The 10th Sunday After Pentecost July 28, 2013
16, 458, 457, 652
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.”And he spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?” So He said, “I will not do it for the sake of forty.”Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”And he said, “Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?” So He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.”Then he said, “Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: Suppose ten should be found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.”
When you were young, do you remember how boring it was to sit and listen to adults visit with one another? When company would come over to our house, we children would think, “They’re just talking. How can they enjoy that?” As adults, however, we learn to appreciate good conversation, and parents who are around their little ones all day may occasionally even crave more grown-up visiting time.
Not all conversation is easy, however, even as adults. Sometimes we talk to people who seem grumpy or angry with us, and the visit may not go well. Perhaps we find it hard to talk with someone who does all the talking and doesn’t let us get in a word edgewise. Not every conversation is as relaxed and free as one we might have with our best friend.
There is one conversation that ought to be part of your everyday talk and it need not be strenuous or difficult. It is your conversation with God. In commenting on the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther emphasized how natural and simple it is for the Christian to approach His God. He said, “God would tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Address).
Now for Luther to say that is one thing. For us to approach God like that is another, because we do not always find ourselves coming to Him in prayer with as much boldness, confidence, and trust as a little child who looks up to his parent. Sometimes we don’t know what to say to God. Sometimes we’re angry and don’t want to have a conversation with Him at all. Sometimes our conversation is one-sided—we do all the talking without listening to what He is saying. So we can all benefit from reviewing the conversation which is before us—a conversation between Abraham and the LORD. We will learn some things about HOW TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH GOD. I. Approach with humility, II. Continue with boldness, and III. Appreciate His mercy
By his tent while entertaining three heavenly visitors, one of whom was the LORD, Abraham had received some amazing news: His wife was going to give birth to a son. Even though they were both well-along in years, God would keep His promise and make Abraham’s descendants great.
After this good news followed some bad news. The LORD confided in Abraham what He had in mind for two nearby cities. He said: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me…” [vv.20f] Both God and Abraham knew what this meant. The cities were so wicked that the LORD would be coming to destroy them in judgment.
They were wicked cities known for their homosexuality. So well-known, in fact, that today the sin is named after the town in which it was so prominent. The sin is “sodomy.” But Sodom and Gomorrah were also cities of concern to Abraham because his nephew Lot and Lot’s family lived there. No doubt, this is why God wanted to prepare Abraham for what He planned to do.
When Abraham understood that the cities would be destroyed, what would he say? Would he say: “How dare you, LORD? My family is there! I’ll never speak to You again if you do this!”? No, this is not the attitude we find in Abraham as he comes before God. Even though this was certainly an emotional time for him, he understands his place. He is Abraham and God is God. He does not threaten God or demand that God change His plans to fit what Abraham wants. He approaches God with a humble attitude.
Throughout the whole conversation, one can sense that although Abraham is asking God to spare the righteous, he is not doing so in an angry or demanding way. He appeals simply to God’s sense of perfect justice. He in effect said, “I know you are a just God and everything you do is right, therefore, consider for a moment whether or not it would be right to sweep away the believers with the unbelievers. If you decide that is what you will do, it will be right, but maybe you will not decide that way.”
Abraham asked God to think about what He was doing and make sure that it did not interfere with any other promises He had made with respect to the righteous. It is Abraham’s way of asking God to stay true to Himself without suggesting that God is at all being untrue.
As Abraham talks with God we also see the way in which he refers to God. He does not use God’s personal name—the LORD/Jehovah—when making his appeals. He uses the simple term “Lord” as in “Master.” He is showing God that he understands that He is the one who is above all and who will ultimately make the right decision.
We do well to take the same approach as Abraham when we come to God in prayer. Namely, that we come with humble hearts, understanding that God is just and good and that He is higher than we are. We should not begin our conversation with the LORD by demanding that He do what we want, or by becoming angry if He has not answered previous prayers the way we thought they should have been answered. We come to Him with the attitude of Abraham: “Lord, you are just and holy. You are greater and more intelligent than I am. This is what I ask, but all I really ask is that you do what is right in your sight.” That is the proper attitude with which to hold a conversation with God.
Now even though Abraham is humble, he still brings his request, and it is a bold one. He wants Sodom and Gomorrah spared. “Would you destroy it for the sake of 50?” he asks. Then he asks again:“Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: Suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” [v.27] After this Abraham continues boldly, “What about 40? 30? 20? 10? …”
Have you parents ever said to your children, “Don’t ask me that again!”? But here Abraham is so bold that He asks over and over again—six times—and the LORD does not get angry. God wants His dear children to call on Him. He invites us when He says: “Call upon me in the day of trouble” (Psalm 50:15). “[The LORD] hears the prayer of the righteous (believers)” (Proverbs 15:29). He assures us, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). Our God wants us to ask Him things and to be bold with our requests.
In our conversations with God, we are often not as bold as we could be. James scolded his readers by saying to them: “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2 NIV). Sometimes we do not trust God enough to ask Him “big” things. Or when we ask them, we ask them only half-heartedly, not really expecting that He will answer them anyway. Our lack of trust can lead to a lack of boldness. But He can surely do what we ask and even more, so He encourages us to talk to Him boldly.
This does not mean that in coming boldly to God He will do exactly what we ask. He may bring us another answer—an answer that gives something for which we did not even think to ask. But it does mean that we can approach Him with confidence and trust, not being afraid to ask Him.
How could Abraham be so bold? For the same reason we can be so bold: because we are God’s children. Do children ever hesitate to ask something of a parent the moment it crosses their minds? Mine don’t, and I’m sure yours don’t either. Now understand that we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ life given on the cross has paid our debt of sin and guilt to the Heavenly Father and has cleansed us in His sight. We are God’s holy sons and daughters, so that we can stand before Him like Abraham did. Were it not for Jesus we could not be so bold as to ask the Almighty for a scrap of bread, but with Christ we can say, “Give us this day our daily bread!” (Matthew 6:11).
It is also important in conversations with God to appreciate what He says and does. That is, to appreciate the merciful way in which He deals with our requests.
Did you notice that God did not end up answering Abraham’s prayer quite the way Abraham had initially hoped it would be answered? Abraham’s first desire was that the cities would be spared any destruction at all. This was not God’s answer. The cities were destroyed, but God’s answer was still filled with mercy and love. While there were not even ten believers to be found in the city, the LORD did provide a way of escape for those who were there. Surely Abraham praised God later that his nephew Lot was spared—even though it was not in the way that Abraham had imagined or asked.
When we pray, we too can learn to appreciate God’s mercy in whatever way He shows it to us. His answers to our prayers may not always be what we would have thought best, but we will see His love and mercy nonetheless if we have our eyes open to see it.
Sometimes God’s answer is in His Word and if we’re not looking there we will miss it. Sometimes, God’s answer to our troubled days is not to take the troubles away, but to help us through them. That is how God answered the Apostle Paul who once prayed that His physical illness be taken away. God said, “No, it will not be taken away, but my grace is sufficient for you” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). As Paul lived his life, this was really shown to be true. The illness did not stop the Apostle from accomplishing what God wanted him to accomplish.
Our Heavenly Father who loved us so much that He gave His only Son to die for us is merciful to us, giving us far more than we deserve.
Therefore as you approach God be humble. Be bold. Appreciate His mercy…and have a good visit! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.