Friday, July 9, 2010
Unspoken Words, Unheard Voices: A Sermon on Genesis 19:17-26
Preached @ Fayetteville Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, WV July 4, 2010
Let's work our imaginations this morning. Let's imagine ourselves as Lot.
Three strangers come into town. Being Christian, we offer them hospitality, right? We couldn't wait for them to waltz into church before being friendly with them. We always go out of our way to see new people in town and invite them into our home, the same home that houses our two young daughters. Right?
Not this guy. I've got all sorts of wicked good excuses. I'm an introvert. I'm "busy." I've got a family to attend to. Besides, look at those new people. They don't have enough tattoos and piercings for me to be friendly with them. I know their type, they will judge me as some crazy, drugged-up lunatic. Plus, I must protect my family from these people I have never met, these people who could be the most wonderful people in the world, but are probably part of that small section of our population that does terrible things to people.
But, the main character of this story acts differently, so let's continue pretending.
We meet these people in town. We insist they come into our home, at least for tea. Once in our home, we feed them a full meal and prepare a place for them to sleep. They praise us for our hospitality, to which we reply, "Oh really, it is nothing. Please, do tell me more about your journey. I am highly interested."
Then we hear a ruckus outside. On our way to peek out the window, because, let's face it, who in here would not want to know what was going on outside? It is a small town we live in, after all. Just before we can lift up one of the slats in the blinds, we hear a loud, pounding knock on the door. We jump a little and go to the door and the demanding, urgent knock.
We only intend to open the door a crack, but we can't stop from swinging the door open wide when we see so many people outside. It is truly flabbergasting. The fourth of July parade was earlier. The fireworks have long been over. What is everyone doing at our door at this time of night?
As if the whole situation isn't unbelievable enough, the event moves beyond the absurd. The person who knocked at the door, obviously the group's spokesperson, says, and I kid you not, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can rape them."
We stand with mouth agape. We blink a few times. The men don't go away when we open our eyes again. They are real. This really is happening.
We step outside, shutting the door behind us. We think we might be able to reason with these people. Perhaps we can expose their sins to them with an offer they will obviously have to refuse. "Look, everyone," we say, "you cannot honestly want to rape the men in my home. It is wrong! Besides, I have two young, virgin daughters," which is a lie, because our daughters are married. "I'll bring out the girls and you can have your way with them."
This cunning offer will surely make the mob realize their sins. Since they will not want to rape their neighbors, they will realize how wrong rape is even to strangers.
But the people begin to scoff: "You aren't originally from the area. Sure, you've been here a while, but you are still a newbie in our eyes. Who are you to condemn us?" Because of what they presume as haughtiness, they declare they will treat us worse than the men who just came into town that day.
The three men violently open the door, drag us inside, and shut it quickly behind them. These men repaid our hospitality by saving our lives, even though we never expected anything in return.
The night's events get heavier and heavier. The men tell us they are messengers from God and they are going to destroy the city because of the peoples' sins. Afterwards, we somehow manage to get to sleep, perhaps hoping we will wake up and realize the whole day had been a nightmare.
No such luck. In the morning, the men rush into our bedroom and tell us, our spouse, and our daughters and their husbands to flee immediately. If we don't leave right away, we will be destroyed with the city. Unlike the future exodus out of Egypt, no lamb's blood will save anyone from the destruction. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, whether it is water or fire.
We rub our eyes and slowly sit up in bed. We nod while yawning. What time is it, exactly? Can't they destroy the city at a better hour? Do they know how long it takes those two girls to get ready in the morning? Even their husbands want to take a good amount of time giving their hair that "just got out of bed look." And really, no one in the household had proper time to pack. Can the Lord's imminent judgment wait a few hours or, better yet, a few days?
The men grab us like they grabbed us last night at the door. They rush with us, our spouse, and our daughters out the door, all of us in our pajamas. The girls' husbands refused to leave. The men hurry us all to the city limits and yell, "Run for your lives! Neither look back nor stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the distant hills or you, too, will be destroyed."
Not this guy.
We put on our cunning, again. We know these men like us and we haven't fully woken up. We try to make a concession in a not-too whiny tone. "Thanks for saving my life and all, but the hills? Really? I just got up. You didn't give me time to have breakfast, use the bathroom, put on my good running shoes, or, most importantly, have my morning coffee. As you can see, I don't work well without my morning coffee. If I have to run to the hills to be safe, I might as well go to the Cathedral Café and have my coffee while I watch the city burn to the ground around me. I won't be able to make it safety. Listen. You see that place in the valley? It's really small. Why can't I just go there? It is so insignificant and, best of all, it is close."
"Fine," one of the men replies. "Go there and be safe. I'll wait until you arrive. Now go!"
We're pretty special, ain't we. God saved us from judgment and let us disobey after a small concession. And all because we didn't want to go all the way to the hills. Now we can take our sweet time, because God won't do anything until we arrive.
So we're on our way to this little city in the valley, a city the three men did not want us to go to, because they were going to destroy it. On our way, our spouse looks back towards Sodom and Gomorrah, which the men told us not to do at the same time they told us not to stop in the valley. We were given special privileges, but our spouse turns into a pillar of salt.
