God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis 18:20-32 

This passage relates the story of God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleads for the people. If any are righteous then the cities will be saved for their sake.

More often than not the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah is related to sexual sin, and righty but whether it can be taken to be a condemnation of homosexuality is not quite so clear. It looks as though this is the case until we read further.

What was happening in Sodom was a total disregard of other people. In a later passage we read that two angels – messengers – are being sheltered by Lot. Men come out from the city and want to ‘know them’ – it is assumed that this means to ‘rape them’. The messengers were alien, visitors if you like. The judgement is not primarily against the sexual act but against the men’s violation of another human being simply because they are foreign, alien. These aliens were doubly threatening as they were coming to deliver God’s message of judgment. In addition the men of Sodom want to deal with Lot even more violently because he has given shelter to these strangers. (The sexual morality of the story is even more muddied as we read later that Lot, while guarding the aliens, is willing to hand over his daughters to be raped. Subsequently we find his daughters in the foreground, getting their father drunk in order for him to have an incestuous relationship with them. Not exactly a pattern on which we might want to base our sexual ethics – remember that Lot is ‘on God’s side’).

To bring it up to date. Someone comes and stays with you and they begin to point out something of the wrong they see in you or ,your nation or town. Those with power are threatened. Firstly they resist or reject, alienate or harm the foreigners; then they aim their hatred, perhaps their fear, at anyone who gives the foreigner shelter or comfort. The foreigner is labelled and can be abused.

This puts a different spin on the story. How do we feel about the stranger in our midst? And about those who welcome and support them? Tempted to say ‘Oh I wouldn’t act like those people’. But how would we act if the presence of the messenger was going to threaten our way of life? I wonder.

Let’s step a bit further. A contemporary translation of the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11:1-4 replaces the words ‘lead us not into temptation’ with ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’.

The word ‘trial’ (or ‘temptation’) is a translation of the Greek πειρασμός (peirasmos). The meaning of the Greek is putting to the proof, ‘trial’, as we would understand it, rather than ‘temptation’. It is used in this way explicitly elsewhere in the New Testament. It implies a testing of a person’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy.

In this light the question about how we would act confronted with the alien who is judging us becomes a testing of our fidelity, faithfulness.

Those who want to make a link between Jesus and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah usually refer to Matthew 10: 5 – 15. Jesus is sending out his disciples:

‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. Verse 14 concludes the story, ‘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 judgment than for that town’.

Putting this passage beside the one from Genesis suggests that:

  1. Given the most important commandments are to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. It is reasonable to assume that this was the message, the Good News, that the disciples were sharing.
  2. That it is this that the people may not accept. This, then is their time of trial.
  3. Rejection puts them in the position of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And this is exactly what the people of Sodom were condemned for, though the expression of this lack of love for neighbour was, for them, expressed in the violation of those who ought to be both neighbour and guest.

So for us the test, the trial, the judgement is arguably related to how we accept those who are different from us, how we demonstrate love of our neighbour, rather than on anything sexual.

O God, let intellect be held – God and the mystery of love

O God, let intellect be held
constrained, that I might simply sense
the depth, and mystery, of love
within this present tense.

As music sets the air aflame,
as sense is dumb and flesh retires
God, reach within my heart again
and fan those hidden fires.

As hands reach out to grasp the grace
that bread and wine should mediate,
reach back through hands that you would choose:
disclose, communicate.

Then held at once in paradox,
remembering in present time,
unite again this human flesh
with sacred love divine.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
© 2003 Stainer & Bell Ltd
8 8 8 6

 

The Trinity – some thoughts – nothing fixed or final of course…

On Twitter recently there has been some conversation about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Traditionally Christians believe that God is manifest in a transcendent form = creator, often called Father.

Additionally God has become incarnate, made flesh in the person of Jesus = Saviour often called the Son.

Finally Christians belove that God continues to be manifest in the life of Christians = the Holy Spirit.

The problem is that the Trinity is not specifically defined in Scripture though the names of the ‘persons’ of the Trinity are provided. Trying to put the ‘persons’ together involves mental gymnastics if we believe in Monotheism. Even the term ‘person’ is problematic as it defines an existent being.

An analogy might help:

Resonance, in chemistry, refers to contexts in which one or more electrons contribute to more than one bond in a molecule. A most common example is found in the resonant bonds between the carbon atoms of benzene rings. The molecule appears to be two things at the same time. Now if that is over-complicated it could be you’re not a chemist. No shame in that. But…

The Trinity says the same of God. God is three ‘persons’ at the same time. If we express this in familial terms we make analogies which are contradictory, don’t work. Anthropomorphising language makes it less intelligible. God is outside our human language and categories and means of expression.

What we name ‘God’ transcends time, space, language, understanding. God is not part of creation or an alternative creation. Ground of being (after Paul Tillich) best expresses this. So let’s just leave ‘God’ as mystery. Forget explanation and practise LOVE?

