The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s181g13   Sunday 14  7/7/2013

'it will be more tolerable for Sodom'  Luke 10.12

I find it significant that when Jesus makes reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, he minimises their culpability and suggests that the rejection by the orthodox and the devout of that generation to the good news would incur greater condemnation.   This is in stark contrast to how Sodom has been viewed as much now as it was then.   It was the byword for the place of depravity.   The 'King's Cross' of the ancient world, a place where no self respecting devout person would be seen.   But Jesus uses that very notoriety and turns it on its head.

So Matthew recalls Jesus saying: 'Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (1) and: 'And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven?   No, you will be brought down to Hades.   For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.   But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you."  (2)
Luke recounts the words in our gospel for today as well as some others, which are morally neutral: 'Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them -- it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.'  (3)

It is significant, for whatever the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah (and my reading is that it is the sin of bullying and nothing to do with intimacy between people of the same gender) Jesus considers them less culpable than the rejection of the good news by the very people who ought to welcome it.

And the sadness is that the message of Jesus was the rejection of those who could be expected to welcome him people who used their devotion and orthodoxy to reject others, people whose religious influence hid the good news from ordinary people.

The essential difference is the knowledge that the devout and orthodox had, gave them no excuse.   They, like their spokes-person Nicodemus, had to be born again, back into society.   Sodom and Gomorrah were not aware of the great acts of God or God's law, so they could not be expected to behave much differently.

Jesus laments over Jerusalem: 'They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.' (4)

Now the difficulty is that the church can so easily assume that we have recognised the divinity of Jesus and so are saved from the condemnation described.   Others, those who don't come to (our) church, will naturally be condemned.   But this is to fail to see that this puts us on the side of the selfish and uncharitable, just like Saul before his conversion.

I have been making reference to St Paul's letter to the Romans quite a bit recently and in particular his first chapter which is claimed speaks about the evils of intimacy between people of the same gender.   I thought I'd read a commentary on Romans, and E. C.  Blackman summaries Paul's 'New Theology' with reference to 'the corruption of the pagan world and also the failure of the favoured Jews - the churchgoing section of mankind so to speak - to recognise the presence of their Messiah'. (5)   He goes on: 'Judaism's position is unusual, and Paul feels obliged to discuss this at length ((chapters) 9-11)'.   I would comment that Paul's concern right from the beginning of his letter is about the Jewish and Gentile church and his first chapter are actually about the corruption of the 'old boys network' of his former faith.

So in 1.15 Paul says: 'the gospel .. the power of God to everyone .. to the Jew first and also to the Greek' - so when he describes the wrath of God in verses 18 - 32 he is referring to people who 'know God's degree, that those who practice such things deserve to die - yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.'   This can only refer to those who know of God's commandments - those of Paul's ancient faith.

And St Paul is well aware of the evils of the 'old boy's network' of his earlier faith.   He did not actually witness the old boy's network engineering to have Jesus crucified, but he knew first hand the stoning of Stephen, and became a willing participant in their persecution of others, and he also knew from their continuing antipathy after his conversion firsthand.   The story in Acts tells us that they dogged his steps from Damascus (6) to Antioch (7), Iconium (8), Thessalonica (9), in Beroea (10), Athens (11), Corinth (12), Greece (13), and Jerusalem (14).   When he says: 'they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them' he is not focussing on some mythical others who are expressing their intimate affections, he is looking into the mirror of self recrimination.  I begin to realise that as I read Acts carefully, the spread of the gospel is actually directly attributable to the Jewish opposition.   Paul could never stop in one place, because they came after him again and again.

To suggest that Paul puts all this aside and begins his letter to the Romans - all about the relationship of the Jewish faith which was a constant source of opposition to him - to the Gentile Church which welcomed him with open arms - with a gratuitous swipe at those who express their intimate affections with a person of the same gender is quite frankly, to me, beyond belief.

And we have only to read the 23rd chapter of the gospel of Matthew to find Jesus' own assessment of the sanctified selfishness of the orthodox and the devout.

And this is nothing new.   As I type this on the feast of St John the Baptist we read these words: 'Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against THOSE WHO THRUST ASIDE THE ALIEN, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.' (15)

How easy it is for religion of all sorts, including 'Christianity', to become divisive - when God calls us to be affirming and inclusive.   When we are divisive we imitate Sodom and Saul before his conversion, but we also dismiss as irrelevant the incarnation of our Lord whom we are called to follow.

One of those sayings going around the internet for a long time has been the question: ‘If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?’  For me, the real question needs to be addressed to the church: 'How is the faith you proclaim affirming and inclusive, one that welcomes the incarnation - or is your faith one that excludes, marginalises, alienates and crucifies others'?   And if it is the latter, the world is right to treat us with contempt.

And I begin to see the genesis of Paul's very personal faith, as he testifies to the Cross saving him from personal condemnation because of his former misguided puritan religion.

And I have to ask, if Jesus did not ask the church of his day to be open and affirming, why on earth would the devout and the orthodox have him killed?

(1) Matthew 10.15
(2) Matthew 11.23,24
(3) Luke 17.28-30
(4) Luke 19.44
(5) 'Interpreters One Volume Commentary of the Bible'  Collins p768,9
(6) Acts 9.23
(7) Acts 13 45, 50
(8) Acts 14.2
(9) Acts 17.5
(10) Acts 17.13
(11) Acts 17.17
(12) Acts 18.6,12
(13) Acts 20.3
(14) Acts 21.27, 23.12 and 25.2
(15) Malachi 3.5