July 28, 2019
Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
In 2015 Dave and I took a summer road trip to Quebec. Our last overnight stop was in a small town in northern Wisconsin. I went into the motel to register and the person at the counter noticed we were from Madison.
“Madtown, every time I drive through Madtown my hair stands on end. I want to get through there as fast as I can.”
It was clear to me that she had labeled us and hated Madison.
The urban/rural divide of Wisconsin was palpable in that motel lobby.
Reading all the references to Sodom in Genesis, I notice the city is always described as evil.
Might there be a bias here?
Was Sodom that wicked? More so than any other place?
I confess I ask these questions because of our current political climate.
We are submitted to an almost daily barrage from our President who insists that certain groups of people are evil and a national threat.
Is this any different from the world view of the writers of Genesis insisting that Sodom is evil??
What if set aside this label of Sodom as the evil city?
Might this change the way we understand today’s text and the the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?
There is devastation. We are told:
“the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire out of heaven and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain and all the inhabitants of the cities and what grew on the ground” (Genesis 19: 24ff).
Walter Brueggeman states this is an image used for dramatic effect.
It is an image that has its basis in an actual experience of a volcano or earthquake.
It is a way of speaking about the most horrible judgement on human history that is unthinkable.
What happened and why??
Did God judge and destroy? If so, how would one know that??
Again, I acknowledge that I am reading the text with a critical eye.
Consider Hurricane Katrina, 2005.
According to the website, Restore America:
“Katrina was an act of God upon a sin-loving and rebellious nation, a warning to all who foolishly and arrogantly believe there is no God, and that if He did exist, “would not have done such a thing!”
Really? I beg to differ!
What about the role of climate change and a city whose faulty levees and flood walls failed?
Is that God’s judgement or our own complicity?
The admonition of Colossians is very appropriate here:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. (Col.2:8-9)
In our Old Testament reading there is an exchange between God and Abraham.
Scholars consider the conversation read by Larry to be a theological reflection inserted later in the narrative.
It seems that Abraham assumes God is going to judge and destroy rather than search and rescue.
Abraham is like a child testing real or imaginary boundaries.
What about 50 righteous?
What about 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?
Will they make any difference?
What does Abraham care about Sodom?
Well, for one thing, his nephew lives there. Lot journeyed with Abram to an unknown land in Genesis 12.
Lot and Abram went their separate ways when their herders could not co-exist peacefully.
Presumably there was competition for land, grass and water. Abram let his nephew take first dibs and Lot settled in Sodom.
Would Abraham have cared about Sodom if he knew no one who lived there?
Skeptical me wonders about self-interest.
You can probably guess why… the words and actions of our President reflect zero commitment to democracy, only his own world view.
As I listen to Abraham asking how many righteous people will save the city, I think of a book Dave and I recently completed; How Democracies Die by Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. The authors are Harvard political scientists.
They state that an essential test for democracies is whether political leaders and political parties work to prevent people who are extremists from gaining political nominations and powers.
In 2015-2016 very few in the Republican party stood up for democracy when Trump was seeking the Republican candidacy. No one of consequence was willing to break rank and name the danger. Party loyalty was more important.
What if 1 or 5 or 10 Republicans had put democracy first and had unequivocally refused to endorse Trump? What if they had unequivocally stated that his extremism, his disdain of democracy and his lack of experience disqualified him?
The authors cite other countries where elected officials put the value of democracy first over party loyalties. It took courage to do so.
At this point I must state that democracies are not perfect. Nor are they the Kingdom of God.
Democracy, though, is our heritage, however flawed it may be.
Back to my earlier question, why were Sodom and Gomorrah devasted??
The text states that the outcry against the people became great and that the city is being punished.
There has been much speculation about what aroused God’s anger; was it sexual sin? lack of hospitality? disregard for the poor?
Let us suppose that the destruction of the cities is not God’s judgement but an ecological disaster.
In today’s reality, Sodom and Gomorrah connect us to the anticipated devastating effects of climate change.
Canadian author Naomi Klein makes a very compelling argument for the relationship between capitalism and climate change in This Changes Everything: capitalism vs. the climate.
What is staring us down is not God’s judgement but the terrible consequences of capitalism destroying Planet Earth in its insatiable quest for profit.
In Genesis 19 two angels are able to convince Lot, his wife and two daughters to leave. But his two son-in-law scoff at the warning and they perish with the city.
In June Dave and I traveled to Lancaster, PA. Lucy came along for the ride.
Like many of you, we have a Prius. Traveling home on Interstate 70, Dave suddenly realized we had enough gas for eleven more miles.
We had been absorbed in listening to a murder mystery set in 12 c. Cambridge, England. We were so focused on that drama that we didn’t hear the Prius warning us that the gas tank was low.
We were in very rural Ohio, we passed one town with no gas stations….
If you have a Prius, you know that running out of gas is a no-no. If you run out of gas you have to be towed to a Toyota dealer and it is big bucks to get the car reprogramed. It is all about protecting the battery.
We had roadside assistance and we got rescued. It mattered little that we had to wait 2 ½ hours.
Warnings are meant to be heeded…
Let’s return to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some theologians believe that its demise was an ecological disaster, an earthquake or a volcano.
Today’s climate crisis brings with it ecological disaster.
Will we take it seriously and act?
Or, do we ignore the warning signs and continue with life as usual?
Or are we so frightened that the only way we can cope is to become climate change deniers?
Will climate change become a central issue in the 2020 elections or again be ignored?
Can we regain lost ground or have we reached the tipping point?
Finally, let’s turn to the gospel text and the Lord’s Prayer.
We are invited to live with abundance rather than condemnation and judgement:
Ask and it will be given to you. Search and you shall find. Be persistent, don’t give up.
If we ask for an egg, we won’t be given a scorpion, if we ask for a fish, we won’t be given a snake.
This is generosity of earth if truly understand our interconnectedness! This is the generosity of the Holy!!!
The Lord’s Prayer:
May your reign come:
Can we live in harmony with Earth rather than suck the life out of that which sustains us? Dare we be love incarnate? Can we be grounded in radical compassion?
Give us each day our daily bread:
Give us only what we need, that we not take at the expense of the other. May we live simply so that others may simply live.
Forgive us our sins:
Forgive us when we have not been in right relationship with Mother Earth, forgive us when we have not been in right relationship with our sisters and brothers. Forgive us when we judge and condemn.
Do not bring us to the time of trial:
Perhaps, perhaps there is hope. Perhaps we have not reached the point of no return where life as we know it will cease. Are we already in the time of trial?
I close with the words of naturalist M.J. Slim Hooey:
I have come to terms with the future.
From this day forward I will walk
easy on the earth. Plant trees. Kill
no living things. Live in harmony with
all creatures. I will restore the earth
where I am. Use no more of its resources
than I need. And listen, listen to what
it is telling me.
(Earth Prayers from Around the World, p. 109)