The time has come to look at Sodom and Gomorrah from a different perspective. Changes are pretty good that whatever you learned in Sunday School or picked up along the way is not useful. A literal or legalistic reading of this story gets us nowhere good and has done more than enough damage to queer folx. If we can agree that the people who told this story and those who wrote it down had a very different worldview than most of us now have, then we need to apply what we know to this text.
Most of us know that God isn’t sitting somewhere in heaven waiting to shower do-gooders with blessings or reign down punishment on sinners. This way of thinking is a holdover from days when all things were explained by divine actions. If we understand that much of the suffering in this world can be explained through science and/or recognized as a result of human behaviors, then what was perceived as divine punishment can be understood as the consequences of a certain set of parameters. For example, the increasing intensity of storms can be explained scientifically and is, at least in part, due to the ways in which human beings have damaged the planet. This is a more reasonable explanation for these storms than to say that the inhabitants of a particular place are being punished by God for their sins. Similarly, most illness and diseases can be explained through genetics, germs, or toxic environments. Again, this is a far more reasonable explanation than to say that a person with an illness or disease is being punished for their or their parents’ sins.
Now we can conclude that it is far more likely that the biblical punishments, afflictions, and smitings attributed to God were natural consequences resulting from whatever circumstances preceded them. In other words, not God’s doing. In a similar way, people like Moses and Abraham probably didn’t literally hear God talking to them anymore than faithful people do today. Maybe they had fewer obstructions in their prayer life and received responses with a bit more clarity, but they probably didn’t sit down and have an actual chat with God.
With this in mind, let us revisit Sodom and Gomorrah. We learn about these cities from the angels/men who informed Abraham and Sarah that Sarah would soon be pregnant in spite of her advanced years. The visitors had enjoyed Abraham’s generous hospitality and were heading on their way. They debated telling Abraham about their next stop before deciding to share the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t tell Abraham anything other than that here has been significant outcry against these cities. They stress that they are telling Abraham because his offspring will grown into a great nation and that they will be responsible for keeping “the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:20).
After hearing this, Abraham takes his concerns to God, whom he knows to be just and good. He prays. He asks God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there. God assures Abraham that the cities will be safe if there 50, 45, 40, 35, 20, and as few as 10 people living righteously. Abraham trusts God’s justice. He also receives a message that even a few people faithfully living out God’s holy ways can save many from destruction. This is the power of faith, power often overlooked in the reading of this story.
From Abraham’s conversation with God, we move back to the angels who had just left Abraham. They find hospitality in Lot’s house and, therefore, advise Lot to get his family out of the cities. Lot’s family think he’s joking about the impending destruction and choose to remain in the cities. Of course, some of Lot’s actions don’t make much sense to modern readers and cause us to wonder at Lot’s righteousness. However, Lot cannot be faulted for the hospitality he offered to the visitors, even if we are appalled by his parenting choices and how little he seemed to value his daughters. Of course, they make questionable choices of their own a bit later. And that business of Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt is a bit odd and seemingly unfair. Let’s just say that she turned into a very precious commodity and discuss the women in this story at a later date.
I also don’t want to skip over the part that historically been used as proof that God disapproves of queer people. The men of Sodom wanted Lot’s guests for sexual purposes. The problem here isn’t sexual activity. The problem is how little they valued people who were foreign, alien to their cities. They saw them as less than human, to be treated in any way the residents of the city felt like treating them. In this case, they wanted to use them for sex. On another day, maybe they would have chosen to enslave them or hold them captive for another purpose. All these things were against the ways of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their startling lack of hospitality toward the stranger among them.
This lack of hospitality is in direct contrast to Abrahams’s generosity and Lot’s welcome. There was nothing righteous or just in the doings of the people who lived in Sodom or Gomorrah. We know that when one group of people stops recognizing the humanity of another group, the results are often violent, ugly, and fatal. Sodom and Gomorrah annihilated themselves with their own selfish greed. It’s just a more cautionary tale if God smites them. And making queer folx the scapegoat is a convenient way to avoid looking closely at the real issues.
Isn’t it possible that we who follow Christ need to pay more attention to our own offers of hospitality? What groups of people have we dehumanized? Where have we failed to in doing righteousness and justice? These are the more useful questions that come from Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps we can avoid future destruction if we pay more attention to keeping God’s ways and offering generous hospitality to the stranger, foreigner, and aliens in our cities. After all, doom can be avoided if as few as ten seek to live in holy ways.
For more sermon help, try here.
RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 28, 2019
Hosea 1:2-10 with Psalm 85 or
Genesis 18:20-32 with Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)