“That’s great, God, and pardon me for saying so, your Mightiness,
but what if we only find 35 of the 40 righteous people?”
Abraham as negotiator.
Or Abraham as a toddler wheedling his dad into giving him more candy…
But it doesn’t stay hilarious long.
Because Abraham is trying to head off a firebombing,
he’s trying to avoid Hiroshima and Nagasaki
in the neighboring town of Sodom.
Abraham is negotiating not for his life
but for the lives of all the people who populate those towns.
We’re told in the story that Sodom and Gomorrah were rotten to the core,
evil with a capital E, a black-hat, and a twirling mustache,
so why shouldn’t God destroy them?
In the language of myth and story, it makes complete sense.
Yet we have Abraham here talking God down,
desperately trying to save these towns.
Maybe they were evil people,
but we know from our own experience
that even our enemies have some humanity.
Even the worst people we can think of
can be kind to their elderly parents
and take care of their dogs.
There’s something worth saving…
This silly story shows Abraham to be a person who speaks up,
who, in the face of the awesome, destructive power of God,
speaks the truth.
He is persistent to the point of absurdity because someone needs to be. And it shows God to be one who listens.
There have been Abrahams throughout history
speaking out for the vulnerable people,
even for the horrible people,
to avoid destruction and misery.
Just recently, Malala Yousafzai, a female Pakistani student,
was shot in the head by the Taliban
after speaking out for education rights for girls.
She didn’t die and after that experience,
after she’d already taken her life into her hands
to speak truth to power,
she spoke to the United Nations Youth Assembly
saying that every person in the world deserves an education. She’s 16.
You can watch the video of her speech
on the Good Shepherd Facebook page.
How often do you speak up in your daily life? How often do you need to?
I want to be honest with you for a moment.
I want to say some things that we don’t say in church much.
And why not?
I’ve been reading noted atheist
Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great.
And I’ve found myself agreeing with him.
Not that God is a fiction,
but that religious people have frequently been and continue to be awful.
This is what we don’t talk about.
He’s been describing countless atrocities
that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others
have perpetrated on one another
in the many names of our God.
Genocide is all too common.
The acculturation Americans committed against native peoples,
taking children from their families,
forcibly suppressing their culture and history,
because we Christians knew better.
Clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church
as well as many other denominations including our own
is an intolerable sin.
People of various religious professions
have rejected inoculations and health precautions
that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Most of us in middle America
either don’t know about the terrible things going on
or don’t know what to do and shield ourselves from it,
going about our lives in constructed ignorance.
This is not what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to do.
We dress up on Sundays and come to our beautiful meeting house
and sing about hope and smile
all the while our hearts are breaking
for our brothers and sisters suffering from alcoholism
or our parents dying of cancer
or our friends or ourselves whose marriages are falling apart.
All the while, our hearts are breaking
for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti
or the gays and lesbians being murdered in Uganda, Russia, Iran.
All the while, we cover over those broken hearts with duct tape
and leave here to go about our daily lives
much the way we always do because we can’t possibly do anything,
This is not what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to do.
I heard a story on the radio about a high school in Chicago in dire straits.
Harper High had something like 32 students shot in a year.
Not all of them died, but consider the trauma of that statistic alone. Additionally, most of their students are on some sort of assistance
and all of them know more than one person in prison.
Most of them carry or have access to guns.
And more than a few of them are hungry.
The reporter spoke of walking down the hall with an administrator,
And running into a student who should have been in class
who was obviously upset.
He was embarrassed. He said that in his classroom
the teacher had set up a reward for students who were on time.
You got a cookie.
He had not been able to go home the night before
and hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day.
When he went up to get his cookie, he took two.
And when the teacher told him to put one back, he refused.
Because he was so hungry.
Which got him kicked out of the classroom.
This is not uncommon.
In Cincinnati, the Freestore/Foodbank has volunteers
make up what they call PowerPacks—
a small bag of food items that do not
need to be refrigerated,
do not need to be heated up,
and don’t require tools to open.
They’re for kids whose parents can’t or don’t feed them
over the weekend.
Freestore/Foodbank says they know
they’re not covering all the kids in this situation,
but they pack and distribute 4,000 a week.
The Freestore is speaking up for them, but who else?
We have a voice to speak up.
Martin Luther King, Jr preached at Riverside Church, NY in 1967,
“On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”
Sometimes we’ve done it well.
Christopher Hitchens is wrong not to mention
any of the brave, beautiful, sacrificial things
Christians have done over 2000 years.
The nun Constance and her companions
who stayed in Memphis to give comfort to those dying
of yellow fever and then died themselves.
St. Alban who dressed as a Christian and allowed himself
to be killed so that a guest in his house could escape.
Corrie ten Boom and her family who hid away many Jews
from the horror of the Holocaust
and were themselves imprisoned in a concentration camp.
Beautiful. Brave. Sacrificial.
And yet…the Jericho road is still a dangerous road to walk.
We can continue to walk it like nothing has happened.
Or we can walk the Jericho road paying attention to the people around us,
whether we know them or not,
looking for signs of abuse,
listening for problems in the community that we can respond to.
Do kids in your neighborhood school receive PowerPacks? Why?
What else is going on there that you could get involved in?
Is someone at work a bit of a bully?
How often do you stand up to him or her?
Are you moved by a story on TV about families with no clean water?
Get involved with a water charity.
We have the power to speak.
We can speak to our broken hearts and remove the walls we’ve set up
because we don’t know what to do.
We can speak to someone who is hurting and find out why.
And we can speak up for the injustice we see.
“We have the power to speak, to penetrate the shadows and the fog.
Our lives begin to end on the day that we are silent about things that matter. Why are we so silent?”
Jesus’ disciples, perhaps seeing all this pain and their own small voices,
asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
They were saying, “How do we speak to God like Abraham did?
How do we cry out for justice? How do we find our voices?”
And maybe when Jesus gave them what we call the Lord’s Prayer,
he meant it as a prayer to be memorized and recited
to remind us of whose we are.
Or maybe he meant it as a list of petitions for us to add to,
to take into our own lives.
Maybe he meant for us to use the Lord’s Prayer as a revolutionary chant,
to give us courage to change the Jericho road.
Maybe Jesus knew about folks like Christopher Hitchens
and about folks like us who are only a hairsbreadth away from violence and condemnation.
Maybe Jesus knew about all of us and gave us the Lord’s Prayer
to remind us of our purpose,
to shift our brains away from “me, me, me” and on to “us, us, us.”
I want to teach you a version of the Lord’s Prayer by the band the Psalters
in the hopes that it becomes an earworm,
that you can’t stop singing it,
that it changes how you think when you sing it.
[teach “The Lord’s Prayer” by the Psalters]
Friends, let’s all wake up and stand up and speak up.