Sermon Pentecost 7 July 28, 2019

Genesis 18:20-32                   Psalm 138                   Colossians 2:6-15                  Luke 11:1-13

May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Old Testament reading seems to be right up to date doesn’t it ?  Not the least of which is the way Abraham negotiates with God.  We do it all the time.  Stop this from happening Lord and I will do something for you.  How audacious !  Save me from drowning God and I will build a statue of the Virgin Mary atop this mountain, even if I have no idea what she looked like.  Save me and I will build a monastery.  Save me and I will walk three times around the Earth.  Whatever !  God doesn’t accept bribes.  Period !  He doesn’t want or need anything we have to offer but He joyfully accepts our love and devotion as is His due.

Old Abraham is probably a little bit more legitimate in his request though, he doesn’t want to see innocent people die because of the sins of others.  But it always happens, Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Rwanda massacres, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Hamburg.  Hamburg was bombed on July 24, 1943 and for seven more days, that’s seventy-six years ago last Wednesday and it’s still going on;  thirty five thousand people were killed some of whom were no doubt righteous and none deserving an horrific death;  one hundred and twenty-five thousand were injured none deserving their wounds either.  The firestorm rose four hundred and fifty metres into the air, that’s half a kilometre.  Tornado-like winds were created by the firestorm.  The asphalt in the streets melted and caught fire.  Oxygen was sucked from the air and toxic fumes filled it.  The whole thing was called  ‘Operation Gomorrah’  because of the horror.  That’s the kind of thing humans do, the kind of thing that Nature does.  God doesn’t ! / Abraham wanted to save the innocents.  We hear of innocents being killed all the time even today, in Somalia, Syria, Ethiopia, remember Sarajevo ?  None deserved their fate.  In an age when God’s punishment was thought to be meted out on a communal basis Abraham pleads for the righteous few and the safety of all innocents.  God willingly grants it indeed God grants forgiveness to all the sinners if there are only ten righteous people.  But the cities were so corrupt that it turns out not even ten righteous persons could be found.  So if there is communal guilt at least the children would be innocent, wouldn’t they ?  What about the children !  For this reason, the children, I don’t believe God caused the disaster but in Earthly life the children always suffer.

This is a real problem for us.  Did God kill innocents ?

Read the text carefully.  God never says He intends to kill the sinners of Sodom or Gomorrah, nor those in the two other cities, Admah and Zeboim, that went up in smoke, He intends only to destroy the cities – the places where people sin not the sinners.  God sets out to punish the sinners yes, but by later interpretation we have read back into the text that He intended to kill all.  The story was written after the destruction of the cities and conclusions got written in as though they were the original intent.  God says, if Abraham can find ten righteous men He will forgive everyone !  God is a God of Love, who doesn’t go around killing, He forgives.  God says  “Thou shall not murder”;  God lives by His own rules otherwise He would be a Contradiction and not Perfection.

Sodom and Gomorrah sat in the Jordan Rift Valley, bitumen and sulphur are in the rocks.  There was a lake of asphalt, Lake Asphaltitis so named by the Romans, now thought to be beneath the Dead Sea.  In Abraham’s time the Jordan valley was a rich agricultural area, that’s why Lot chose to go and live there when he split from Abraham.  Things were so economically good there that the people got into all sorts of trouble, because of excess wealth and with idle time they sinned to excess – idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.  They did every kind of sin you could think of  (Ezekiel 16:48-50).  They were very rich yet they watched the poor starve.  They even imposed capital punishment on those who helped the poor  (Christians have seen that often).  They were sexually permissive.  Assaults and rape of visitors were frequent, they hated people coming in and taking part of their wealth, even Lot who contributed much to the city as a stranger was threatened by them;  relate that to today and the rubbish spewed about refugees and immigrants by protectionist bigots.  The Sodomites abused the stranger whenever they could even though this was explicitly against the Law, which entreats us to love our neighbour  (Deuteronomy 10:19)  and take care of the widow, the orphan and the stranger, and punishing those who don’t  (Psalm 146:9).  I am reminded frequently of the generosity of the people of Gander, Newfoundland and their generosity to the strangers, who landed on their doorstep after 9/11;  and that cabins in Canada’s North are left unlocked and stocked with water, food and kindling for the stranger who might pass that way and be in need, and of course the Good Samaritan.  But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah cheated, stole and lied at every turn.  They were evil.  Evil !  If God had wanted to punish them He would have turned the Jordan Valley into an agricultural wasteland impoverishing them to bring them to their senses, and that is in fact what happened to this part of the Valley.

