Preaching on Sodom and Gomorrah


A sermon by The Rev. Mary L. Goshert
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Santa Maria, CA
Diocese of Los Angeles

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Cycle C, 29 July 2001

Genesis 18: 20 33; Psalm 138; Colossians 2: 6 15; Luke 11: 1 13

Jesus said, And so I say to you, Ask and it will be given you; search, and you shall find;

knock, and the door will be opened for you.

 

Even people who know almost nothing of the Bible can recognize two Bible cities by name: yup, thats Sodom and Gomorrah. These towns are infamous as pits of perdition and sinks of sinfulness. To this day, Evil slithers in the alleyways of Sodom and Gomorrah, hangs out on the street corners and beckons from the doorways to the unwary stranger and the jaded citizen. The Biblically illiterate join their Bible reading neighbors in assuming they know exactly the sin that brought Sodom and Gomorrah to ruin. Both Bible illiterate and Bible reader are wrong in their assumptions at least according to the text of todays Old Testament lesson. As that reading opens today, the Lord God and Abraham are under the Old Oak Tree at Mamre where we left them last week. After that good meal provided by Abraham and Sarah, they are replete with barbecue (maybe even Santa Maria tri-tip BBQ) and bread and beans. And God says to Abraham, How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.

 

Thats it! Their sin is grave. And the Lord Creator is about to go down there and check it out.

Nothing in this story so far describes the specifics of that sinfulness they are just seriously in trouble for their pervasive wrongdoing.

 

Before we examine the subsequent conversation between Abraham and God, lets remind ourselves of some other familiar Biblical and Prayer Book language.

1.      From the Bible: from the letter of Paul to the Romans, chapter 3: For all have sinned and come

short of the glory of God. These words follow right on the heels of nearly 3 chapters that catalog human wrongdoing in amazing detail. If you and I dont find our failings written up in that list, it is because we are deliberately not looking.

2.      From the Book of Common Prayer: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and

wickedness which wehave committedthe burden of them is intolerable... Thats one version of the General Confession that we will all pray together today, acknowledging our own selves to be seriously in trouble for our pervasive wrongdoing, our persistent will to do those things we ought not do and leave undone those things we ought to be busy with.

 

Now I dont doubt for one minute that Sodom and Gomorrah were full of evil. They undoubtedly were. However so is Jerusalem where Palestinian and Jew alike perpetuate a vendetta of spiraling violence. And so is East St. Louis where little Black children go to school in dilapidated buildings and struggle for an education, though their schools inadequacies of textbooks, pencils, nutritious breakfast, warm clothing, decent toilets are a public scandal.

We can come a lot closer to home. In the California news theres a teacher in jail for fondling a child in her charge; a minister caught with his fingers in church money; a builder who cut corners of safety to up his profit margin; a shyster running a business scam bilking elderly and other vulnerable people. The cities of California are full of evil. It would not be beyond imagination for a conversation with God to go something like this: How great is the outcry against Santa Maria and Orcutt and Los Olivos, and how very grave is their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me

And you and I, in these cities, are contemporary Abrahams, listening to God. I hope each of us knows our own share of distorted and bent human nature that seeks out occasions of sin, leaves good undone, chooses to condemn rather than to lift up.

And I hope each of us knows that we are righteous people, renewed into righteousness by the grace of the Christ who has made each of us alive and erased the record against us by nailing that record to the Cross. God has already come down among the evil of this world, and his response was to give himself for the healing of nations.

God in Christ has created anew: the Divine through sacrifice has made you and me to be Somebodies, who were Nobodies at all. Now we are called to be Gods demonstration model, the Pentecost People who consciously give themselves to God. It is we who make Gods love known, who intercede for those still enslaved in the powerful grip of sin.

 

Once on a long-ago hot afternoon a Somebody named Abraham spoke to God. He had the presumptuous, preposterous notion that he could appeal to Gods Divine nature, to holy justice and mercy, to holy truth and nurturing love. And God responded with all grace and courtesy to Abraham. Abraham interceded. Abraham persistently bargained with God, and called on the All Holy to be willing to spare a notorious place because it has just a righteous few human beings in a very large pool of people sharks. God didnt answer him exactly as he prayed and bargained and persisted but God DID answer him.

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he infuses each word of prayer with intensity and persistence. Knock at the door, Pound on the door! Ask, and Ask again, and again! Claim that which God promises; Seek Gods good with single-minded repetition. God will give those good gifts that we ask for, and that we put ourselves on the line to make happen: the healing of our neighborhoods and our cities, a reconciliation between all Abrahams offspring, a haven of blessing for our children, and all Gods children. Who knows but that entire cities and this entire universe might be given grace by the intercession of only a few righteous men and women pleading for all of humankind?

 

You will notice that Abraham had no time at all to condemn and criticize and make judgment on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. He didnt need to. The Sodomites and the Gomorrans, without Abrahams help, made their persistent sin obvious when the angels were among them, and to a person they sought evil by disrupting the sacred obligations of hospitality. [Hear again the text: the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people without exception. Of course the guys were the first to be counted in that era, they were the only ones who counted. So it is emphasized that everyone, men and women and aged and children alike, took part in that sin of inhospitality that may well have included the intent for rape and sexual assault and battery.]

Neither can you and I waste time in such purposeless exercises as condemnation and judgment. That is Gods realm of work, should God choose to exercise that power. None of us can pretend to be so perfected that we can imagine ourselves free of sin. Without exception we are sinners, right-wised entirely by the grace of God. So long as the Church of Jesus Christ wastes time in criticism and condemnation, we shall be largely irrelevant to the world that we are called to plead for and pray for. God invites us rather to share in bringing the world, beginning with our own community, to the knowledge of Divine goodness and love and faithfulness.

One person concerned with Church effectiveness asked recently, If your parish church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone in the larger community really be affected by your absence? Would most anyone even really notice? He went on to say, Most churches these days are chapels of refreshment for the few people who actually attend services. Most churches miss their call to be powerhouses for transformation. In this consumer age, all too many people are more interested in what they can get from their attendance at church worship than what they can learn to give to God.

I believe that the Pentecost People at St. Peters are determined and committed to be a powerhouse for Gods transformative energy focused here in Santa Maria. Lets you and me follow our ancestor Abraham and be bold before the Lord and persistent, too so that many people who were once far off from God may draw near and find this parish church a welcoming house of prayer, prayer in word and action, for all nations and peoples. Amen.

 


Mary Goshert adds this gloss for those of us not in Santa Maria:

You must know -- in order to understand one of the allusions -- that Santa Maria prides itself on its Santa Maria-style Beef Tri-Tip Barbecue, a remnant of its cowtown past. Every weekend there's some group(s) along the main streets who are bbqing and selling beef and chicken and the occasional salmon as a charitable fundraiser. The scent floating up is as incense for the nose, even if one doesn't eat meat...


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