Please turn your attention to our first reading for today, Genesis 13. As we look at this incident from the lives of Abraham and Lot, we learn about consequences that come from our poor, sinful choices in life; but we also see God’s grace in the midst of those consequences.
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When we hear the name Abraham, we tend to think “great hero of faith”. We tend to think that his life must have been much better than ours. But that’s a mistake. His life had its ups and downs just like ours. He made poor and even sinful choices just as we do and suffered some earthly consequences as a result, just as we do. But he also experienced the wonderful grace of God and grew in his faith as he did.
If you read the previous chapter of Genesis, you are reminded of one of those sinful choices Abraham made. When he went down to Egypt he was afraid that Pharaoh might harm, or even kill him, in order to add Sarah to his harem, because she was so beautiful. Instead of trusting the Lord in the matter he chose to lie and had Sarah join him in the lie, saying that she was his sister, not his wife. Because Pharaoh thought Sarah was unmarried, he did try to add her to his harem, but the Lord sent diseases on Pharaoh and his household. When they learned that the reason for their diseases was that Sarah was married to Abraham and the Lord was protecting her, Abraham’s lie was exposed, and he was expelled from Egypt.
Abraham realized that, in spite of being embarrassed before one of the most powerful men on earth and being expelled from Egypt as a consequence of his sin, God was gracious to him. God had not let him be treated as his sin deserved. Sarah had been protected and he was able to keep what he had gained in Egypt. As soon as he arrived back in Canaan, he built a public altar and gave public praise and thanks to God for his grace.
It was shortly after this that Abraham faced the problem of the fact that his herdsmen and the herdsmen of his nephew Lot were fighting over water and grazing land for their flocks. He was rightly concerned about giving a poor witness to the Canaanites after he had just given public praise and thanks to the Lord as the one true God and his Lord. His solution showed that the grace that God had shown him enabled him to show grace to others. As the elder of the two, as the one to whom God had promised to give all the land of Canaan, he could have chosen first and simply told Lot where he could go to graze his flocks. But graciously, trusting in God’s promise to him, he let Lot choose first.
How do you fare when you compare yourself to Abraham? Like him we all make foolish and sinful choices in life. Like him, God has not treated us as our sins deserve. In fact, he has often protected and blessed us in spite of our foolish and sinful choices. He has not only kept us from experiencing the full earthly consequences we deserved, but most importantly, he has given Jesus the eternal consequence we deserve. He gave Jesus the Hell we deserve for our sins.
When you realize what God has done for you, do you give him public thanks and praise as Abraham did? You don’t have to build and altar and offer a sacrifice in your front yard, but do you let it be known to your family and friends and neighbors that God has been gracious to you; that he is the source of all your earthly blessings, and that the most important blessing you have is your forgiveness in Jesus? Are you concerned that strife in your family, or in the Christian family of your congregation, gives a poor witness about the Lord to others? Are you willing to be gracious, unselfish, and to show your trust in the Lord in order to give a positive witness? Are you willing to set aside what you like, or even what you have the right to, for the benefit of others? I think we have to admit that, unlike Abraham, we are all too often more concerned about our likes and our rights than we are about reflecting the grace of God to others. We need to confess those sins and experience God’s grace in Jesus daily so that we continue to grow in our ability to show grace to others each day.
What did Lot do when Abraham offered him the first choice of where to water and feed his flocks? Lot looked up and saw the whole region around the Jordan River as you come to Zoar. (Before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah it was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt.) So Lot chose the region around the Jordan for himself. He didn’t say, “Abraham, you are my elder and the fact that I came with you from Ur is the reason I am so blessed. As God said, I am being blessed through you. You choose first.” No, he not only took Abraham up on his offer to choose first, but he chose what seemed to be the best part of the land, the area that reminded them of what the Garden of Eden must have been like. It was not only a selfish choice, but a foolish one.
We have a hint at why it was foolish as Moses comments that this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. And just after the section we read this morning Moses reminds us that the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD. The sin of sodomy is named after them and we still use that term today.
We know some of the consequences Lot experienced because of his selfish and foolish choice to pitch his tent near Sodom. Peter tells us that he was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). We know that he was mocked and threatened when he tried to protect the angels who came to see if the cities were as wicked as they were reported to be. We know that he lost his home and everything he had, including his wife, when he had to flee those cities as God rained fire and brimstone on them and destroyed them.
Lot experienced grave consequences as a result of his selfish and foolish choice. But he also experienced God’s grace. God sent angels, not just to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but to rescue Lot and all who would listen and flee with him. The Lord even spared Zoar in answer to Lot’s prayer to be allowed to flee there for safety.
We don’t hear much about Lot’s later life, but as he replayed in his mind the fire and brimstone falling on Sodom and Gomorrah, he must have realized God’s grace. He must have realized that he did not deserve to be rescued. He deserved much worse than being destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah. He deserved the eternal fire and brimstone of Hell. God had not only rescued him from physical destruction, but through his promise of a Savior given to Abraham, a promise which Abraham must have shared with him, he realized the grace of forgiveness for his selfish, foolish choice, and for all his sins.
Like Lot, we all too often fall for the lure of the world. We tend to think that we can pitch our tent near temptation and not suffer any consequences. It might be a group of friends or neighbors we enjoy being with, but whose attitudes and actions we know are contrary to God’s will and word. It might be choosing to live in a place where we can make a lot more money, but where there is little or no opportunity to have our faith fed through a church that is faithful to the Lord and his word. It might be thinking that the kind of music we listen to, or the kinds of movies or TV shows we watch, or the kinds of games we play, won’t affect our relationship with God or others because “our faith is strong and we know better.” Jesus says, remember Lot’s wife. Apparently, her heart longed more for the physical things she was losing than for eternity with the Lord.
When like Abraham and Lot, we tell lies because of our lack of trust in the Lord, or we make selfish choices and we pitch our tent next to evil, there will be consequences. They may not be as drastic as those Lot experienced, but there will be consequences. When you experience those consequences, let them remind you of your sinfulness. Let them move you to repentance which includes turning away from that sin. Be reminded of God’s grace, for in the life, death and resrurrection of Jesus you see that God has not given you what your sins deserve. Each of us deserves the fire and brimstone of Hell for even just one sin. Then, as you recognize God’s abundant grace to you in Jesus, be moved like Abraham to be gracious to others because you know that you are in God’s gracious hands for this life, and for eternity.