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Changing God's Mind
July 20, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

GENESIS 18:22-33; LUKE 11:5-13

Can you change God's mind? Is it possible to change the will of God? Can you alter circumstances and situations, remembering how difficult it is even to change people's minds? How many people do you know have the attitude—don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up? Especially in this election year, we meet a lot of people whose minds are made up and that's it. We saw a demonstration of this at the Jurisdictional Conference this past week. The Western Jurisdiction meets every four years. It's made up of 138 delegates from the five Western areas headquartered in Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. On Friday, it was apparent they were reaching a deadlock in electing two bishops. A major item of business is the electing of bishops. They were deadlocked between Richard Cain who is President of Claremont Seminary in Southern California, and Cal McConnell from Colorado Springs, Colorado. All day long, they were deadlocked. Our conference tried to negotiate and tried to compromise but to no avail. Neither man would withdraw, and neither delegation would change its mind. So we were deadlocked between Southern California and Colorado. 

Late on Friday afternoon, they tried to compromise with a dark horse candidate. Our conference supported the dark horse and Colorado pulled away from McConnell to support the dark horse. It looked like he was galloping to victory until Richard Cain realized there was no hope for him so he withdrew. That allowed the conference then to go back to McConnell and elect him as the bishop. The consecration service was supposed to be the final event of the day at two o'clock on Friday afternoon. They postponed it till five o’clock, they postponed it till eight o'clock, and finally at nine o'clock it was held. The choir, the organist, the acolytes, the ushers, the Campbell Handbell Choir (which we had here in Manteca) came at two o’clock, came at five o’clock, came at eight o’clock, came at nine. They established an historical record. The record in our jurisdiction previously was 27 ballots to elect a bishop—27 times to vote. The record across the country was 31. Cal McConnell was elected bishop on the 47th ballot. So it made history. 

But it also demonstrated how hard it is to get people to change their minds. It was a great example of obstinance, inflexibility and perseverance. When human beings are so unchangeable, what about God whom we say is the same yesterday, today, and forever? There are many who say the will of God is immutable, unchangeable, even to the point of predestination some say. Because the will of God is unchangeable, our role is to submit to God’s will cheerfully, accept it, cooperate with it, and above all, be quiet about it. Don't argue, don't fight, don't get angry. Stifle all those feelings and get a peaceful, saintly look on your face and accept it. Perhaps some of you interpreted the sermon last week as saying what we plant, we reap and therefore it is unchangeable. Certainly we are imprisoned by the consequences of our decisions and by the consequences of our actions. But it's not that simple.

Adelpha Waterman pointed out that no one plants Bermuda grass, but there it is. Along with all the seeds we plant, all those decisions we make, there are many other factors breaking in upon us. There is evil, an evil force, there is sin, there are other people involved, there is also the grace of God, there is persistent desire, and there is prayer. 

Our scripture lessons this morning very clearly said that God's mind can be changed. The first story was from Genesis where God is pictured as being very human, humanlike, anthropomorphic you may say. God is pictured as being just another person with whom Abraham has a conversation, dialogue, argument, if you will. Abraham is very distraught, very upset. God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. This upsets Abraham so he approaches God and asks, “Lord, would you destroy the city if there are 50 righteous people in it? Would you destroy 50 innocent people along with the wicked, the innocent along with the guilty?” And Abraham goes on to say, “Impossible, impossible.” And he lays this trip on God. He should have been a lawyer! Abraham says, “Surely, the judge of all the earth shall act justly!” 

Well, what should God do? God's mind was changed. God said, “All right, if there are 50 persons in Sodom and Gomorrah, I will not destroy it.” So Abraham says, “What about 45? If you can find 45, would you destroy the whole city?” God said, “No, I will spare the entire city if there are 45.” Abraham said, “Would you give me 30?” And God said, “I'll give you 30.” He said, “20?” And he gets God down to 10. And then Abraham quits. I suppose he figured, surely there must be 10 in there somewhere, He ought to be able to find 10 righteous ones, but there weren't. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. But because of Abraham's intervention, because of Abraham's intercession like our prayer at the end of the service, his nephew Lot and his whole family was spared, except for his wife who couldn't keep her eyes off the whole situation. But Lot’s family was spared because Abraham changed God's mind. 

