Pieced together from my outline and morning delivery...
When you go to the Ohio State Fair, there is a lot to do. You can see one of the many concerts put on throughout the day by the State Fair band or choir. You can ride the rides. You can view all the livestock and the arts and crafts on display. You can play one of the carnival games. And there are plenty of elephant ears to go around. One other thing that you can view there as you visit the dairy section..Smith's has a display there...is something truly amazing, astounding in its own right. There enclosed in a glass case (and presumably properly refrigerated) is a cow, life-sized, made completely out of butter.
It IS truly amazing. After all, it is a butter cow. How many of those do you see in your lifetime, even if you visit the fair every single year? You have to admire the work, the creativity that went into such a thing. It's a butter cow! Did someone pour butter into a giant mold? Did someone carve it out of a big block of butter? It is truly a specimen to behold. It's a butter cow.
Now, not many people, if any at all, probably consider the butter cow an idol. No one makes a prayerful pilgrimmage to Columbus every summer to worship at its creamy hooves. No one makes offerings in the name of the hamburger, the milk, and the manure. We're relatively safe in assuming that no one mistakes the butter cow for the Creator of the universe or places the butter cow above human worth. While amazing, it really is just a cow made of butter.
The Israelites have something a little more impressive. It's still a cow, but this one is molded from gold collected throughout the camp. Jewelry has been melted down to create what was truly called the Creator of the universe: the golden calf. 'Here are your gods, O Israel,' they exclaim. Moses has been gone for a long time and they've decided to move on, to create a god they can see and touch, something tangible to worship. They even proclaim that this is the god who brought them out of Egypt.
God, of course, hears about this. God sees what the Israelites have done. God sees their unfaithfulness and to say that God is furious would be an understatement. God's decision is to start over, to wipe them out. 'I'll start over with you, Moses. Of you I will make a great nation.' God repeats the promise made to Abraham from Genesis 12. God is going to start over and this time God is going to get it right.
Moses' response? Moses has the audacity to confront God. Moses has the audacity to say, 'No...you can't do that. Remember your promises. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob. Remember the promises you made to this people, to lead them from Egypt to the Promised Land.' You can't go back on those promises now. You can't break covenant with them. Turn from your anger and change your mind.' God has no verbal response to all this. God simply does so. God changes God's mind.
God...changes...God's mind. God changes?
This flies in the face of our Reformed roots. This flies in the face of our heritage that comes down through John Calvin and Reformed Orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that says that God is unmoveable. God is unchangeable. to say that God changes is unthinkable. But here before us is a text where God DOES change. What are we supposed to do with that? Israel has been unfaithful and God...CHANGES.
There's a song that is now eleven years old. It's by Blues Traveler and is called 'Runaround.' During the course of this song, the singer, John Popper, is addressing an unnamed acquaintance or friend, probably more. He lists all the ways that she's been less than true to the relationship, how she's lied, broken trust, been unfaithful, abused what they had. He lists all of these things and yet at the same time the song is peppered with language that says, 'But if you ever want to come back and make this right...I'll be ready.' One line goes, 'I can still see things hopefully.'
Can either cow, butter or gold, do that? Can your television or your IPod offer words of comfort in a broken relationship? Can your car or your house offer forgiveness after you admit that you've blown it? Can anything on this earth, in that parking lot, in our living rooms, in our bedrooms, offer an embrace? At the end of the day, the butter cow's only use is for toast. At the end of the day, the Israelites are worshipping an expensive, glorified doorstop.
In the meantime, God in God's dynamic creative being remains faithful. God adapts and relates to us in our new situations and in our new failures in the name of faithfulness. God changes in the name of consistency. God changes God's mind so that God's steadfast love does not change. God who is ever offering steadfast love, grace and forgiveness, who is ever ready to take us back, is ever challenging us to transform. God offers new life, calls us to new life in the new ways that we face.
God changes so that we might be changed.
And thank God for that.