Series: God Is Calling. Will you answer?
Sermon: Changing God’s Mind
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
January 21, 2018
Scriptures: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 CEB and Mark 1:14-20 CEB
I’ve always wondered about the places in the Bible that say that God changed God’s mind. Today’s Jonah text says that after Jonah finally goes to Nineveh and gives what seems to be a fairly weak rebuke and warning to the Ninevites, and they repent with fasting and ashes and turn from their evil ways. Then the teller of this story says, “God changed his mind” and decided not to destroy their city and all its inhabitants.
Really?! This paints a picture of a God that is bent on smiting and destroying people, who is swayed by repentant people. This would make it seem that humans could control or negotiate with God. Hmm.
In Genesis chapter 18 we read of Abraham seeming to negotiate with God about Sodom. When Abraham learns of the plan for the destruction of Sodom Abraham asks God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” We must remember that his nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom with his family. Abraham was concerned for his nephew’s well-being.
The three angels that had met Abraham by the oaks of Mamre and made Sarah laugh when she heard them say she would have a son in her old age, were now headed toward Sodom. Abraham is in conversation with God and asks, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you…shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” God responds and tells him He will forgive the whole place for the sake of 50 righteous. Then Abraham proceeds to negotiate from 50 to 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally 10.
Fortunately for Lot, who has met them at the city gate and offered them hospitality, the three angels escort him, his wife and two daughters out of town before the place is destroyed. Try as he might, Lot could not convince his future sons-in-law to flee with them. It seems there were not even 10 righteous people in Sodom, and the rest is history.
Then there was Moses and the Lord conversing when Aaron and the Israelites melted down their jewelry and made the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain for longer than they thought he should be. Moses was waiting as God wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone. God sees what Aaron and the people did and is ready to destroy them, but Moses negotiates with him and in Genesis 32:14 we read, “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
This doesn’t mean that those people got away with their disobedience, but this notion that God can be negotiated with his always been a mystery to me. Yes, it was Abraham and Moses in the earliest stories, and they had certainly proved themselves devoted servants of God. But how is it, or is it even possible, that evil people could change God’s mind through acts of repentance? The Jonah story would make it seem that way. First, we have to remember that this is a story, with no historical backing. The people of Nineveh have nothing in their historical record that shows signs of a mass conversion or changing of their ways. This is a teaching story for all of us, centuries later. So, what can we learn?
We need to step back and consider God’s actions in the whole story. Jonah had not obeyed God straight away and that’s how he ended up in the belly of a whale. If we consider this figuratively and not literally, he was in a dark state of despair – a stinky place, where isolation and fear were rampant. Many of us have been in the belly of that whale before. It’s not fun.
God was not finished with Jonah or the people God wished to call to repentance. So, Jonah’s life was not ended and hope still existed for those who were living lives seemingly without regard for God or the good that God desires for creation.
Jonah is spit out on the shore. Jonah sees the light of day – the light of God. Jonah experiences God’s grace, the same prevenient grace that God has been shedding upon the people of Nineveh. Notice, our view of God has just shifted. This is not a God of vengeance and anger. This is God who loves, not hates, His creation. God’s intent had always been for good. Why would God have commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh in the first place if God did not wish good for the Ninevites?
The God we worship is not vengeful and angry. The God we worship sends emissaries of hope, angels of blessing and the grace that moves hearts and transforms lives. Will we listen and respond is the question?
We look to the Mark reading, noting Jesus’ proclamation to all people, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” We see how the fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John, respond to Jesus’ invitation. This was no fluke. God had been working on them for a long time, nudging them and filling them with the desire for a new world order. God’s grace had stirred up in their spirits a longing for God’s way of life, for God’s kingdom, to reign over and above the earthly reign of the powerful who oppress the poor and use unjust ways to keep them under their heel, so to speak.
God had gone before Jesus, preparing and announcing to the world what was to come. God continues to go before us, preparing our hearts for a new way of being and instilling in us the desire for God’s kingdom over the earthly, human powerbrokers who continue to oppress and manipulate for their own advantage.
We have nothing to fear from God when we repent from evil and turn to the light of Christ. God will not remember our wrongs and asks us to forgive others the same way. The way of the kingdom of God is filled with hope for those who are willing to drop their nets and follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
May it be so. Amen.