Monday, September 16, 2013

Changing One's Mind

    As the summer was winding down and my family and I began the preparations for back to school, my oldest daughter came up to me and said, “Daddy, will you take me fishing before the end of summer?”

    I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the request.  Not in the least.  Some of you might remember me articulating very clearly the experiences I had in my youth which made me basically despise fishing.  It has never really been my favorite sport.  Give me a rifle and a deer stand, and I am happy.  Shove a fishing pole and bait in my hand, and I’m much less inclined to smile.

    But this was my daughter making a rather simple request.  And those of you with daughters know that they can melt a daddy’s heart in an instant.  Somehow, daughters can make daddies do things they might not otherwise do, and I know deep down I am no exception to the rule.

    I looked at my daughter and said, “Yes.  I will take you fishing.”

    Well, that started the process.  A couple of trips to Wal-Mart, and I had obtained equipment for us to go fishing.  We planned a date, and with the help of a church member, we found a spot in a spring fed pond stocked with fish. 

    And then something even more interesting happened.  My other two children, upon hearing I was taking my oldest spoke up, “We want to go fishing too!”  A couple of borrowed poles turned a father/daughter outing into a family outing–an outing which increased my children’s desire to keep on fishing. 

    At this point, I began to think to myself: you know, my kids really enjoy fishing.  My wife really enjoys fishing.  I am the only stick in the mud preventing us from actually having an outdoor family activity which we all can do without argument.  Perhaps I would do well to get a better attitude toward fishing.

    And so I worked at it.  A few more trips to Wal-Mart and Academy, and I had all the basics for my family to fish together.  Looking around, I discovered tools and clothing which helps a person grab, hold, and take hooks out of fish mouths–something which had always given me a little bit of difficulty.  Fully equipped and having been invited to fish at local ponds, we made a few more fishing trips.

    And as I made these trips; as I spent time with the entire family; as I spent time engaging in the process, I began to change.  Years of hatred and uncertainty melted away, and now I am standing before you this morning recanting my earlier position on fishing.  I have come to really like it.  I won’t quite say that I love it just yet, but it’s getting close.  And what was the catalyst for this change?  What made me work through all the earlier baggage I had and arrive at a different place? 

    Initially, the love I have for my daughter who began the process, and then the love I have for my family and the desire to spend quality time with them.

    Love has such effects on people.  Love drives us to do things which we might not ordinarily do.  Love has the ability to change hearts and minds and bring about transformation.  Love even has an effect on God.

    That might sound a bit strange, but according to our biblical witness this morning from the book of Exodus, I can assure you, it is true.  The snippet of the story we have before us is actually very, very fascinating.  Let’s set the scene.

    God has delivered His people out of the hands of slavery in Egypt.  He has brought them to Mount Sinai.  After arriving there, Moses, the leader of God’s people, was called up the mountain, and God gave Moses instructions for how the people would live with God and with one another.  We call this the Law.  The Law includes the Ten Commandments of which the first is: You shall have no other gods before me.   When the people heard these laws, they agreed to keep them, and here is where things get interesting.

    God calls Moses to come back up on top of the mountain.  While there, God writes these laws in stone: literally.  Moses is up on the mountain for 40 days, and the people do not see him during this entire time.  They become restless.  They wonder what is happening.  They become anxious and worried.  And before you know it, they turn on God and create an idol–a golden calf representing another god and they begin worshiping it.  As you might imagine, God is none too pleased.

    And that’s where our lesson picks up this morning.  God goes to Moses and says, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ 9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

    Take note of this little detail: God tells Moses–these are your people who you brought out of Egypt.  God does not claim them at this point.  He wants nothing to do with them even so far as to say that He was not the one who delivered them, but Moses was.  And since God doesn’t claim them, He can readily allow His wrath to consume them for their hypocrisy.  

    So, what does Moses do when faced with God’s anger?  How does Moses react?  In an intriguing manner to say the least.  Moses responds, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’

    Moses essentially gets in God’s face and reminds Him of His promises.  “You didn’t promise to make a great nation out of me.  You promised to make a great nation out of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants.  You made a covenant with them, and these people are their descendants–as numerous as the stars in the sky and sands of the sea.  That’s what you said.  Furthermore, if you destroy them, then the Egyptians will tell everyone about how cruel you are.  You delivered them from slavery just to kill them in the wilderness.  Do you want everyone saying that about you?”

    There is no doubt God was extremely angry, but Moses tapped into something more powerful–Moses tapped into God’s love.  There is no doubt God loved Moses and respected Moses for leading the people out of Egypt.  There is no doubt God loved Abraham and Isaac and Israel.  There was no doubt God had chosen them to make a great nation, and the love of Moses; the love of Abraham and Isaac and Israel; and the reminder of the promise broke through the anger and hatred and changed God’s mind.

    Love has that effect, even on God.

    And it makes me wonder, what do we love enough to change our minds over in this day and age?  What do we love enough to make changes in our hearts and in our lives?  What do we love enough to sacrifice our own egos for so that a better goal can be achieved?  What do we love enough to swallow our pride and engage in even though we have made public statements to the contrary?  Has God so touched our lives; have we such a deep love for Him that when He asks us to do something, we are willing to change our minds?   It seems to me that if we seek to live God’s Word daily, we might just have to do this from time to time.  May we have enough love to do so.  Amen.