Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - June 18 2017

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
June 18, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans  5:1-8; Matthew  9:35-10:23

May the words…

Compare and contrast, compare and contrast.

When I was younger, my parents would read to me before I could read for myself, and I heard a lot of what we call “fables” and “fairy stories” – many were gathered and written down by The Brothers Grimm, but Aesop and Beatrix Potter and Rudyard Kipling played a part as well.  Do you remember these?

They might begin: Once upon a time, there were three little pigs – or Once upon a time, there were three brothers – or Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess … and the stories went on to place these innocents in peril – by wolves, or trolls, or through arduous tasks to prove they were worthy, or by a wicked stepmother. 

When I was slightly older, my dad would mix these stories together into a chilling tale that was usually never finished.  “Once upon a time,” he would start, “there were three little pigs who lived all alone in the great big forest, and one day they set out to seek their fortune.  As they were going along, they came to a narrow and dangerous bridge.  It wasn’t big enough for all of them to cross together, so they went one by one.  And as they crossed, their footsteps rang out – trip trap trip trap, and as soon as each started across, a great big troll cried out from under the bridge, ‘I’m going to eat you up!’”

Now, as you may remember, that’s not how the story of the three little pigs is supposed to go.  My dad would take as many stories as he could remember and mash them together – and I assure you, he did it way better than I can.  But by this time, of course, my brother Seth and I were halfway to hysterics – “No, no!  That’s not how it goes! Stop, Stop!”

It was hysterical. 

But the thing about the fairy stories is this – there is always a hero character who does in the villains.  Some challenges involved winning the hand of an imprisoned princess, and all the suitors would fail the test set by the evil king, except one.  Somehow, he would overcome the perils with brains and wit – never brawn – and win the princess as the evil king died in agonies, and he and the princess would then, of course, “live happily ever after.”

Compare and contrast – the smart, witty, young suitor and the grasping evil king… one is going to win, and it won’t be the king, even though he is powerful and strong.

We see similar comparisons sometimes in Scripture.  Today we heard about Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham has set up his tents in a sheltered place, called Mamre, in an oak forest.  He is sitting down at the entrance to his tent under a tree, smoking his pipe and contemplating the universe, when three young men come to him.  Abraham immediately leaps up and offers them hospitality.  Sarah and Abraham prepare food for their unexpected guests, and while they are picking at the bones, Sarah, from inside the tent hears them talking about her, and telling Abraham that she will have a son.

This is, as far as she can tell, very unlikely to occur, as she is quite old, past the age for childbearing, so she just breaks out laughing. 

“No, no, that’s not how it goes! Stop!”

We don’t actually hear Abraham’s answer – at most all we know is that he didn’t laugh, but he didn’t exactly defend her laughter, either.  It’s kind of accepted that Abraham believed while Sarah doubted. 

And we heard today that what the young men told Sarah and Abraham was fulfilled, and she did bear a son, and they called him “Laughter.”  Or, in Hebrew, “Itzakh” or “Isaac.”

This is a great story, but it’s only half of a bigger one.  It’s as though we’ve brought Snow White safe to the cabin in the forest where the seven dwarfs live, but haven’t gotten to the part where the wicked stepmother is on her way with the poisoned apple.

Abraham walks with the young men along the way as they head out.  They come to a clearing, or perhaps the edge of the forest, and two of them walk on as the third asks himself a question – and then, the scripture says, “The Lord” told Abraham what their errand was.  It was to see whether the rumors the Lord had heard of the injustice practiced by the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were true, and if they were, the cities were to be destroyed.

Once again, Abraham shows his mettle – he argues against this plan; asking if the presence in the cities of 50 righteous men would prevent it.  So the Lord reconsiders, and says, “Alright, if there are 50, I will not destroy.”  Abraham continues – but what if it’s 40?  And so on, back and forth, until they arrive at the number of 10.  Then the Lord goes on, following where the other two men have gone.

Well, we all know how that turned out.  The men arrive in Sodom and are greeted by Lot, who offers them hospitality and a meal – just as his uncle did – and a safe place to pass the night.  Unfortunately, the rest of the men who live in that town are much less hospitable – all of them, scripture says, came out to attack Lot’s houseguests.

They were unsuccessful.

But the cost of their inhospitality was their lives.

I would point out that the order for destruction had already been written before the men arrived, well before the inhabitants moved to attack the Lord’s messengers.  It was only Abraham’s insistence that the plan to destroy the city be abandoned if ten righteous men were found there that they even had a chance to avoid destruction. 

Abraham was righteous; he pleaded for mercy.  Lot was righteous; he acted to save the lives of the visitors.  He even placed his daughters in peril to do so – which, frankly, I have never quite found acceptable.  I suspect the story-writer didn’t either, as there is subsequent event involving those same daughters that is … questionable.  And Lot’s wife, as we all know, did not do so well in the aftermath either – simply because she looked back…  (“Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark”)

But, be that as it may – we have a compare and contrast situation here: Abraham and Lot compared to the denizens of Sodom.  And Abraham and Lot do well, compared to the others.  Abraham has a son; he is granted long life and a son to carry on the family name and tradition; Lot loses his wife and his daughters don’t respect him; but Sodom is destroyed.

Ezekiel wrote later: “As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.”[1]

So, please note: the sentence had been passed before the three men arrived to visit Abraham; they were on their way to destroy the city before Abraham invited them in.  the city was not destroyed because the citizens wanted to attack Lot’s visitors … I guess we can call them angels …, but because of what the people had already done and been for far too long – they were, in short, land pirates, robbing and killing with abandon and without regret or second thought.

Jesus also notes that those who reject God will be destroyed, as he sent the twelve out to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.  He gives them instructions – go to Israel, not to the Samaritans or the Gentiles, stay in one house, bless the house, do the work, and move on.  If you are attacked, move on. 

And then he goes on:  If you are captured, do not worry, the Spirit will give you words, will speak through you.

Actually, he says You will be attacked… “you will be handed over, you will be flogged, you will be dragged before kings and governors.  But when they hand you over, do not worry about what you will say.”[2]

Being a witness, bearing testimony to the presence of God, is not easy, it’s not safe, and it’s not a guarantee of support – but what it is is: salvation.

You will not be alone or abandoned.  No matter what they do to you.  The Spirit of God will be with you.

Compare and contrast.  A hard life, a hard road, with the Light, or the road of dishonor and destruction.

We have the power to choose…

So choose life: 

Love God, love neighbor, be a living testimony to the living God.


[1] Ezekiel 16:48-50, NRSV. Emphasis added.

[2] Matthew 10, paraphrased.

  January 2018  
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