What caused the destruction then ?  Ancient sources give several alternatives, including;  an asteroid hit, there are ancient records of one but no crater;  was it an earthquake, they happen all the time in the unstable Jordan Rift Valley;  or was it spontaneous combustion of all the volatile gases in the ground, could be.  We will perhaps never know because in spite of various claims the cities have not been rediscovered.  Some believe that in the catastrophe the cities slid beneath the Dead Sea, never to be found again.  Regardless I find it impossible to believe that God is responsible for this disaster any more than He was responsible for the destruction of Pompeii, an ancient dissolute Roman city no better than Sodom, devastated by the ash and gases of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, nearly two thousand years ago.  That’s the kind of thing Nature does.  God doesn’t.  Pompeii was not rediscovered until centuries later giving us hope that one day the mystery of Sodom and Gomorrah will be solved.

Now homosexuality has been popularly accepted as the reason for the destruction, and at the time homosexuality was illegal  (Leviticus 18:22).  There was an imperative to have many children in ancient times, that was one reason for multiple wives, so they could produce as many children as possible;  Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines the supreme effort to perpetuate his dynasty, although it only just worked in that Jesus alone is in his lineage.  Children meant power, prosperity and posterity.  Some in the Bible struggled with having an heir Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, for instance, and the intensity of their worry shows us the importance of having children.  We were told through Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply  (Genesis 1:28).  God prophesied that Abraham’s descendants would be countless like the stars, and that Jacob’s and Ishmael’s descendants would both become great nations;  heritage was vitally important.  Homosexual relationships do not produce children and like other laws of the time banning it, the ban upheld the peoples’ mission to multiply.  But it was the lack of loving one’s neighbour, rather than loving a  ‘forbidden other’  that was the cause of the judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah.  When Jesus said love your neighbour as yourself He was quoting the ancient text of Leviticus 19:18 so from the beginning loving one’s neighbour was a pre-eminent duty to God but even when Cain broke it God did not kill him, God doesn’t kill  (Genesis 4:15).  Sodom and Gomorrah failed badly in their duty of love and deserved punishment, and Jesus reaffirms this by saying that when His disciples were cast out of the towns they visited, those people who rejected them, would suffer more that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their rejection, not only of strangers, His disciples, but of Him  (Matthew 10:15).  That time would have been an appropriate time for Jesus to condemn homosexuality, but He didn’t.  I leave it to you to decide why He didn’t.

Homosexuality along with other sexual activities, Onanism  (Genesis 38:9)  and bestiality, were banned because they could not produce children. / In this time when the population of the Earth is approaching its viable limit, especially in this age of Climate Change, children are ideally born to only maintain the population, not increase it.  With contraception, abortion and a falling birthrate the industrialised western world is struggling to maintain itself, because it would rather have a car or a house or a vacation – rather than kids.  The developing world on the other hand is still clinging to boosting its population and it is there that homosexuality continues to be outlawed, even punished with the death penalty, even so homosexuality continues.  Could it be that people with a homosexual lifestyle do actually love each other, are prepared to suffer for that love and only want to live in peace like heterosexual folk ?  Of course.

Our General Synod this year tasked with an impossible task, did the impossible, it put the brakes on the passage of the Motion that would change the Marriage Canon in Canada but opened the door to a solution for those who felt excluded.  The proposed change would have permitted the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions.  Same-Sex Unions are permitted under our country’s laws.  The Synod however struggling with this issue of Blessing them from both Scriptural and Social points of view did not approve the Blessing of Same Sex Marriages Church-wide but permitted what is called the Local Option.  That is, a Diocesan Bishop may permit the blessing in his or her Diocese.  Our Bishop has already done so. The decision once nade, it seems, is irreversible.  That comes down to us, what do we do in our Parish because we have access to the Local Option too, to say yes or no as we choose, but once we make that decision to Bless it too is irreversible.  It is recommended that the matter be brought to our Parish Councils and that if approved by them that the Bishop be notified of the decision.  The Incumbent of the Parish will always have the right to perform or to refuse to perform such blessings, if the Parish has already approved the Blessing.  I recommend that we do not address this issue until it becomes a reality for us, but that is up to your Wardens and we should address it at our next Parochial meeting.

General Synod has taken the via media, the old well-trodden Anglican middle road.  The rejection of the General Synod Motion keeps us in Communion with the Anglican Church throughout the world and allows duly qualified Same-Sex couples to receive the Blessing of their marriages too.

Now we have to worry about whether General Synod under pressure will consider gerrymandering the governance structure and changing how decisions are made at Synod because of what some see as a failure of the system to please them.  The system has worked well for so long although it can never please everyone;  I would leave things alone.

In all of this keep the Church, its Bishops and Clergy, and all those impacted by these synodical decisions in your prayers.  It ain’t over yet.  Amen.

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