Short comments on the readings for Sunday 24th July 2022 by Canon Dean Fostekew

Genesis 18:20-32

20Then the Lord said, ‘How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.’ 22 So the men turned from there, and went towards Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23Then Abraham came near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ 26And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.’ 27Abraham answered, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ 29Again he spoke to him, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will not do it.’ 30Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ 31He said, ‘Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.’ 32Then he said, ‘Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’

Genesis 18:20-32

“Will you not save the city for the sake of 10 good people?”

Sodom and Gomorrah was a place in uproar. Too many people were having a 'good time’ without a thought for others. Too many were leading lives without thought of God and too many were so hedonistic that they just did what they wanted to do, regardless of how their actions might affect another. It sounds all too familiar to places in the world today and people who think so little of others that they treat them as less than human.

For many centuries it was thought that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality and that was why God destroyed the cities. More recent biblical scholarship has shown this not to be the reason and the reason actually to be the lack of welcome and hospitality shown by the residents of the cities to visitors and strangers.

The residents did not take kindly to the visit of the angels, the young men whom Lot gave hospitality to. They felt threatened by their presence and that their hedonistic lifestyles might be questioned. When they asked Lot to bring the men out so they could ‘know’ them was not to rape them but to murder them! Lot, who knew the value of hospitality - a virtue much expressed in Jewish society - did not want to put his visitors at risk but also wanted to appease the crowd, so he offers the men his daughters instead! Lot wins on one side but falls down spectacularly on another, apparently the rape of his daughters was okay! No wonder God was angry with the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah and no doubt he despaired of Lot as well.

Abraham, who knows much about the weakness of human beings, pleads to God on behalf of the good people in the city and no doubt his relative Lot, that God will no destroy the people if only 10 good people can be found to live there. He bargains well starting with 50 good people and working down! Sadly, not even 10 good people could be found but Lot and his family are warned to leave and not look back.

Society, today needs to heed the lessons of Sodom and Gomorrah. We need to continually ask ourselves how welcoming and hospitable we are as a community to those strangers and needy among us? How welcome are refugees? How welcome are those who are different to us? I wonder what our politicians would say?

Colossians 2:6-19

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. 16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossians 2:6-19

This is another bit of one of Paul’s letters where he goes on about circumcision and uncircumcision. He does seem to have a lot to say on the subject which is not surprising as it was by circumcision that the Jews, the chosen people (men) stood out from their neighbours, who did not circumcise. It is, however, not the actual physical process that Paul is referring to in this piece of his writing but the changes in heart and mind one has to make in order to follow God or more explicitly Jesus.

When we choose to follow Christ, Paul implies that we circumcise our hearts, we become changed in some way and live our lives differently. He also implies that it is how we live out the message of the Gospel, the good news and not the mere unquestioning following  of rules and regulations. The latter are traditions that Paul says are secondary to actually trying to live up to a life lived in the light of Christ.

Paul tells us that life in Christ brings about in us a re-birth as our old sins are swept away and we are encouraged and challenged to follow what Jesus did and said and in what he commands us to do and that command is summed up as:

Love God and love thy neighbour as thy self.

Paul implies that we have to try and follow this so called ‘Golden Rule’ in our daily lives and not to be overly influenced or distracted by human ideas and philosophy that might take one away from the path of Christ. Paul implies that human centred philosophies are false paths and will not lead you to eternal life. In many ways this is a hark back to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah when hedonism ruled and people get hurt by the selfishness of others. This Paul suggests is not the life for a Christian.

The challenge before us is how are we to love God and our neighbours and how well do we love ourselves? If we don’t care for ourselves enough we will end up hurting others. Loving oneself is not being selfish but accepting who one is warts and all and deciding to try and live one’s life as well and as good as possible. If we can accept who we are we can find is more easy to accept and love others forgiving them their shortcomings and by doing so we automatically love God because God created all of us, just as we are. God did not make a mistake in you or me, we make mistakes but we need to remember that even when we do so we will still and always be loved beyond measure by God. With that knowledge it becomes easier to love others but it might take a life time to get there.

Luke 11:1-13

The Lord’s Prayer

11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come.
3   Give us each day our daily bread.
4   And forgive us our sins,
     for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

Luke 11:1-13

One might wonder when Jesus is asked; ‘How can we pray?’  why he not only teaches us the so called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ but also goes on at length about how we are to treat our friends and family. Is giving bread or eggs a prayer to God? Jesus obviously thinks so and so do I, because Jesus never said anything he did not mean. So when we seek an answer from Jesus as how to pray to God we have to take to heart what he actually says. What I interpret his response as is prayer is not only words but actions and the way you treat others.

Words and actions are important to Jesus. He implies that without the right intentions or desire to love thy neighbour ones words no matter how pious will be empty. Jesus suggests that prayer is living the Gospel. Living the Gospel he also implies is hard because you cannot do it by words alone. If someone is hungry feed them, don’t just pray for them; if someone is lonely visit them don’t just pray for them put you prayers into action.

St.Benedict was inspired by what Jesus had to say about prayer and action and incorporated it into his Rule. Prayer is work and work is prayer, he says and what he means is that if one had dedicated oneself to Christ then all one does is prayer and prayer is fed by actions that help others and build up the common good.

Neither work nor prayer on their own help us to live the Gospel we need both. The residents of Sodom and Gomorrah forgot this and we all know how they ended up!