SERMON: PROPER 12, YEAR C
SUNDAY, JULY 29, 2007
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, BUNKIE, LOUISIANA
Our lesson from Genesis today is one of my favorite biblical stories, where Abraham asks God to have mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham ask God not to sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous in the city, and asks if there were 50, 45, 30, 20, and then to 10 men left in the city, to which the Lord replies He would not destroy the city if there were only ten men within it who were righteous. This story is one of the bases for Jewish liturgy. If a Rabbi is unavailable, 10 men can perform certain Jewish rites. They call this a minyan. The other part I really like about this passage is how Abraham plays spiritual defense attorney. He pleads for the lives of the righteous within Sodom and Gomorrah. What is interesting, and this is echoed in our Gospel reading for today, when we ask things of God, he often gives us so much more. Abraham asks God to spare the righteous in the cities, God says he will spare a whole city and not just the ten righteous men are found there. One other point form this story is that Abraham stops at ten. He could have asked to save the city if there was only one righteous man. But, Abraham, who has an intimate relationship with the Lord, knows that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah – sexual immorality and cruelty – are serious business. In reality, all Abraham is asking the Lord to do is for the Lord to do HIS will, not Abraham’s. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus teaches us to pray this way in the Lord’s prayer. In it, we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. We aren’t praying for our wishes to come true, but for God’s will to come to pass. Then, in our own humility, we pray for our daily bread and for forgiveness of our sins, realizing that God’s forgiveness to us is conditional on our forgiveness of others. It is within God’s will that we receive our daily bread and forgiveness of our sins. This is what God wants for us.
Abraham’s pleas also show the same persistence Jesus is talking about in our Gospel today. The story about the neighbor knocking on the door at midnight for bread, and continuing to knock until he gets it. The original text of the Gospel, when it uses the work “knock”, is actually a verb that connotes not just knocking once, but continuing to knock until the door is open. Persistence is a virtue which God appreciates.
There is another thing that the Genesis passage makes clear – God’s wrath against sin is assuaged only by righteousness. It is a preview from the earliest of Biblical times of why Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was necessary for our personal salvation. Only Christ’s righteousness can save us from our own unrighteousness, our sinfulness.
St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians speaks directly to this point – the record of our sins – our spiritual rap sheet – is nailed to the cross by Jesus taking our sins upon him and Jesus, the righteous man, giving his life for us.
St. Paul also gives us a warning, as does the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. Those who follow the Lord must not become captives to our culture. He writes: “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.” What man will rationalize through philosophy and human tradition is often not what God wants. Sodom and Gomorrah proves that.
How do we really know that want God wants for us is better than what we often want? I’m sure the folks in Sodom and Gomorrah thought that what they were doing was just fine and was what they wanted. I’m sure the Greeks and Romans of Paul’s time were doing and feeling the same way. Why, then, should we prefer what God wants for us over what our culture, our human tradition, tells us we should want? Jesus tells us in the Gospel today: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God, who created us and sustains us, knows what is best for us. So, when the Bible tells us something and the culture we live in tells us to do something else, we need to do what the Bible says. Our culture says if you are unhappy with your marriage, get a divorce. Jesus says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Our culture tells us to acquire great wealth and possessions, Jesus tells us to sell everything we own and follow Him. Our culture tells us to avoid the sick, the poor, and those in prison; Jesus tells us to care for them and in so doing we are caring for God.
So even if, our culture, our friends, our families, even our churches are telling us one thing, and God’s word is telling us something else, we are to, as St. Paul writes, remain rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith, just as we were taught.