any of us turns from our selfish and self-absorbed ways, and change our mind. Instead of focusing our minds on things of this world – the problems and worries and concerns that consume us and numb us to the beauty of the creation around us – we remember – we repent – and change our mind about the world around us. In that moment, we see the beauty – we encounter the awe of living in this amazing, living, breathing world. When we repent – when we change our minds – the world is brighter, the air is cleaner, the sky is bluer, the birds are louder, the colors are clearer, and the people – all the people, friend and foe alike, are more beautiful. Our hearts burst within us as we see the world through the eyes of the Holy. We remember all of life is Holy … and that God always remembers us … will we remember Her? “Oh, Yeah” … Breathe deeply.
[Verse] I’m so tired but I can’t sleep
Standin’ on the edge of something much too deep It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word We are screaming inside, but can’t be heard
[Chorus] I will remember you Will you remember me? Don’t let your love pass you by,
Weep not for the memories
Every day is a dance of remembering and forgetting, of forgetting and remembering. It’s a dance we should love and never resent, because unless we forget, we cannot remember. Forgetting is an integral part of remembering. The reason we come together as a community is to remind each other of the Holy all around us. We remember together as we share our lives – as we share our joys, as we share our concerns, as we share our sadness, as we share our grief, as we share our laughter and our tears, we are called to remember – to remember the Holy and to remember each other. Forgetting and remembering, remembering and forgetting, seeking and finding, panicking and celebrating – they are all part of life’s Divine and Holy dance. And this, Jubilants, is dance class – where we learn the steps, where we step on each other’s toes in the process, and where we can look silly as we learn the steps, knowing that those around us are learning as well, and will support us and uplift us as we dance along in this Divine life. I invite you, tonight, Jubilants to repent – to remember – and change your mind. What have you forgotten about the Holy? Have you forgotten about the beauty of creation? Have you forgotten about the beauty of forgiveness and reconciliation? Have you forgotten what the simple presence of the Holy feels like? Have you forgotten the joy of silence? Have you forgotten the joy of generosity? Have you forgotten the utter and complete awe that simply being alive and breathing should evoke in all of us? As you contemplate what you’ve forgotten, would it help you to know that God loves you? Would it help you to know that you are so valuable to the Holy that God would search relentlessly for you until She finds you and brings you home? Would it help you to know that once you do repent – once you do remember and change your mind – that God will throw such an extravagant party in heaven that Hollywood A-listers would turn green with envy? Jubilants, would it help you to know that you – a child of God, infused with the Holy – can, just like God, change your mind and not only remember the promises God has made to us – but remember the promises you have made to the Holy. “Oh, Yeah” … Remember the promises you have made to God? Promises of love, and faithfulness. Promises of gentleness, and generosity. Promises to seek justice and grant mercy. Promises to be forgiving, and reconciling. Promises to be God’s servants in a world so in need of being served. Remember, God has given us everything. God has given us life. Don’t you remember? “Oh, Yeah …”
[Verse] I’m so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose
Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night You gave me everything you had, oh you gave me life
[Chorus] I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your love pass you by,
Weep not for the memories
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew earned her Masters of Theological studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., was ordained in December 2003 and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. Her first book, “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians,” was published by Jossey-Bass in 2008. She currently serves as the Spiritual Director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C.