Thursday, July 8, 2021

Sodomy - a surprising twist...

Text: Matthew 10.7–15 & Genesis 19.1-11

As you’ll probably know, it’s my policy to preach as often as possible from the published Lectionary – that is the list of readings provided by the Church.  I do so because over the cycles of years, the Lectionary is designed to give us access to all the key biblical texts – the foundations of our faith.  But once in a while, the Lectionary throws me a curve-ball, like today!  The Gospel reading of today is almost exactly the same as the Gospel reading for Sunday.  It is in fact Matthew’s account of the same story told by Mark…the story of Jesus sending out his disciples, very simply equipped, to spread the good news of the Kingdom.

So, if you want to know what main message of that story, at least in my opinion, then I invite you to read last Sunday’s sermon.  Essentially, I argued that Jesus sent his disciples out without possessions, so that they (and therefore we) could learn how to travel lightly in the world.  But, as with all Biblical texts, there is often more than one meaning to be discovered. 

Matthew, in fact, offers us some extra emphasis (compared to Mark) on one very important matter:  and it’s this…  After telling his disciples to shake the dust from their feet against any town which refuses to welcome them, Jesus proffers a dire warning against the people of such a town.  “Truly I tell you,” he says,  “it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.”

Notice, that here, Jesus explicitly links the concept of ‘welcome’ and hospitality with the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah.

“Wait a minute!”  (I hear some cry).  “Surely the sin of Sodom & Gomorrah was something else entirely?  That’s why we call it Sodomy, isn’t it?”

Well perhaps not.  Perhaps our historical obsession with the subject of same-sex attraction has put a particular gloss onto the ancient story.  Let’s consider, for a moment, what happens...

Three ‘angels’ – messengers of God – arrive at Sodom, where they are given hospitality by Lot.  They have come to see whether there are any righteous people in the City.  But before they turn in for the night, an angry mob gathers outside the house – demanding that these troublesome inquisitors should be brought out of the house – so that the crowd can ‘know’ them (to use the subtle phrase of the King James Bible).

Lot refuses.  He has granted hospitality to these messengers, and they are now, by the ancient code, under his protection.  He is SO convinced of his responsibility that he even offers his young daughters to the baying mob outside.

Looking at this story, and especially the way that Jesus himself uses it as an example, we are confronted with some very challenging questions.  The first question is whether ‘Sodomy’ actually has anything to do with what we general think it does.  This fresh interpretation, and remembering Jesus’ stern warning, suggests that the failure to offer and secure a welcome to strangers is a far greater sin.

The second question is, of course, ‘why did the crowd want to (cough) ‘know’ the angels’?  The answer is that the crowd wanted to punish the angels for coming to judge them.  They wanted to scare them and send them on their way – and they proposed to use rape as their weapon.  Rape of any kind is a heinous crime, and a terrible offence against any notion of hospitality and welcome.  But it has nothing to do with committed, faithful, loving relationships between consenting adults.

When referring to the same story, Jesus, we notice, says nothing about same-sex attraction.  He invites us to think instead about the whole notion of hospitality, and welcome.  And if the welcome of strangers was such a big issue for him, how much more so should it be for us?

A few verses later, after today’s reading, Jesus says ‘Whoever welcomes you also welcomes me, and the one who sent me’.  What kind of welcome do we offer to people who come to us?  Do we welcome them with the same extravagant love for the stranger that God requires?

The word ‘welcome’ is ‘an expression of joy towards someone whose coming is pleasing’.  “It is well (or good) that you have come!”  Jesus teaches us that the failure to provide hospitality really was the greatest sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  And that fact leaves us with a challenge.  How shall we, as a church, as a nation, and individuals and as a community, live up to the immense challenge of being those who truly welcome others in Jesus’ name?



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