Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sodom and Gomorrah and Emmaus (Genesis 19:4-5; Luke 24:30-32)

“Before they went to bed, the men of the city of Sodom, both young and old, the whole population, surrounded the house. They called out to Lot and said, “Where are the men who came with you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them.” (Genesis 19:4-5, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“It was as He (Jesus) reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight. So they said to each other, ‘Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking to us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:30-32 Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Sodom & Gomorrah 4, Sodom & Gomorrah series by Alessandro Bavari

No hate is as tenacious as religiously sanctioned hate. The story of Sodom traditionally justifies the utter rejection of queer folk. Raising the question, does God approve of hate?

To answer this question from the perspective of the Sodom and Gomorrah text we must note that before our strangers thread their way to Sodom, they first visit Abraham and Sarah. The couple extends hospitality to the strangers as was the custom of a nomadic society. Guests, expected or not, got the red carpet treatment. Abraham sends word to kill the fatted calf and have it served on the good china with the wine put back for special occasions. Typically in these encounters it was the host’s duty to bless the travelers. However, it turns out that our strangers are actually messengers of God. Instead of receiving the blessing they in turn bless old Abraham and Sarah with the news that within a year Sarah will bear a bouncing baby boy.

Then the messengers journey onto Sodom. The strangers enter the town as evening is falling. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, offers to take them to his home for supper and to house them for the night. Lot is aware that Sodom is a rough city. Hearing of the messengers’ presence, the town’s men descend upon Lot’s house in order to gang rape the strangers as a show of dominance through sexual aggression. 

A more recent example of this dynamic is the prison of Abu Ghraib at the hight of the Iraqi war. You will remember that sexual humiliation was part of the routine at the hands of the interrogators. At Abu Ghraib we recognized this for what it was - an act of power and humiliation. Like the American personnel at Abu Ghraib, the actions of the men of Sodom had nothing at all to do with same gender loving relationships.

You may counter, “But pastor, Sodom and Gomorrah is scripture!” And it is. Yet, our interpretation of what took place there is not scripture. So let us look at another biblical text which also speaks to this issue of host and guests, of strangers and messengers, of meals and hospitality.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, two disciples are threading their way to Emmaus when they are joined by a stranger. Once again the stranger is more than he presents. Once again we arrive at a village at evening. Once again there is invitation to enter a home and share a meal. 

We are poised at the edge of our seats, aren’t we? We know there can be two outcomes here. There can be an Abraham and Sarah extension of friendship. Or, there can be the Sodom and Gomorrah aggrandizement of ego needs and self-interest. The issue of hospitality is forefront for us. For we know hospitality will determine how the story concludes.

We enter the home with the two disciples and the stranger. The door is shut. It’s two against one. The disciples, living the Abrahamic faith, extend hospitality. They even give the stranger the opportunity to bless the meal served in their house. Upon blessing and breaking the bread the stranger is recognized as the resurrected Christ - the presence of God in their midst.   

The interplay in these three stories between God as stranger and God as host is challenging. As Dr. Kenneth Samuel states: “This means that at times we may be challenged to host God in the stranger, or we may have the need to be hosted by God as strangers. Displacement and dislocation are universal experiences.”  And certainly we all bear wounds from such experiences in our lives.

Back, though, to our original question - Does God approve hating LGBT folk? No. God does not sanction gay hate. For Sodom and Gomorrah were never about hate. God is telling us to welcome the stranger, even as God welcomed us when we were strangers.