The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Who’s Laughing Now?
Proper 12 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost) 25 July 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
[Dr. Nagel writes:] “Three men dropped in on Abraham, and he and Sarah got busy to get something good on the table for them. Somehow, Abraham knew who they were. We are told Abraham was God’s friend. Abraham dealt with one of these men as with God. He is the one who in the Old Testament is called the Angel of the Lord. God made use of a human form, and when God thus deals with a man, we know it to be God the Son.” [Sermons, 294]
The first thing a Christian does upon encountering the Biblical text is to let it speak for itself, or rather, to let the Lord speak for Himself. These are His Words recorded by His servants in His way. We dare not read our preconceived notions into the text, but let the text inform us. Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.
For example, let’s listen in again on the Lord, Abraham, and Sarah. The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied it, saying, "I did not laugh," for she was afraid. He said, "No, but you did laugh."
The Lord did what He does; He faces each of us up to our sins. Sarah denied doing it, but still was told that she did laugh. The Lord did what He does; He faces each of us up to our sins. We are confronted with them. That is what caring Christians do for one another, if they really love them. That is what faithful pastors are called to do in cases of public sin—sin that everybody usually knows about, even if committed privately. The church and her pastor cannot remain on the sidelines. A soul is at stake. The unrepentant are to be confronted with their sin in the hope that they would repent and be forgiven. That’s true love.
Sarah denied her sin here. You know the rest of the story from the birth of Isaac to the meaning of his name, “He laughs.” By then Sarah had repented. She had faith in the Lord’s future promises, for the one to her had been fulfilled. Isaac isn’t until chapter 21. There’s more yet to come—our appointed text. There is more sin that needs confronting. The Lord is on the scene to do it. Remember the three men?
The LORD has hard lesson for Abraham—a warning—a counterexample. Then, more Gospel for Abraham and his family to come, his descendants we know of as Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Joseph, and so on, all the way through to David, Solomon, and ultimately, Jesus. Those who live in this promise to father Abraham would do well by doing righteousness and justice. Those are law commands in the service of God’s Gospel promises. But, as we know from Exodus, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, they often did what was right in their own eyes. But that’s a sin to discuss another day. Let’s listen again to the Lord.
Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know."
The sin here was not the lack of hospitality, as some liberals claim. The sin was men acting on their feelings of lust for other males. As one of them says in chapter nineteen, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them.” He wasn’t just talking about friendly conversation.
The Lord will punish unrepentant sin. Abraham is bold in prayer as an intercessor, a go-between, a mediator between God and man. He’s giving us a preview of Jesus in what He does here. And the Lord shows mercy. No destruction of the two cities if there are fifty righteous. And Abraham is bold to intercede again. You see, he knows what the town is like. Lot, his nephew lives there. And Abraham had to rescue him before back in chapter fourteen.
This is bold, confident, faith-filled prayer. Abraham knew both the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah as well as the judgment and mercy of the Lord. The Lord has gone His way. That leaves two men, identified later in chapter nineteen as angels under the protection Lot’s roof in Sodom.
Suppose ten are found there. No, there weren’t even ten. Let’s count. Abraham, Lot, and Lot’s two daughters. Lot’s wife initially fled with them, but she looked back after being told not to and became a pillar of the community—a pillar of salt. She doesn’t quite count. The “men” who were protected under Lot’s roof were really two angels. They don’t count. Neither do Lot’s sons-in-law. They thought he was joking when he warned them about the coming fire and brimstone. Five. Five righteous. One who wouldn’t listen. Really, there were only four.
So, what are we to make of Genesis 18 and the later destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? That’s the wrong question to ask. We should rather ask, “What does the Lord’s Word here make of us?” That’s better. We should be ashamed of sin and repent. We should fear judgment. We should be forgiven, renewed, and led by the Lord, and delight in His will and ways. We should strive to amend our sinful lives as forgiven, baptized Christians.
The Lord is just and holy, so He must punish sin. There’s no avoiding it for Him or us. He doesn’t delight in it. The Lutheran theologians call the law God’s alien work—that’s alien as opposed to natural, as in when we speak the Gospel and delivery of His gifts as His natural work, the one He delights in.
A further note on fire and brimstone. Preachers in the early days of America were known for thundering pulpit pounding and Bible-thumping sermons called “fire and brimstone” preaching. As Lutherans know, the preaching of the law is a necessary preparation for the Gospel. But a sermon only of fire and brimstone is only law, and therefore isn’t a complete Christian sermon. The law is an incomplete summary of the whole of the counsel of God. Therefore, preaching that only preaches the law is to be avoided and condemned as unchristian. The Gospel shall predominate, our Missouri Synod fathers well understood.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a warning to us. I’d rather not see our towns destroyed in a similar manner. We should also beware practicing, condoning, or allowing such sins as the Lord condemned at Sodom. We should also not hold one sin above all others as more heinous. All sin condemns. A habitual gossip is no better off spiritually than one who habitually sins against the sixth commandment. For the sake of those who do not believe, or are unrepentant, we should recognize the sin in our own lives first, repent, and be forgiven. Then we can humbly share law and hopefully Gospel.
Judgment Day will make today’s text look like small potatoes. Who’s laughing now? No one. We are warned here to repent now, to be faithful now, to regularly receive the Gifts, to watch and pray, for no one knows the day of Jesus’ return as Judge. Those without Jesus should fear that day. Those who hold on to society-tolerated and encouraged sins need to be nervous. Those who claim to be Christian but never do anything a Christian does should be more than concerned. The unrepentant and unbelieving should tremble in fear.
But what about you, the baptized, repentant person? I have good news for you. Fear not. Stop being afraid. Focus your eyes upon Jesus. The Lord has put His name on you in Holy Baptism. He cannot abandon His name. He has put His Spirit in you. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. He has prepared a place for you. He cannot go back on a promise. And He places His very Body and Blood into the mouths of His baptized, those who are taught and can examine themselves. That is the medicine of immortality and antidote to death. You, dear Christian, have nothing to fear and every reason in Christ to have hope, not a mere wish of good things, but a sure and certain hope. You are forgiven. Depart in Peace. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.