Weird, huh? We whine and everything is OK. Our spouse catches a glimpse to the place we long called home and were asked to flee from at a moment's notice and--BAM!--pillar of salt. Yes, she disobeyed, but so did we.
The spouse didn't ask like we did. Perhaps God wanted to be asked, not just disobeyed. Who knows? Regardless, our spouse's legacy lives on forever in the words of Jesus in Luke 17:32: "Remember Lot's Wife." The idea is, if you are not ready to leave at a moment's notice, you might never be able to leave. The message is a good one and I will not try to deny its applicability. However, Jesus' taciturn reference to Lot's Wife allows us to give other interpretations to stand side by side with the traditional one. All we have to do is listen to the unspoken words, the unheard voices.
Now, let's imagine we are Lot's Wife.
We look back to Sodom and Gomorrah, a place that became home for us, our spouse, and our daughters. We might have looked back because we wanted one last glimpse before it was destroyed. Perhaps we forgot a precious family heirloom since we didn't have any time to pack. Maybe we wondered if our sons-in-law changed their minds and decided to follow. We had grown quite fond of those boys.
Granted, it wasn't paradise, but it was home. And really, not everyone in town wanted to rape those three men. There a number of young children too young to know what sexual relations were, let alone desire them. A few of the town elders could barely move and were so kind and full of wisdom. ... And remember that time when our youngest daughter was sick and Jane and Joe Neighbor brought the doctor over so we could stay at her side? We didn't even have to ask. Surely they weren't part of that crowd.
Many of people in town did some rotten things, sure. Heck, you and I have done some rotten things, but love is not beyond our capability. We make mistakes, but we do good things, too. If God could extend grace to Lot, despite his sins, why can't God excuse a few more people in the valley around Sodom and Gomorrah? If God isn't going to start the ruckus until we arrive in Zoar, maybe we can go save a few babies or at least plead with those three men for the lives of innocent children. Yes, let's go back and plead with those men like Moses in the future will plead with God for the lives of the Israelites. We turn to go back and turn into to a pillar of salt trying preserve lives.
Lot's Wife is a silent, nameless character in this story. She looks back towards other silent, nameless characters who, according to the story, die at the command of a merciful God. And yes, the God of the Old Testament is a merciful, loving God. Grace and love are written throughout this whole book, not just the parts about Jesus.
And Jesus wants us to remember Lot's Wife and her turning back and turning to into salt. When I imagine myself as Lot's Wife, I imagine her turning towards unspoken words and unheard voices when told to flee at a moment's notice. No, it isn't written in the story, but it helps me learn a godly lesson, a lesson God wants us to hear in the unspoken words and unspoken voices. Lot's Wife wanted to preserve the life of the young and the good who would experience God's judgment because of a heinously sinful majority. And God granted her wish like God granted Lot's wish. Lot was allowed to go to Zoar and Lot's Wife was turned into the salt of the earth, the kind of salt that preserves life and quality of life for God's good purposes. Years later, Jesus remembers her by telling people to be the salt of the earth and never to lose their saltiness.
Unlike her husband, Lot's Wife would not reach freedom in the small town of Zoar, because some freedoms are too expensive for everyone to experience. She thought a freedom borne on the back of oppression is not a freedom worth having. Maybe she isn't right--but maybe she is. When we remember Lot's Wife, we are left to consider each freedom we have and wonder if we'll go to Zoar or turn back and turn to salt for the sake of others.
Is it good to have the choice of multiple coffees when the workers who grow and pick the coffee beans cannot support their families? Is it good to have the freedom of style when so many of our clothes are made overseas in sweatshops? Is it good to have the freedom to eat out of season vegetables if it means we still buy berries from California and Florida when our neighbors are selling berries on Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market for their own livelihood? Is it good to have the freedom of diet when the environmental impact of some of our foods goes beyond our wildest imaginations, when the grain used to feed cows alone could end starvation?
These are just some things with which I struggle when I remember Lot's Wife. I don't think we're all supposed to struggle with the same things, so don't think I am telling you to struggle with my issues. But neither can I say you shouldn't struggle with these same issues. I simply present them for consideration.
I am glad for freedoms, but I fear God is calling me to leave some of these freedoms without looking back. I fear God wants me to turn into a pillar of salt, preserving the lives of the innocent who suffer for the sins of some of my freedoms.
I fear that God wants me to be like Jesus Christ, especially the part of Jesus in which Lot's Wife lives on. She has not yet lost her saltiness. She lives on as the Mother Theresas of the world who cannot bare to live a life of luxury when others suffer because of those luxuries. She is the Martin Luther King Jr.s who seek racial and economic equality. She is remembered in the Harvey Milks, the Mahatma Gandhis, the Dorothy Days, the you, the me.
She lived on in Jesus, who reminded people of her great legacy as a woman who could not leave at a moment's notice. Like all of us, there was a part of her that sought to preserve her own life, but there was also a great part of her that listened for the unspoken words and the unheard voices of the silenced and the oppressed. And she preserved their memory, too.
Thanks be to God.
As we leave the sanctity of this place, let us remember the sanctity of the places to which we go. And let us go with God, considering God's ways and what and how God wants us to preserve as we remember Lot's Wife.
In the name of God the parent,
God the Christ,
and God the Holy Spirit.