Now you may dismiss that whole story as being ancient and  a legend. After all, it was handed down hundreds of years by mouth before it was written. Surely the story is embellished. We know it's very primitive. We know it's overdramatized, but don't dismiss it lightly because Jesus said the same thing. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, he taught them the Lord's Prayer, and then he told them,”Suppose you have a friend who drops in on you unexpectedly to stay overnight. You check the cupboard and you don't have enough food. There you are—company and not enough to eat. So you decide to go to another friend who lives nearby and ask to borrow some bread. It's midnight. You go knock on the door. And the friend hollers out, ‘What is it?’ And you have this unexpected company and are out of food. May I borrow some bread? And the friend answers, ‘Don’t bother us. I'm almost asleep. The kids are asleep. Don't upset the whole house, go away.” 

Now, what do you do? Do you accept the situation? Do you submit and go home empty handed? But notice what Jesus said to do. This was Jesus advice. “Keep on pounding. Keep on knocking. Even if that friend will not get up and give you the bread for the sake of your friendship, he will most certainly get up and give you the bread just to keep you quiet.” That's what Jesus said. Don't be ashamed to keep on asking. 

Then in a few chapters later, Jesus told the story of the woman who approached the judge to demand her rights. The judge being a typical man ignored her. But she kept coming back and pleading for her rights until the judge gave in, heard her case and decided in her favor. And the reason? “Because she will wear me out.” Jesus said God answers prayer when you cry, persist and plead. God's mind can be changed. Things can be changed, and situations and circumstances because we're free. We can have victory, and we can conquer—by those who persist. 

When I came back from Australia, I told you in one of the first sermons about Vince who had been blind for 20 years. He had a great spirit. He had memorized long recitations of Australian history. They were so colorful, he was called upon him at programs to recite. He raises orchids and is an expert on orchids. He could tell by the touch and the smell what kind they were, what condition they were in. He sang in the church choir, his wife was the director. He sang in the choir by memorizing all the music. Vince was a faithful, loyal, great person. Then he got word that with a new kind of surgery, a doctor, a specialist was willing to perform another cataract surgery. The surgery occurred after we came home. 

Before we left, he requested a healing service. I asked him why, he said, “This surgery is going to be so important I want to make sure that I’m ready, that my spirit is ready, that my attitude is ready. I want that surgeon to have all the help he can get. And I want to pray that God will bless that whole operation.” And so we gathered his family together after worship on Sunday. Some of the church people and we laid our hands on him in the ancient tradition. We put oil on his eyes, we anointed him in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We asked and begged God to heal him through that surgery. 

I have now received a letter from Vince and he wrote it himself. This is a portion of the letter, “My operation, no pain, no discomfort, the best of attention in hospital, only complaint that I took quite a while to recover from the anesthetic thereby missing a couple of meals. Dorothy was able to spend most of each of the four days with me, and as there were two others in like circumstances in our room, it got to be something of a social gathering. After the second day the pads were off, and temporary glasses on at which point it became evident that the operation was not only a success, but results exceeded expectations. There had been a certain amount of doubt because only after the removal of the cataracted lens could the efficiency of the site with the remaining retinitis be gauged. Things continue to improve and with the arrival of permanent glasses a few weeks ago came the full story. Of course, I still have limitations. Only one eye is working and the field of vision is very narrow. And the specs being bifocals have certain peculiarities. But for long range, I can see clearly for miles and short range I have no difficulty writing or reading even small print. For a while I found it hard not to read every car number plate and every road advertisement. I tended to pick up every leaf or speck that got into the house and was a little dismayed by the number of weeds in the garden and the scratches on the furniture. But it was wonderful to be able to see roses in the gardens we passed, leaves and trees waving in the breeze, drifting clouds and smiles on faces. Occasionally I have to ask ‘Who the heck was that? Or say I didn't know he looked like that.’ Yes, it's a bit of a job matching faces up with the voices I knew. Oh, yes. Now at choir practice, I bury my nose in the music with the rest. I guess most of the credit for this transformation must go to the skill of the surgeon. But there seems little doubt that I make more than normal use of the signal that gets through from the eye to the brain. I am also convinced that there was a moral and spiritual aspect—the support and prayers of friends and relatives. The service we had in the church that Sunday morning was important. How? I do not try to understand. It was an atmosphere, a conviction beyond any of us but encompassing us all, resulting so far as I'm concerned, in a confidence which still has its effect.” 

You can alter situations. You can change things. Prayer changes things and even God's mind can be changed.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris