We have been on a multiple week journey that concludes today, but in an intense, dramatic, and quite disturbing tale.
Lets pause and take a quick glance back.
A lawyer, like us, asks Jesus to define who is our neighbor in order to justify his lack of care and hospitality towards another, especially if they look, sound, act, think, believe, and/or love differently than us.
Jesus’ response is the parable of the Good Samaritan, confirming that we are to love ALL people and, according to the Gospel of John, it is as Jesus first loved us. (sermon)
Then, we have examples of hospitality through the traditional means of Abraham and Martha, who greeted, invited, provided safe rest, and prepared food. We also had the less traditional hospitality of Mary dwelling, undistracted, in the presence of her guest. (sermon)
Hospitality, or the welcoming of the stranger, was of the up-most importance in the Ancient Near East. Again, it did not matter if you were Greek, Roman, or Israelite. It did not matter if you were Pagan, Jewish, or a follower of Jesus. We know this from the number of stories that echo the theme of reward or punishment based on the hospitality or lack thereof offered.
Before diving into this disturbing tale, I must warn you that it includes sexual violence.
The shirt I am wearing reads “Preach Bravely”. It was designed by the Young Clergy Women International to be a commitment to preach bravely against sexual violence AND the proceeds benefited sexual violence survivors.
I must also address an elephant in the room. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been weaponized and used against our LBGQT+ brothers and sisters, particularly gay men.
I disagree with the weaponizing of scripture, particularly against vulnerable persons. It is a misguided use of God’s Word.
Whether you do or do not consider homosexuality to be a sin, you will find like-minded individuals both within and outside of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), but:
- I am reminded of Jesus telling the religious righteous, who were preparing to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone”; and
- Sodom is NOT about homosexuality.
Abraham and Lot are related and shared a flock, but decided to divide the flock and settle in different lands.
After Abraham provided hospitality to God and the angels, God tells him of the plan to destroy Sodom for their wickedness. Abraham, thinking about Lot and his family, negotiates with God to save Sodom if a few righteous are found.
Lot greets the angels (disguised as men).
Lot invites them into his home.
Lot provides a safe shelter for them to rest their heads.
Lot entertains his guests.
UNTIL, the Sodomites coming knocking on his door.
Sodom, unlike the whole region, did not provide hospitality to travelers or welcome to the stranger for fear that ‘the other’ may stay, ‘the other’ may bring more ‘the other’ with them, and ‘the other’ may steal their wealth.
These Sodomites want the men (angels) to be sent out, in order that the Sodomites could gang rape them. Lot being a good host denies the request, but as a horrible father offers his daughters, who are not ‘the other’ to the Sodomites. The Sodomites refuse the offer, but not because of their sexual orientation.
Sexual violence, including rape, is NOT about sex, sexual desire, or even sexual orientation.
Sexual violence is about control, dominance, humiliation, and de-humanizing the survivor.
We know this from its use with defeated ancient armies, its use in prisons, and its use against women.
This passage is not about sex in a loving relationship between two consenting adults.
The “sin of Sodom” is found throughout scripture and it is quite collective.
- General Wickedness (Genesis 13:13)
- Injustice by not receiving the oppressed (Isaiah 1:10-17)
- Oppression of the poor and needy (Amos 4)
- Adultery and Lying (Jeremiah 23: 14)
- Arrogance and Greed (Ezekiel 16: 49-50)
- Bullying, Boosting, Pride, and Idol Worship (Zephaniah 2: 8-10)
- Social Injustice (Matthew 10:1-15; Ma; Luke 10:1-12)
And in one verse of scripture (Jude 1:7) “sexual immorality”, which brutal sexual violence is sexual immorality.
In fact, prior to the last 200-300 years, religious leaders taught that the “sin of Sodom” was inhospitality.
Professor Jay Michaels, a professor of Jewish ethics, writes:
“The Bible condemns many things in the story of Sodom (lack of hospitality, humiliation of fellow human beings, brutality and violence towards others, pride, decadence, serious breach of human ethical obligations), but homosexuality is not one of them.
Reading the story of Sodom as being about homosexuality is like reading a story of an axe-murder and saying it is about an axe.”
And I want to leave us with the words of Rabbi Joshua Lief Wheeling:
Once the Torah tells us to love your neighbor as yourself but 36 times the Torah tells us to love the stranger. For me its a question of how do I take care of the people who are ‘the other’. I don’t have to be black to think black people should have rights. I don’t have to be elderly or disabled to think everyone should be accomodated. And I don’t have to be gay to be someone who actively works for equal rights for all.”
The “sin of Sodom” was the lack of hospitality of the other, lack of welcoming the stranger, and sexual violence… not homosexuality.
May we, unlike Sodom, welcome the stranger,
provide hospitality to the other,
and love and serve all people as our neighbors.
Scriptures were Genesis 18: 20-32.
Originally Preached on 28 July 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)