Thoughts on grace and atonement – The feather of grace – hymn/poem on this site

Grace is unwarranted, unexpected yet universal. For something so important one would expect it to be protected, invincible. Yet the medium of announcement is vulnerable and fragile.
The fact of grace, that we are all accepted as we are without condition is unfathomable, cuts across expectation and logic. To explain it we construct models and metaphors out of human experience. There must be a ransom paid. There is none. Just a birth in a foul stable and a death on a sordid cross.
The way of signalling this drama is through the kiss of a man who subsequently kills himself. His act sets the play in motion. Who would trust something so momentous to such a person?
Choice and decision is placed before Pilate. He wants nothing of it. Natural justice points in one direction. His inaction as much as a negative action seals the injustice that is unfolding.
At the end love incarnate hangs bleeding, in human terms, destroyed, eradicated.
The girder of God’s grace is as frail as a feather, yet achieves total human freedom. The balance could have been so much better weighted. But the feather is God’s way. We are rarely, if ever, going to risk it. It is not expedient. It will not work. We do not understand it. But faith’s feather says this is the way.

John Wesley – timely words for today…

Words of John Wesley in his sermon on the catholic spirit – original, non-inclusive language of the 1700s – strong inclusive sentiment:

Is thy heart right toward thy neighbour? Dost thou love as thyself, all mankind, without exception? “If you love those only that love you, what thank have ye?” Do you “love your enemies?” Is your soul full of good-will, of tender affection, toward them? Do you love even the enemies of God, the unthankful and unholy? Do your bowels yearn over them? Could you “wish yourself” temporally “accursed” for their sake? And do you show this by “blessing them that curse you, and praying for those that despitefully use you, and persecute you?”

Do you show your love by your works? While you have time as you have opportunity, do you in fact “do good to all men,” neighbours or strangers, friends or enemies, good or bad? Do you do them all the good you can; endeavouring to supply all their wants; assisting them both in body and soul, to the uttermost of your power? – If thou art thus minded, may every Christian say, yea, if thou art but sincerely desirous of it, and following on till thou attain, then “thy heart is right, as my heart is with thy heart.”

“If it be, give me thy hand.” I do not mean, “Be of my opinion.” You need not: I do not expect or desire it. Neither do I mean, “I will be of your opinion.” I cannot, it does not depend on my choice: I can no more think, than I can see or hear, as I will. Keep you your opinion; I mine; and that as steadily as ever. You need not even endeavour to come over to me, or bring me over to you. I do not desire you to dispute those points, or to hear or speak one word concerning them. Let all opinions alone on one side and the other: only “give me thine hand.”

I do not mean, “Embrace my modes of worship,” or, “I will embrace yours.” This also is a thing which does not depend either on your choice or mine. We must both act as each is fully persuaded in his own mind. Hold you fast that which you believe is most acceptable to God, and I will do the same. I believe the Episcopal form of church government to be scriptural and apostolical. If you think the Presbyterian or Independent is better, think so still, and act accordingly. I believe infants ought to be baptized; and that this may be done either by dipping or sprinkling. If you are otherwise persuaded, be so still, and follow your own persuasion. It appears to me, that forms of prayer are of excellent use, particularly in the great congregation. If you judge extemporary prayer to be of more use, act suitable to your own judgement. My sentiment is, that I ought not to forbid water, wherein persons may be baptized; and that I ought to eat bread and drink wine, as a memorial of my dying Master: however, if you are not convinced of this act according to the light you have. I have no desire to dispute with you one moment upon any of the preceding heads. Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight “If thine heart is as my heart,” if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: “give me thine hand.”

The care of our planet, the threat of extinction – Hymn

The care of our planet, the threat of extinction,
alerts us to need to be stewards of the earth:
this place of great beauty, our God given tenure,
the place of our nurture, the globe of our birth.

This place we must guard for each new generation,
to leave as we found it or, better, restored;
to share each resource without greed or pretension,
not barring the needy, not plunder, nor hoard.

The  banquet of God is for all of God’s people,
communion companions are both rich and poor,
our ultimate end will remove all distinctions,
no birthright or creed can obstruct heaven’s door.

God’s common wealth love can encompass all nations,
but here in this place we must all make a start:
a life of acceptance of sister and brother,
the practice of loving, a God given art.

Andrew Pratt 1/5/2019
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Written for the 140th Anniversary of St John’s Methodist Church Whitchurch, Shropshire.
Tunes: STREETS OF LAREDO; ST CATHERINES COURT

A Cosy Armageddon

When arguments are brewing we don’t notice,
it seems that tension builds with every word,
we say things while not hearing one another,
like children in a playground, quite absurd!

It could have been a cosy Armageddon,
the words had seemed innocuous and bland,
yet hidden in each phrase, each idle sentence
were thoughts designed to undermine each stand.

If we could simply seek a gracious outcome
when others hurt and harass, fault or harm,
a look inspired by love could turn the tables,
could echo hidden need, befriend, disarm.

© Andrew Pratt 3/5/2019