Lectionary 17C (July 24, 2016)

Abraham’s prayer is outrageous. Here’s God (as a dude, by the way, but not Jesus, so this is already weird), and here’s Abraham in his face, practically cursing God. “Are you seriously going to sweep away the innocent? That’s profane! What kind of sadistic nut job God are you?” He’s talking to the almighty, here. This is the God who once banished the only people on Earth from paradise because they ate part of his lunch. And here is Abraham yelling at that guy, on behalf of Sodom. People talk a lot about Sodom, and what was going on there, and they usually ignore the Bible. You know, you hear people say Sodom stands for homosexuality. It’s not homosexuality that is going on at Sodom. You hear other folks trying to counter the anti-gay argument saying, “Sodom’s sin was really lack of hospitality.” Yeah! That’s putting it mildly! According to the Bible, in Sodom they gang rape visitors. This is a brutal place full of brutal people. Abraham is praying for them, would rather save the gang rapists than have innocent Sodomites killed along with them.

Of course, Abraham has a complicated relationship with Sodom. His nephew lives there, apparently not taking part in the gang rapes. A few years back the King of Sodom rebelled against the High King who ruled the whole area. The High King crushed Sodom’s army, ransacked the city, and hauled the entire population away. Word got to Abraham that his nephew had been taken. So Abraham has his own private commando unit. He has special ops, and apparently is one of them. The guy is pretty badass, and he leads a daring nighttime raid in which he destroys the High King’s forces, frees the people of Sodom and returns their property to them. Now they are free…to go back home and continue gang raping visitors. When God says to Abraham, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!”, in the silence is an unspoken, “Yeah, remember the time you saved Sodom?”

God is pointing Abraham to what is outrageous. When I read this story in conjunction with Luke’s telling of the Lord’s Prayer, God is pointing me to prayer for what is outrageous. I feel constant pressure to pray the Lord’s Prayer with my 21st Century 30-something NW IN concerns in mind. I would really like to pray “Father in Heaven,” meaning, “God is safely way up there”; “Hallowed be your name” meaning, “Boy, don’t I sound pious!”; “Your kingdom come,” meaning, “It’d be nice if you could come make my life easier”; “Give us this day our daily bread,” meaning, “I’d like to be able to buy more stuff I don’t need”; and “forgive us our sins,” meaning, “if at all possible, I would like to escape your eternal judgment unscathed. I think I’ve earned it.” You’ve likely noted that Luke’s version of the prayer differs from the one we use in worship, and from the one Matthew records. Luke’s version focuses on Christ’s coming and our sins being forgiven, events classically reserved for the final judgment. Jesus is instructing us to pray for a just and equitable end of time.

That prayer points me to what is outrageous. Along with God’s words to Abraham, it points me to my many connections with Sin. I benefit from Sin even if I just wake up in the morning. I benefit daily from the availability of jobs denied to women and minorities. I benefit daily from the availability of space my ancestors seized from Native Americans. I benefit daily from trade agreements that obtain cheap goods from underpaid foreign workers. And that’s the reality even if I don’t take advantage of it. More to the point, I live in a world still scarred with the sin of Sodom. You hear it sometimes called “rape culture.” That’s when we’re willing to talk about it. Usually we aren’t, but I’ll tell you, I have bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees, serve in a university town at a congregation with many university employees, and I will admit that I’m a little nervous about sending my daughters to college. I have seen too many women attacked, men defended by walls of silence, and the women themselves blamed. It’s outrageous. God says, “How great the outcry against the world, and how grave its sin!” And what God leaves loudly unspoken is, “So, Tim, remember how you had a hand in all of this? Remember how you worked hard in school but maybe didn’t stand up for victims? Remember how you were too busy to speak the truth about it after you graduated, but weren’t too busy to give plugs for your alma mater? You didn’t do anything, but you have a hand in it.”

And God waits.

This may be the most powerful line in our story. God hangs around, waiting, eyebrows raised: “You have something to say, Abraham?” God planned this. In the verses preceding our reading, God is walking with Abraham and talking to Godself: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? I am planning to make my chosen people out of him, and to bless the whole Earth through him. No, I had better include him in the process.” So God tells Abraham.

And God waits.

God waits for Abraham to join God as a partner. Abraham takes by far the more active role in the conversation. He starts with perhaps the sharpest critique of God’s justice on record: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” Then Abraham takes on the tone of a deliberate instructor, the rational one of the partners trying to reason with the angry one. “Would you kill fifty innocent people just to wipe out a city, even a bad one?” No. “Well, would you kill forty-five, or forty?” No! “Thirty? Twenty? Ten?” I get it! I get it! The result is a double revelation of how God works. On the one hand, there is the literal outcome of the prayer: God does differentiate between the guilty and the innocent…all three of them. But more importantly, God takes on Abraham as a partner. God works with us. Old Testament scholar Samuel Balentine describes this sort of prayer as “the mutual participation of two partners in the deliberative process, not the domination of one over the other.” That’s what we’ve got. Abraham becomes God’s partner in determining justice. Moreover, Abraham becomes God’s partner in saving life—the lives of Lot and his daughters—and creating life—the life of Isaac, the life of Israel, and the life of every baptized Christian. In prayer, God partners with Abraham to save and create life in the midst of an outrageous world.

God waits for us to join as partners, too. God calls us to pray for the complicated and outrageous world in which we live. How great the outcry and how grave the sin! But God offers forgiveness in partnership. Careful, here, I’m not saying “partner first, then God forgives.” Rather, there is forgiveness in the offer of partnership. When talking to Abraham, God leaves unspoken, “Yeah, remember how you saved Sodom?” precisely because God is not making this exchange with Abraham about Abraham’s guilt. God and Abraham both know what happened. Both know that despite the goodness of Abraham’s actions they facilitated evil, and God forgives that. The issue at hand is what to do, now, and that can be the issue at hand because of forgiveness. God forgives us, and now God waits for us to take up the issue at hand.

God waits today. Christ the Son of God, waits, on the plate and in the cup. He leaves unspoken that, “Hey, remember that time you nailed me to a cross?” because he knows we remember, and he has forgiven us. And now the issue at hand is what to do in a brutal world. When we eat and drink Christ who waits for us, Christ takes us on as partners. Christ takes us on as partners in judging what is just and what is not. Moreover, Christ takes us on as partners in saving life and making life. For that is our calling: life. Life in our own 21st Century Sodom. Perhaps Christ will use us to be a welcoming place. Perhaps that building with the rainbow stickers can be a place where sexual assault victims feel safe and loved, free of any stigma or shame. It doesn’t happen automatically, but Christ is waiting to partner with us. Maybe we can be a community that breaks the perverse cycle of demanding that women accent their sexuality and then blaming that sexuality when others attack them. Christ is waiting to partner with us. Maybe we can be a community that advocates for a city where the bodies of others are precious, and not free for the strongest to take and do with as they please. Christ is waiting to partner with us. The cries are great, and the sins are grave. Christ is waiting. How will he make life happen here?