Genesis 19:1-16, 24-26
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city.
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord 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.
But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
I want to start with a little introduction to this “Game of Thrones” series for those of you still wondering what this is supposed to be all about. A few of you have asked, concerned, that you may need to have seen the show in order to play along or to know what I’m getting at. The answer is “no.” I haven’t even seen the whole series, myself, yet. I’m just into Season 4 (of 8), which means there won’t even be spoilers of any substance to worry about.
The short of the long is I came late to the “Game of Thrones” party because I was finally curious enough to see what all the hub-bub was about. And when I started watching, I was just as fascinated by this medieval mele of kings and queens and lords and ladies, their warring madness, and all of its sex and sin and death and debauchery that seems to have captivated so many others, too. (At least one fellow Cross of Gracer admitted to being a little embarrassed about enjoying the show – it’s that kind of death and debauchery, people!)
And I got to thinking, “there is a whole lot of the same kind of stuff in our very own Bible,” particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, only we don’t preach and teach so much about all of that or know those stories as well as some of the others. Many of them get left out, precisely because of all of their sex and sin and death and debauchery. Others are taught and talked about on occasion, but not so much for so many of us beyond the Sunday school classroom or a Bible study here and there – and even then, the fullness of their message and understanding gets over-simplified, if not lost entirely, too much of the time.
And today’s story is a perfect example, which is why I thought we’d “start at the very beginning… it’s a very good place to start,” in the book of Genesis, anyway, and the infamous story of “Sodom, Gomorrah and the Laws of God and Men.” Sodom and Gomorrah – and what happens there in Genesis 19 – could have inspired some of the drama in “Game and Thrones,” if you ask me. I could see the names of these ancient cities on the map at the beginning of each episode, right alongside places like King’s Landing or Winterfell.
Anyway, the Sodom and Gomorrah story is a very good place to start because most popular theology has co-opted and dumbed-down this little ditty and oversimplified it in such a way that most people misunderstand the point of it in the first place, thinking - or pretending - it has something to do (like it has anything at all to do!) with homosexuality. So let’s dispel that rumor right out of the gate.
With a more careful, but not more difficult reading, it’s pretty easy to see that, despite what the street-preachers and fear mongers have been saying for so long, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah have nothing to do with homosexuality – or sex, for that matter – at all. In a nutshell – and in order to keep all of this as family friendly as possible – it’s obvious to anyone and important for everyone to recognize that the sin against those poor guests in Sodom and Gomorrah was the violence of it all, not the means by which they intended to perpetrate that violence.
Specifically, the story is about rape which means the sexuality and gender of those involved isn’t relevant here. Their sin was the ugly, hateful, violent way they intended to keep these outsiders from their town – by violating them, by hurting them, by dominating them, by humiliating them, and so on.
And, because we’re so easily titillated by the violence and drama of it all, it’s easy to miss the real lesson, the real teaching and the faithful inspiration behind the story of the destruction of these two ancient cities.
What we miss when we take this story out of context is the set-up and the similarity that happens with Abraham, Lot’s nephew, in Genesis, Chapter 18. These same angels show up to Abraham and, just like Lot, Abraham runs to greet them, wash their feet, welcome them into his tent, give them water and food and rest and some shade to cool them from the heat. This was how Abraham, the father of our faith – the one “blessed to be a blessing,” as the covenant goes – treated guests and outsiders. And it made God smile.
And it’s what Lot knew, too, we see next. As the one minding the city gate in Chapter 19 – working security that night in Sodom – Lot welcomed those same guests, those same outsiders, in the same way Abraham had. He invited them into his home, he offered them food and rest and, even more, protection from the people in his town he must have known would not extend the same kind of hospitality he offered. And Lot was right – and courageous and brave and faithful – to do what he had done. Because we all know what happened next.
The townspeople showed up to let these outsiders know who was boss and that they weren’t welcome there. I don’t pretend to know why it had to be so ugly; why it had to get so violent and nasty and over-the-top with all the sex and rape and the offering up of the daughters for a trade. I have a hunch much of that has to do with the way ancient cultures were or at least how they made their point in telling stories they wanted people to pay attention to. (In some ways we’re no different, when you consider the fame of and fascination with “Game of Thrones” and all of its blood and guts and sex and violence. You won’t get through the first episode without being shocked by the shame of the Lannister siblings!)
