The Sin of Sodom
Rev. Jim Merritt
Trinity MCC of Gainesville
July 25, 2010
On an exciting spring morning, a family from Canada began the long drive to Walt Disney World, just outside Orlando, Florida; a mom, a dad, and two children; the North American dream vacation. Before the first hour had passed first one child and then the other began to insist, “Dad, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” “Hold it,” said Dad, “For just a little while longer.” They stopped at a fuel station, used the bathroom, bought more drinks and hit the road again. They stopped for lunch and dinner and more potty breaks and somewhere deep into the night they stopped at a motel and slept a few hours. When they crossed the Florida state line and saw the beautiful blue sign complete with an orange with blossoms still attached reading, “Welcome to Florida, the Sunshine State,” they thought they had made it to Mecca; sunshine, warmth, sweet oranges and Mickey Mouse…what more could a young family hope for?” They stopped for lunch in Jacksonville, and then saw those wonderful factory outlets in St. Augustine and had to buy some warm weather clothes. The drove on down to Daytona and were tempted by the beaches, but decided to keep moving. Just after I-95 intersects with I-4 for the final trek to Orlando and Mickey Mouse they stopped at a rest area one last time. It was dark and somewhat foreboding, but not to worry; they had done this at least a dozen times by now and after all, this was Florida, the state that welcomes tourists, families and children longing for a glimpse of Mickey and Minnie. They went inside, did their business and loaded back into the car. And at just that moment a truck pulled in behind them and blocked their way. Four angry people; three men and one woman, all white, surrounded the car and began beating on it. The largest man broke the front passenger side window, unlocked the door, pulled Mom out and began yanking off her clothes. The woman pointed a gun at Dad and told him to give her everything, “or else.” The other two men began pulling the children out of the car and tearing off their clothes, too. Mom screamed, begging for the lives of her children, and as if she had committed some mortal sin, she was forced to watch the brutalization of her children. Couldn’t she have gone first? The angry mob, having taken everything the family had, left them lying around their car in pools of blood, tears and body fluids as they sped into the darkness of the night.
That is a very difficult story for us to hear early on this morning; and I tell it because it is based on a true story and because it is so profoundly similar to what happened in the story told in Genesis 19. And for just a few minutes I want us to think together about the sin of Sodom.
I want to share with you some very useful resources on which I am relying in this sermon. First, The Queer Bible Commentary edited by Guest, Goss, West and Bohache, then Mark Jordan’s book, The Invention of Sodomy.
The Sin of the mob – Inhospitality
We southerners expect hospitality. Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson teaches clergy working with her to practice, “Extravagant Hospitality.” Bishop Yvette Flunder preaches and teaches about “radical inclusion,” and expects those acts of inclusion to come with profound hospitality. I know from years of study, teaching and preaching that hospitality was a valued practice in the Hebrew Bible, in the land of Sodom and Gomorrah and in the life of the Lot family. So, angels presented themselves to Lot. They were visiting for just one night and at that time it was not possible to go on the internet, choose one’s favorite hotel and make a reservation for the non-smoking, king size room using one’s frequent guest number. They needed, and according to the standards of the day, were entitled to, the hospitality of the community. Lot, as a decent and upstanding member of the community provided that. He opened up his home, provided them with beds in which to sleep, and a lovely meal provided by Mrs. Lot and the girls. And just when they thought all was well an angry mob appeared banging at the door demand that the angels be turned over to them. This was not the welcome wagon, my sisters and brothers. This was a mob, perhaps motivated by fear of their own destruction, demanding that they be allowed to rape the strangers inside. Rape is not a sexual act. It is violence and aggression acted out and this story points that out clearly. This angry mob wanted literally to penetrate these foreign men, to emasculate them, to womanize them, to take away whatever power they were perceived to have, to take from them, remember this phrase…all that they had and leave them lying around the courtyard. These men were spoiled rotten, fat, haughty, proud and accustomed to getting whatever they wanted including at the gross expense of others. They were guilty of aggression, they were guilty of inhospitality, they were guilty of failing to show care and concern for the stranger as they knew they were called to do. That is the sin of Sodom’s mob. These are the sins of Sodomy.
