SUNDAY SERMON: The more things change, the more they stay the same…?

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OT: Exodus 32.1-14

NT: Philippians 4.1-9

The more things change…the more they stay the same. That quote came first from…a French writer named Jean-Baptiste Karr in the 19th century, and then a little band called Bon Jovi wrote a song by the same name more recently.

  The more things change, the more they stay the same. Another war in the Middle East. You can turn on the TV any time of day and find people who have all the answers, but the outcome never changes. The violence only intensifies, as we watch from half a world away on our screens. Suffering is part of life, and it breaks our hearts every single time. The more things change, the more they stay the same. God knew that when the first commandment was given. 

Do you remember what the first commandment is? “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” 

Do you remember what the first thing the people do after receiving that first commandment? According to Exodus 32, they worship another god. The more things change, the more things stay the same. 

They melt down all their jewelry and form it into a golden calf to worship. Immediately after God says first things first, never put another god before me! Unbelievable. Yet, the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

While God is exceedingly patient with the Israelites, this pushed God over the edge. God said, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them.” 

And then the reluctant shepherd, Moses, who never wanted to lead the people in the first place and had grown tired of their constant complaining, in that moment, became a man. He told God that he couldn’t give up on them. He begged God to change his mind. He reminded God that for future generations to succeed, this generation had to survive. And God agreed. 

Let me ask you a serious question, and give you a minute to think about it.  Do you think God’s mind can be changed? Did God really want to wipe us out? Even if God did, would God? Did God need Moses to talk some sense into him? Or was God really teaching Moses a lesson? 

I think it’s an awfully human thing to think we can change God’s mind. I think it’s more important to ask if we can allow God to change ours. Because the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

There’s another war in the Middle East. If you’ve paid any attention at all to the atrocities of war in Israel and Palestine, you know how horrific the situation is. Not unlike the situation in the Ukraine, which has been going on for over a year now. Not unlike the civil war in Myanmar, where nearly 40,000 people have died in the last few years. Not unlike the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan, and the list goes on and on. We don’t hear about most of these everyday, but that doesn’t make them any less real. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

God gives, we take, God forgives, we forget, and the cycle goes on and on and on. We see it clearly throughout the Bible, throughout history, and throughout our own lives. The cycle of love–lost and found. 

Nowhere is that cycle of human sin more evident than war. Getting angry about it doesn’t help. Getting depressed about it doesn’t help. How can we help? Is there something we can do, half a world away from war in the Middle East, to make a change? 

I think there is. It’s how Jesus summarized all the law. Love God, and love your neighbor. 

Doing those two simple things, here in our lives in rural West Virginia, can make a change half a world away. I truly believe that. 

Want to make a difference? Love your neighbor. 

Want to move past the anger and the sadness? Love your neighbor. 

Want to honor God? Love your neighbor. 

Want to keep the commandments? Love your neighbor. 

Want to build God’s kingdom? Love your neighbor. 

Our inclination is to go down the gutter with the rest of the world. But like Moses, we need to talk ourselves back from the descending spiral of sin and suffering. For God intends good for the world. We may not be able to bring peace afar, but we can build peace here at home. In our own hearts and our own relationships. And I think that counts. For a lot. 

Philippians says to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Always. Rejoice. That’s the key to keeping the first commandment. Always rejoice. 

Why did the people turn from God so quickly, disobey the first command, and have Aaron make a golden calf? Peer pressure.  

You see, Moses was still up on the mountain figuring things out with God. They were tired of waiting, so they moved onto a new leader, Aaron. They got tired of waiting on Aaron to do what they wanted, so they begged him to build the golden calf. He gave into the peer pressure and did what they wanted. 

There is peer pressure on us today to give into the spiral of sin and suffering. To be angry. To give up. To think the more things change, the more they stay the same. You feel it every single day. It is much easier to give in and become part of a warring world and think it will always be that way. But we have a higher calling. 

Love God and none other. Love your neighbor, every single sister and brother. God is on the side of peace. God is on the side of love. God is on the side of his creation. 

Because while things down here feel like more of the same, God’s commitment to us never changes. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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