Lot’s Rescue

Scriptures: Genesis 19:12-29

 

Title: Lot’s Rescue

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • God’s justice & mercy go together
  • God’s mercy to Lot (and Abraham)
  • Jesus’ commentary
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

In winter time Robyn makes a really nice potato and leek soup

–         Of course to be able to eat the soup we need a bowl

–         The bowl is different from the soup in pretty much every way

–         The soup is liquid while the bowl is solid

–         The soup fits the shape of the vessel it’s in, while the bowl holds its shape

–         And, you can eat the soup but you can’t the bowl

–         The point is, the soup and the bowl go together even though they are quite different

 

Today we continue our series on the life of Abraham

–         The main over-arching theme of the last two Sundays’ readings has been God’s justice

–         God’s justice is a bit like a bowl in that it contains God’s mercy

–         God’s justice & mercy go together – just as we can’t eat soup without a bowl so too we can’t really have God’s mercy without his justice

 

Two weeks ago, in Genesis 18, we heard how Abraham explored some of the facets of God’s justice including that God does not ignore injustice – he is affected by the cries of the oppressed and has compassion on them

–         This tells us God’s justice is motivated by mercy

  • – Furthermore, God’s justice differentiates between the righteous and the wicked – the fate of the righteous is not determined by the wicked
  • – To the contrary, God in his mercy allows time for the righteous minority to have a redeeming effect on the world around them

–         In a nut shell, God’s justice & mercy go together

 

In the first part of Genesis 19, last week’s Scripture reading, God’s two angelic witnesses checked out the situation on the ground (in Sodom) and could not find even 10 righteous people in the place

–         The angels did find Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who tried his best but in the end wasn’t able to influence his neighbours for good

–         By their own actions the men of Sodom condemned themselves

 

In today’s reading, Genesis 19 verses 12-29, we see God’s mercy & justice worked out as the Lord rescues Lot before destroying Sodom & Gomorrah

–         You may remember from last week how Lot showed hospitality to the two angels in the form of men, giving them a meal and a bed for the night

–         We pick up the story from verse 12 of Genesis 19…

 

Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.”

So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city.

When they had brought them outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.”

And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!”

He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favour too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” Therefore the city was called Zoar.  The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.

Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.So when God destroyed the cities of the Plain, God remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities in which Lot had settled.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading

 

God’s justice & mercy go together:

Environmental activist and writer, George Monbiot, narrates a Ted Talk about how wolves change rivers

 

Wolves are apex predators – they are at the top of the food chain

–         We all know that wolves kill certain creatures (including humans) and so they have a bad reputation – we have fairy tales about the big bad wolf, wolves are scary creatures in our imagination

–         What scientists have discovered is that apex predators (like wolves) are crucial for maintaining a healthy ecosystem

–         As well as taking life, wolves also give life and foster bio-diversity – so they may not deserve the bad reputation they have

 

The classic example is Yellowstone National Park in the United States

–         In the 1920’s wolves were eradicated from Yellowstone Park

–         As a consequence the population of elk & deer exploded

–         Elk & deer are herbivores – they only eat trees and plants

–         Their effect, in large numbers, was quite devastating on the vegetation in Yellowstone – sort of like opossums in NZ native bush

–         Park rangers tried to cull the deer but it wasn’t enough

 

Then, in 1995 after nearly 70 years absence, 41 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and the impact was incredible

–         The wolves killed a small number of the elk & deer for food but more significantly the wolves’ presence changed the behaviour of the elk

–         The elk & deer now avoided certain places like valleys & gorges where they were more vulnerable to being caught by the wolves

–         Immediately the vegetation in those areas started growing back

 

With the return of trees and shrubs birds returned to feed and nest

–         More trees meant the return of beavers who used the wood to make dams

–         Beavers are eco engineers – they create niche environments for other species

–         The dams they built provided habitats for otters & musk rats & ducks & fish & reptiles & amphibians

–         All this bio-diversity because of the wolves. But wait, there’s more…

 

The wolves killed some of the coyotes which meant more mice and rabbits which in turn attracted more hawks, more foxes and more badgers

–         Eagles and ravens came to feed on the carcasses left by the wolves

–         The population of bears also rose – partly because there were more berries growing on the regenerating shrubs