Anyway, the sad, shameful irony of all of this is that the Church has done the exact opposite with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah than was originally intended. Instead of learning from the lessons of Abraham and Lot about God’s desire for God’s people to welcome the stranger and to care for the outsider, too many have focused on the sins of those in the city and then used it create laws and roadblocks and barriers that keep people out and to push people away. In other words, too many have wrongly made this story about homosexuality, rather than about hospitality.
Too many have incorrectly made the story of Sodom and Gomorrah about sex, rather than about the un-gracious, violent, exclusive ways of the towns’ people. What made the people of Sodom and Gomorrah so ungodly, so sinful, so worthy of punishment wasn’t what they’ve been blamed for all these years. What made them ungodly, sinful and worthy of God’s wrath, according to Hebrew tradition, was their violence; their mis-use of power; their hatred for the ‘other,’ the outsider, the stranger in their midst.
And there are several places in Scripture that confirm this same understanding and lesson from the Sodom and Gomorrah story. (I’ve listed them on the Sermon Scribbles insert if you’d like to spend more time with them.) The prophet Isaiah condemns the leaders of Sodom for all sorts of things like neglecting justice, neglecting the defense of the oppressed, and neglecting to care for widows and orphans, but doesn’t say “boo” about their sexual preferences. Ezekiel (16:49-50) says most plainly that “the guilt of … Sodom” [was that] she and her daughters had pride, had an excess of food, had prosperous ease, but that they did not aid the poor and needy. Again, nothing is mentioned about the sexuality stuff that made Sodom and Gomorrah so infamous for so many generations.
And then, of course, there’s Jesus, in the Gospel we heard this morning. When he sends his disciples with clear instructions about what they should pack, where they should stay, and what they should do when it came to curing the sick and cleansing the lepers and casting out demons, he commands them to look for the hospitable ones, to seek out those who would welcome them, care for them, tend to them. And then he warns that all the rest – for those who refused to welcome, care for, or tend to them as outsiders and strangers – “it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day” than it will be for anyone who refuses to welcome the disciples.
Again, more evidence and inspiration that the Sodom and Gomorrah story – like so much else in Scripture – is really about welcome and hospitality. It’s all about loving the “other;” welcoming the stranger; honoring the outcast; caring for the orphan, the widow, the outsider and, generally, making the circle of God’s love ever larger. And all of this is foundational for who and how we are called to be as children of God and as inheritors of Christ’s kingdom.
Now I don’t know and won’t say just exactly what this would, could or should look like in your life. It makes me want to pray differently and more deliberately about what’s going on at our Southern border these days – and in cities around our country today and around the world, too – with hope that we can find a way for all people to know safety and security and abundant life that is pleasing to God. It also makes me want to stick around to join the meeting with Kelly Siegert and our guest from the Exodus Refugee Immigration ministry after worship today.
And I know that’s not for everyone. So maybe there’s a more personal encouragement and inspiration in all of this – like an invitation and reminder to welcome the new kid in school this fall or the new family in the neighborhood; to reach out to that new family member you’re not so sure about, yet; to help the new guy at the office, or introduce yourself to the next new face who shows up for worship on Sunday morning.
Whatever the case, the lesson to be learned from … the example that was set by … the challenge laid out … and the hope to be gleaned from the otherwise scary and salacious story of Sodom and Gomorrah is that God’s people are to be different from what was destroyed in those cities.
We are called and sent out as people of wide welcome for the guest in our midst.
We are called and sent out to be practitioners of generous hospitality for those in need.
We are called and sent out to be bearers of bold faith, good news, amazing grace, abundant life, and hope for the hopeless.
And we are called and sent out because we have been blessed abundantly by the grace we share in Jesus, so that we will bless abundantly in return, with humble, grateful hearts, in his name.
(For even more on a more faithful understanding of the Sodom and Gomorrah story - along with other Scripture that is used to misunderstand homosexuality in the Bible - check out Colby Martin’s book, UnClobber.")