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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19

During one of our lunch meetings some time ago, Marvin asked me if I was ready to deliver another sermon. Without hesitation I told him I was. It had been a while and I enjoy the theological challenge.

With a glimmer in his eye, Marvin looked at me and asked if I didn't want to know the biblical passage first before I made such a confident answer. This of course only made me more interested.

He asked me if I wanted to know what I would be preaching on. I answered Yes, very intrigued and only slightly intimidated.

Sodom and Gomorrah.

Theological challenge indeed.

There are a handful of scriptural passages that come with their own baggage—passages that are approached with a certain attitude, that are used in a particular way. These passages are, for many, speed bumps in one way or another along the journey of understanding and wrestling—and coping—with what is in this book.

We get hung up on certain perspectives and don't always think of turning things around or even shifting them slightly to see it all at a different angle, through a different lens.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been among those scriptural passages that are loaded full of all kinds of baggage and history and interpretation—so much that the text is bloated with commentary and agendas.

This is the problem with familiarisation. We become so used to reading and hearing Scripture in a certain way it becomes ingrained in our minds with that certain image. And this happens all the time.

We hear the birth stories of Jesus conflated so many times that we forget the scriptural narrative has the Magi coming when Jesus is a toddler not a swaddled newborn, and we don't realise that many of the components present in our full nativity scenes were added by St Francis of Assisi.

Unfortunately, decorating Scripture with commentary and loading it with agendas is also a result of ignorance. We often read a biblical account superficially, isolated from any information other than our own experiences and understanding of the world.

We read the stories of Jesus' birth without recognising that the Greek, in context, in fact implies that Mary gave birth in the back attachment of a relatives' home where the family's farm animals lived—a guestroom, not an inn. Jesus would've been born in an overflowing home where they had no room or no care to make room for a pregnant cousin or niece, forcing the Holy and Anointed One into what is essentially the garage.

So what else do we miss? What else do our familiarised, isolated readings gloss over?

In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah there is much.

When biblical scholars study the cultural context of passages in the Bible it's known as higher criticism or historical criticism. This discipline has become somewhat of default among serious scholars of Scripture, particularly in the study of Paul's writings.

But the historical context is just as important for the Hebrew Bible as well.

Traditionally, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been synonymous with condemnation of homosexuality. It is likely what most of us associate the passage with.

When someone mentions Sodom and Gomorrah I'm sure the first image that comes to mind is a mob of men who seek to have sex with other men. It's ingrained into us, it's the default teaching—the piece of the narrative we've latched on to. This certainly had been the case for me.

But should it be the case? Is this the only piece the story has to offer the larger puzzle? Or is there something more going on here? Something we've missed in the three thousand years since this story was recorded?

The first place to begin of course is with the text itself. And the text itself lets us know in a few ways that something serious is going on. I mean, when angelic visitors appear you know the story is reaching a critical level.

We're told outright near the end of chapter 18 that the cry from within Sodom and Gomorrah has reached the ears of God—and the cry against the two cities is so great because the sin of the two cities is grave, it is grievous, it is heavy.

God tells Abraham, in an interesting and intimate interaction between the two, that God will go down to the cities to see if the inhabitants are as bad as the outcry that has come up to God accuses them of being. And if it's not as bad as it sounds, then either way God will find out directly, through experience.

Though in chapter 18 it is not directly stated, Abraham picks up on the implication that God has set out to exact some sort of sweeping and devastating punishment upon Sodom equal to the level of sin they are allegedly parading.

We who know the story remember the divine visitors confirmed what God heard. And the two cities were punished by being destroyed.

So what condemned the two cities to such a fate? What was that outcry against them all about? What was God so shocked about that he had to corroborate the allegations?