 

The really remarkable thing is that the rivers changed in response to the wolves

–         When there were no wolves the rivers kept changing course and meandering all over the place

–         But with the return of the wolves the regenerating forest stabilised the land

–         With more trees there was less erosion and the banks of the rivers collapsed less often, which meant the rivers became more fixed in their course and less meandering

–         The wolves’ presence had a flow on effect which actually changed the physical geography of the place

 

In some ways (although not in every way) God’s justice is like a wolf

–         Just as the presence of wolves improved bio-diversity & was good for the environment so too God’s justice has a positive, stabilising effect for all

–         We may fear God’s justice (much like we fear wolves) but ultimately the Lord’s justice is life giving

 

Now we shouldn’t press this analogy between wolves and God’s justice too far

–         God’s justice isn’t prowling around ready to pick off some poor unfortunate – to the contrary, God’s justice is keeping a protective eye on the unfortunate

 

The point is: God’s justice actually facilitates his mercy for all of creation

–         Just as wolves & bio-diversity go together, so too God’s justice & mercy go together – they can’t be separated

 

As we’ve already covered, over the past couple of weeks, the people of Sodom & Gomorrah were wreaking havoc and having a destructive effect on those around them – they were beyond redemption

–         They had consumed others so God’s justice consumed them

–         The measure we use for others is the measure God uses for us

 

While this thought might strike terror in the minds of the oppressor – it is good news to the oppressed

–         God’s justice is actually an act of mercy for the oppressed

–         If you are being bullied and someone removes the bully then you experience that as an act of mercy

–         By wiping out the wicked the Lord brought stability to the region and respite to the oppressed, so they could live their lives in peace

–         There is no peace without justice and mercy

 

God’s mercy to Lot (and Abraham)

We also see God’s mercy in his treatment of Lot

–         The angels ask Lot if he has any other family in the city, saying they need to get out quickly

Lot goes to the two men engaged to his daughters and tries to warn them but they think he’s joking

–         This is telling – the people of Sodom were oblivious to their wrong doing

–         They simply couldn’t believe that disaster would fall on them

–         Everything seemed okay to them – they were over confident

At dawn the angels tell Lot and his wife & daughters to leave the city quickly but Lot and his family linger, they are reluctant to go

–         Perhaps this indicates they don’t quite believe the angels either

–         Or maybe they are simply afraid to let go of the old & familiar

–         In any case they don’t realise the urgency of the situation so the angels lead them out by the hand, the Lord being merciful to them

 

Once they are out of the city the angels tell Lot to run for the hills but Lot doesn’t want to – he asks to be allowed to go to another city (Zoar)

–         So Lot is shown mercy again and allowed to flee to Zoar

–         Lot’s presence in Zoar would have saved the people of that place too – mercy you see

–         Sadly, Lot’s wife looks back (or turns back to Sodom) and becomes a pillar of salt

 

I was talking with Neville & John during the week and they told me about Nigel, the gannet

–         In an attempt to attract gannets to Mana Island the Department of Conservation placed some concrete gannets on the cliffs of the island and played recordings designed to lure real gannets

–         Their cunning plan worked

–         For the first time in 40 years a gannet flew in to roost but, instead of bringing a partner, this solitary gannet (named Nigel, because he had no mates) quickly became infatuated with one of the 80 decoys

–         Nigel built a nest out of seaweed and sticks for the concrete bird and was seen apparently trying to woo it.

–         Suffice to say Nigel’s love remained unrequited

 

A month or two ago, after a slight change to the sound system, three real gannets landed and took up residence at the opposite end of the colony.

–         Despite the company of real birds, Nigel stuck to his concrete mate, and it was next to “her” that he was recently found dead [1]

–         Nigel’s story might be funny if it wasn’t so tragic

 

In some ways Nigel reminds me of Lot and his family with their misplaced allegiance

–         Like Nigel, Lot’s wife was unable to leave the dead for the living, she clung to the decoy and missed the real thing

–         Nigel makes me wonder, what are the concrete decoys (or fake gannets) in our lives?

 

Our reading today finishes with the comment that God was remembering Abraham when he went out of his way to save Lot

–         What does it mean that God remembered Abraham when he rescued Lot?

