Sunday, April 3, 2011

When You Won't See It (Genesis 19)

Lent 4, Year A
3 April 2011

Genesis 19:1-11, Psalm 23, Matthew 10:5-15

What are your first thoughts when you think of Sodom and Gomorrah?

            What comes right before this passage? Abraham gets heavenly visitors, hosts them and learns that God has a son in store from him. Abraham can’t do enough for his heavenly visitors. Then the Lord talks to Abraham about the plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham attempts to intercede for the cities and finally God agrees not to destroy the cities if there are ten righteous men to be found.

            Then we have today’s passage. Are there any righteous men there? According to the passage, “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom- both young and old- surrounded the house.” The passage draws us in so that we can make the decision that Abraham is asking God to make, “Are there 10 righteous men in this city?”

            What happens after this passage? The angels warn Lot and urge him to leave the city with anyone in his family who will listen to him. His potential sons-in-law, engaged to his daughters, laugh him off, so Lot leaves with his daughters and his wife. His wife looks back and turns to a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters take up residence in a cave because they are afraid to be anywhere else. Eventually, the daughters give up hoping that they’ll go anywhere, get Lot drunk and he fathers his own grandchildren, not to put too fine a point on it.

            One of the daughters gives birth to a child she named Ben-Ammi and he becomes the father of the Ammonites. The other daughter names her child Moab and he becomes father of the Moabites. In the bible, there’s one famous Moabite—Ruth, the great-grandmother of David, whose line is the ancestral human line for…Jesus.

            Did Sodom and Gomorrah have to happen in order to get Moab, Ruth, David and Jesus? No, just like we do not need to sin additionally for grace to abound, so God is able to redeem bad circumstances, but would prefer that they didn’t occur to begin from the start.

            Because of this way this passage from Genesis is connected to today’s passage in Matthew, we can understand that for the majority of the Bible Sodom and Gomorrah appear as shorthand for places where people failed to be hospitable to God’s representatives or clearly fail to live up to God’s desires. Sodom and/or Gomorrah also appear in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah. In those passages alone, the prophets are generally speaking to the people of Israel and accusing them of sins like neglect of the poor and needy, greed, excess, heterosexual molestation and inhospitality to strangers. In the New Testament, Matthew, Luke and Peter condemn towns to a fate like Sodom’s for failure to receive those who bear the word of God. Only in Jude are these two cities mentioned specifically in connection with homosexual behavior.

            This story is important to consider because it floats in our common knowledge, but we don’t often think of what actually happens and what it actually means. In desert climates, the failure to host someone means their death. A life you could have saved. If the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is the failure to share what we have and to be hospitable to those who bring the word of God into our midst, then we’re all guilty. The world in which we live is not inherently a good place. We cannot escape the fact that each of us, daily, struggle not to compromise in some way what we know is right. If all men and women are made in the image of God and we fail to treat each of our neighbors as though they were Jesus himself, our hospitality falls short.

            So, where’s the good news in this? What’s the gospel message? If we say the reason this had to happen was to lead to the family of David, then we set up a situation where bad things have to happen for good to occur.

            Instead, what we learn about God through Jesus is that in every situation, the seeds for redemption are planted. When people don’t act in love, in peace, with mercy and welcome, all kinds of bad things happen- rape, crucifixion, separation, crime and any other number sins we care to name. Yet even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us, stirring the soil behind us, planting seeds of possibility in the fertilizer that’s left behind each disaster.

            The painful reality of the redemption of this story is that no one involved in it lived to see it. That’s quite a Lenten message. You may not know what good comes from the horrible things that happen in your lifetime.

            Is that the word of the Lord for me? For us? Today?

            I don’t know what to do with it, even in light of the cross, and so I need the consolation of something I can handle at this time.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

            That’s the word of the Lord for me. Amen. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love the way you brought in the range of texts that reference Sodom/Gomorrah. It's a great teaching message.