Sermon for July 24th, 2022
The dialogue between God and Abraham in our passage from Genesis this morning could almost read as a Monty Python sketch. The back and forth between them over how many righteous people were worth saving the town for is definitely absurd and the repetitiveness of Abraham’s questions treads the line between tedious and amusing.
God has heard that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are filled with the most heinous, awful sinners. What were they up to? People love to speculate, but the truth is we don’t really know, but that is a bible study for another time, because it doesn’t really matter for my argument this morning. You can appreciate this passage without knowing how this particular story begins or ends.
God says he has heard bad things about Sodom and Gomorrah and is going to see if it is as bad as he has heard. He is coming down as the great divine judge. Abraham asks him a question: What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you sweep them away with the sinners? And God says: no, if I find 50 righteous I will forgive them all. Then Abraham says, well what if it is 45? And God says, OK, 45. Abraham: How about 40? God: alright, 40. Abraham: do I hear 30? 20? 10?
And God says, OK, OK, OK! 10. If I find 10 righteous people I will forgive the whole town. The exchange is very amusing.
Now how this story ends is a whole different sermon, although since the air isn’t working in here this morning I am probably missing a great opportunity to preach about some hellfire and brimstone, but that’s not really what this passage is about, so I’ll skip it. Forget about Sodom and Gomorrah for a minute. Stop fantasizing about what you think those folks were doing and pay attention to this relationship that we see between Abraham and God right here.
Abraham knows that he has no business questioning God this way. As he says, he is but dust and ashes. What business does he have trying to negotiate with God? Why should God even be talking to him or listening to him? Why should God care what Abraham thinks at all? God doesn’t have to justify himself to Abraham. He is God. End of argument. You could say that Abraham is almost being impertinent or disrespectful, except that he’s not. Not really. Abraham understands his position in relationship to God. He is dust and ashes and he is speaking to the Judge of all the earth. Abraham knows that he really doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so he is very respectful each time he approaches God, almost to the point of being obsequious or annoying, but he is still bold enough to do it. He is still bold enough to speak to God. Abraham knows that he has no business talking to God, but he talks to God anyways. He is humble and then he is bold. He is bold, and then he is humble. Balancing boldness and confidence with humility and reverential fear, that is a tough call. That is what makes Abraham so remarkable. He isn’t just some jerk who tells God what to do; but neither is he so self-effacing that he refuses to believe that God can be spoken to by mere humans. Abraham is both: he is bold and he is humble. And that is remarkable because it is always so tempting to just be one or the other.
We all know people of faith. We all know Christians who are better at being one or the other. There are people out there just brimming with confidence and boldness. 1000% sure that they know what God’s will is for their life, and for yours, and not afraid to tell you about it. They are not a bit afraid to talk to God, but you have to wonder sometimes if they ever stop talking long enough to listen to what God has to say. We know those Christians, but on the other hand there are Christians who are so meek and mild that they don’t really appreciate how much God loves them, don’t believe that God can use them, or they may be so afraid of giving offense that they just cannot stand up for anything. We know those Christians too. As people of faith we need to balance boldness with humility. We may not ever get it to be a perfect balance all the time, but the people who veer off too far one way or the other are gonna miss God speaking to them and their going to miss God’s will. People that are too bold are going to confuse their voice for God’s voice and their will for God’s will. People that are too humble are going to think that God doesn’t speak to them at all or doesn’t have a will for their lives, or that God won’t act here and now.
This is a perennial problem that we need to be aware of. Paul was aware of it. Jesus was aware of it. Paul warned the Colossians about being “puffed up without a cause by a human way of thinking.” He knew that some people get caught up in their own philosophy and traditions and ways of thinking that they end up leading others astray, often in the name of God and Christ. He warned them about being too bold. But Paul also wanted the Colossians to know exactly who they were in Christ, how they had been forgiven and saved at a great price, and just what grace they had received when God saved them. They couldn’t be too bold, but they shouldn’t be too humble either.
And our Lord, when he taught the central prayer of our faith, he taught us to come before God boldly, addressing God as Father, asking for our daily needs and asking for forgiveness, confident that God can and will supply both to us in unlimited measure, but at the same time we are reminded in that prayer that it is God that is truly holy, it is God’s kingdom that needs to come, God’s will that needs to be done. The forgiveness we have been promised, we must be willing to share with others. And although we may be bold and confident, we too may be tested and tried and we live in constant need of God’s grace and protection. It takes boldness and humility. It took boldness for Jesus to say to the crippled man “your sins are forgiven”; it took humility for him to help him to stand and walk. It takes boldness to hold the bread and say “this is my body,” it takes humility to get down and wash your disciples’ feet. Jesus had boldness and humility. It takes boldness to ask God for what you need, especially when it requires great persistence; it takes humility to trust that God IS giving you good things when what you get is NOT exactly what you asked for.
The life of faith takes boldness and humility. It takes boldness to follow Jesus; it takes humility to know that you aren’t the first person to do so. It takes boldness to speak to God; it takes humility to listen to him. It takes boldness to stand up for what is right in the world; it takes humility to know that even in trying to do what is right, you might do the wrong thing or come to the wrong conclusion or make a bad decision. It takes boldness to read the scriptures as the word of God; it takes humility to know that your interpretation of what is written may not be the only one or the correct one. It takes boldness to share this faith with others; it takes humility to learn how to share it in ways where people feel more loved than judged. It takes boldness to talk about God’s anger at sin and unrighteousness; it takes humility to know that it is only by God’s forgiving grace that any of us are saved.
Boldness and humility. Knowing that you are unworthy to talk to God, but talking to him anyways. Knowing that you are dust and ashes, but dust and ashes that God has already raised from the grave. Knowing that you are a sinner, who makes mistakes and gets things wrong, and at the same time knowing that you have a place in God’s kingdom and a share in Christ’s righteousness. Knowing that you can ask for forgiveness and knowing that you need it. Knowing that God speaks and also knowing that God listens. Boldness and humility. It cannot be either or. As Christians we need both.