–         Well, it could mean that God remembered his conversation with Abraham

–         Previously Abraham had appealed to God’s sense of justice & mercy by saying, ‘Surely you won’t destroy the righteous with the wicked?’

–         The problem (as I see it) was that Lot’s righteousness wasn’t clear cut

–         Lot wasn’t perfect – he was relatively righteous compared to his neighbours, but that’s not saying very much

–         Lot’s righteousness was sort of a grey area

 

The tradition with the umpire’s decision in cricket is that the batsman always gets the benefit of the doubt

–         So, for example, if the appeal for LB is unclear the batsman stays in

–         With the technology available to us today there is a lot less doubt – but where there is still doubt the batsman should not be given out

 

In Genesis 19, it seems that God was giving Lot the benefit of the doubt

–         Lot’s righteousness was marginal but God remembered his conversation with Abraham, and went beyond the justice with mercy Abraham had asked for – and God chose to save Lot

 

Lot’s rescue was as much an act of mercy for Abraham as it was for Lot

–         By saving Lot, God was also saving Abraham the grief of losing a close family member.

 

Jesus’ commentary:

The story of Sodom & Gomorrah and the rescue of Lot is a paradigm for God’s justice & mercy

–         In fact Jesus used this story to illustrate what it will be like when he returns in glory

–         In Luke 17 Jesus was asked about the coming of God’s kingdom

–         And this is what Jesus said…

 

For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

  • – [In other words, when Jesus (the Son of Man) returns it will be sudden, unexpected & public [2] ]

…Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

 

Part of the message here is, don’t be like Nigel the gannet, don’t cling to what is false

–         Don’t be like Lot’s wife, don’t go back for what is already dead

–         When the opportunity for salvation presents itself, take it

–         If you are floating in the open ocean, clinging to a piece of drift wood and a boat comes along, throwing you a life line – you don’t cling to your drift wood, you let go of the wood and grab hold of the line

–         Jesus is the one in the rescue boat who throws us that life line    

 

Conclusion:

Passages, like the ones I have read this morning, can be frightening to us – like stories of the big bad wolf

–         It’s tempting for me as a preacher to miss out these bits

–         After all, who wants to hear about God punishing people

–         I would rather preach about good Samaritans helping strangers

–         And prodigal sons being forgiven by loving fathers

–         And lepers being healed by Jesus

–         But if we don’t hear the difficult bits, about God’s justice, then we can’t fully appreciate his mercy

Just as we can’t see the stars in the sky without the darkness of night

–         So too we can’t see God’s mercy apart from his justice

–         These things go together…

–         We can’t have grace without truth

–         We can’t know we are forgiven without first realising we have sinned

–         We can’t experience healing without first being wounded or sick

–         We can’t have freedom without responsibility

–         We can’t have faith without uncertainty

–         We can’t share in Christ’s glory without sharing in his suffering

–         We can’t follow Jesus without carrying our cross

–         We can’t have resurrection without death

Let us pray…

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/18-february-2018-lots-rescue

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    The sermon offers a number of images to express the idea that God’s justice & mercy go together – e.g. soup and a bowl, wolves and bio-diversity, stars and the night sky.

–         Discuss (reflect on) the different nuances of these images – e.g. in what sense is God’s justice like a wolf (and in what sense is it not)?

–         What other images can you think of to reflect this idea that God’s justice & mercy go together?

3.)    Who would have experienced the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah as an act of God’s mercy?  Why?

4.)    How did God show mercy to Lot in Genesis 19?

–         How did God show mercy to Abraham in Genesis 19?

 

5.)    What are the concrete decoys (fake gannets) in our lives?

6.)    What does the story of Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot share in common with the return of Jesus? (refer Luke 17)

7.)    How do you feel reading these passages (i.e. Genesis 19 & Luke 17)?

–         Why do you feel this way?

8.)    Take some time to reflect on the pairings at the end of the message – e.g. we can’t have grace without truth, etc.

–         What are you in touch with as you meditate on these?

 

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/101073714/the-wrong-ending-nigel-the-lonely-gannet-found-dead-beside-his-concrete-love

 

[2] Refer footnotes in NIV Study Bible, Luke 17:24, page 1574

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