The Sin of Lot – His own “Family Values”
Let us put ourselves in Lot’s position. We have guests in our homes. We’ve cleaned the house, changed all the linens, and our partners have prepared a delicious meal and each person is savoring every bite. Suddenly there’s a loud sound and a group of people bursts through the door and wants to victimize our guests. We defend them, we protect them in every way possible, we call the police, we set off the panic button, perhaps we reach for weapons, we do everything to protect our family, our guests and our honor. And think of those beautiful children present at table and let us ask this question in our minds, “Could you offer your children to the angry mob?” I want to scream at Lot, “How could you do that,” I want to get in his face and yell, “What are you thinking?” I want to find some way to get his attention and make him get over himself and take care of his family. I understand that raping Lot’s guests was seen as the same as raping Lot. I understand that brutalizing Lot’s guests was the same as brutalizing Lot. I understand that penetrating Lot’s male guests was the same as penetrating Lot. And while I understand all of that I want so scream at the top of my lungs, “Lot, Brother Lot, these are your children, take care of them!” I cannot imagine the horror of the daughters of Lot hearing their father offer them to be raped by an angry mob. I cannot imagine the horror of a mother made powerless by a patriarchal culture listening to the father of her children offer those beloved girls to that angry mob. And yet I know, that’s exactly what happened. Lot bought the lies of patriarchy that men are better, that women are property, that his reputation is more important than the honor and dignity of his female family members, that aggression is okay as long as it protects one’s masculinity. And that my sisters and brother is the sin of Lot; the sin of betrayal of family, the sin of misogyny, the sin of power at the expense of ones beloved.
The sin of Mrs. Lot (Edith)
In my own tradition Mrs. Lot never receives a name. This sort of treatment of women makes me very sad, so I’m going to adopt one of the names our Jewish sisters and brothers give her. I’m going to call her Edith. And I want to confess to you that I tread very carefully here knowing that I live in a male body, raised in a system of privilege the effects of which I am still learning to understand. And I stand here as one committed to equality and justice for all people, including biblical justice.
We’ve been hard on Edith. We’ve used her as an example of what happens when a person disobeys God. We’ve used her as an example of what happens to people who keep looking back and fail to move on. And of course, like the writers of the Hebrew Bible we’ve relished in Edith’s gender; that she is female, that she is weaker, that she is somehow less than. And I want you to hear me clearly that I do not embrace that interpretation as either scripture or gospel in my own experience of God.
I hope I would be like Edith, don’t you? I hope I would be able to understand and deeply feel the impact of what had happened to my family, my friends and my neighbors. I honestly wonder if I could continue to follow Lot anywhere after the behavior Edith had witnessed from him. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to know that beloved members of my family were caught up in the furious destruction of Sodom. I just can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be Edith in that moment. I think in many ways Edith and that mom at the rest area in Florida must have had a lot in common. Both of them must have been horrified as they watched all that they loved most brutalized, destroyed with their very lives passing before these mothers’ eyes. And I want to confess to you that I think I would have looked back, too.
And there’s just one more important lesson we can learn from Edith, from Mrs. Lot. I’m sure that every time Edith hears someone in our churches use this passage of scripture to victimize yet another marginalized oppressed victim of spiritual violence she wants to scream, “NO, Stop that!” And I hear her clearly as she says to us, these are the sins of Sodom; aggression, inhospitality, failing to show concern for the stranger, misogyny, betrayal of family values, betrayal of one’s beloved, unbridled power at the expense of the other. Let us hear the voice of Edith, let us hear the voice of God.
July 25 Ordinary Time 17C “The Sin of Sodom”
1Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
3You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
4Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
5Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
7Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
19The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ 3But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’ 6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ 9But they replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
12 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. 13For 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.’ 14So 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 jesting.
15 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.’ 16But 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. 17When 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.’ 18And Lot said to them, ‘Oh, no, my lords; 19your 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. 20Look, 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!’ 21He said to him, ‘Very well, I grant you this favour too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the city was called Zoar.*23The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.
24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; 25and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.