Texts: Genesis 18:20-33 . Luke 11:1-13
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jul. 24, 2016
When I was pastoring the little Methodist Church in Maryland and teaching at Wesley Seminary, and Bonnie was living down here in Naples, she would spend three weeks with me over the Christmas holidays, two weeks at Easter time and ten weeks over the summer. I would get down to Naples for Thanksgiving, Wesley’s fall and spring breaks and the week following graduation. How we looked forward to those times when we could be together!
During the Christmas season, Bonnie and I loved to sit in front of the fireplace in our home, watch the logs burn giving off light and heat, listening to them crackle as they slowly turned to ashes.
Each summer, one of my parishioners gave us a week’s vacation at his cottage on the beach at Ocean City, Md. We loved to watch the mighty waves roll in from the sea and listen to them as they crashed upon the shore.
But we were always aware that the fire which so fascinated us when confined to the safety of the hearth, could suddenly leap out control to burn down our home. The ocean, so majestic, could, in a moment’s time become a raging monster, leveling everything in its wake.
Human emotions, so tender, caring, and endearing can also, without warning, be easily turned to anger, disappointment and devastating pain. This is one of the mysteries of life. Such powerful conflicting forces are at work, both in nature and in human experience. That which attracts us, can at any moment turn on us with devastating results. We are at once fascinated and horrified. In such a context, sometimes it is hard for us to place ourselves and our loved ones into God’s hands, believing that He will indeed, protect us and provide for all our needs.
For the past two weeks our Old Testament reading has focused on the life of Abraham, the father of the faithful. Last week, I reflected on his wife Sarah’s derisive laughter when she was told that in her nineties that she would have a son. This week’s reading comes from a time period much earlier in their lives. We are confronted with Abraham’s agony when he is faced with the real possibility that his nephew Lot is about to die. I think most of you know this part of Abraham’s story. When his brother died Abraham took his son and raised him as his own. Lot went with Abraham when he responded to the call of God to move from his home city of Ur to the “Land of Promise.”
The custom in those days was much like it is in some countries today. I well remember the first time I went to Great Britain back in 1971. I had promised my grandmother that when I finished college I would help her fulfill a life-time dream. I would go with her to visit our distant English and Irish cousins. The highlight of the trip for her came when we arrived in the town of Killala, in County Mayo in Ireland. George and Minzie, our Irish cousins, were then in their late sixties. For years they had lived in a small thatched cottage. When we arrived, they had just moved in to a much larger home. It had two kitchens, two dining rooms two family rooms and four bedrooms. Most important to them, however, was the tiled roof! My grandmother and I had found the thatched roofs in the surrounding countryside to be most charming, George pointed out to us how often they would leak!
I commented on how large the house was for a couple so close to retirement. Minzie replied: “Oh, we built it for Willie.” Willie, who was not present at the time of our visit, turned out to be the second son of Minzie’s younger sister. When it became apparent that George and Minzie would have no children, Willie came to live with them. He helped George with the farm work. Soon after our visit, Willie married and raised his family in the largest section of the house. When George & Minzie passed away, Willie inherited the farm.
That is what Abraham intended. By the time he was called to go to the land that God had promised him, Sarah was past the age of child-bearing. Thus, their nephew Lot became their heir. When they reached the land of promise, Abraham did a very generous thing. After having walked the length and breadth of what is now Israel Abraham turned to Lot and said, “Look over the land. You decide where you wish to dwell. I will take what remains.”
Lot looked to the east, to west, to the north and finally to the south. In the south, he saw the fertile plains near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that bordered the Dead Sea. “I’ll go there,” he said. For years, I thought that Lot had chosen the best of the land that God had promised to Abraham, leaving his uncle with the “leftovers.” Recently, it dawned on me that the land near Sodom and Gomorrah was not part of the area that God has promised to Abraham at all. In effect, Lot was saying to his uncle, “you can have this land that God has promised you, I don’t think it’s all that good anyway. I’ll make my own way.” By his own choice, Lot not only walked away from his uncle, he walked away from God. He chose to cease to be the heir to God’s promise.
Anyone who has raised teenagers can identify with Abraham. Of course we recognize that to be healthy, teenagers must rebel against their parents. They must choose their own way. But knowing this doesn’t make it any easier for us to go through their tee-age years. We remember the innocent face smiling or whaling in the crib. We had so many dreams of what they would become when they grew into adulthood. Inevitably, they chose another course. We struggled within ourselves. Would they get through this period of rebellion unscarred? Would they finally adopt the faith and values we tried to instill? We agonized in helplessness, hoping that they would avoid the mistakes we made in our youth. We hoped against hope that they would not have to experience the pain that we had to go through.
Abraham had to feel that way as he watched Lot walk away. From Lot’s perspective, he had made an excellent choice. Like the prodigal son, he would have his cake and eat it too. He would go to a land that seemed far better than that which had been promised by God.
He moved into Sodom. He made friends with people who did not know or love God. They did not share the values by which he had been raised. Gradually, he would come to adopt their point of view. He was heading for disaster.
In today’s Old Testament reading, God told Abraham that He planned to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. Abraham is left in anguish. He pleads with God to spare the cities. God promised that would if he found fifty righteous persons there. Abraham is quite certain that there won’t be fifty. So he starts bargaining with God and finally gets Him down to ten. In his heart he knows God won’t find ten righteous people. Have you ever found yourself bargaining with God?
When judgment comes to the two cities, Lot and his family are spared. Because of Abraham’s prayers, Lot and his family are able to live out the rest of their lives in relative peace. However, because of Lot’s choice, he no longer stands in line of the inheritance that God has promised Abraham’s heirs. He is no longer part of God’s big picture concerning the redemption of human kind.
In today’s Gospel, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responded by giving the prayer which we recite just before taking communion each Sunday. It is a prayer in which we place our lives, our future and that of our loved ones into God’s care, confident of His ability to provide our needs and protect us, not from the pain and disappoints that come to everyone in life, but from their devastating effects.
After giving the disciples this model prayer, Jesus goes on to state: “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” I have found this statement to be true. However, I have also found that the answer comes after much internal struggle.
About fifty years ago, the (non-canonical) Gospel of Thomas’s was discovered in a cave in Egypt. In it, Thomas presents us with an alternate version of this teaching which, shows the process through which the answer often comes. In Thomas’s Gospel, Jesus said: “He who seeks must not stop seeking until he finds. And when he finds, he will be bewildered. And if he is bewildered he will become distressed. And when he becomes distressed he will marvel, and then he will find peace.
In the midst of Abraham’s struggle as bargained with God to spare Lot’s life, he came to understand a new moral insight. In his anguish, he cried out. “Shall not the God of the universe be just!” And Abraham found peace. When we find ourselves in difficult situations, if we submit ourselves to this process, so will we. Amen.