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Shout it Out, Shake it Off

The Rev. Katie Hays
Luke 10:1-20 Sunday, July 3, 2022

This morning we begin in the middle, where we find a single word in our passage from Luke 10, the definition of which has been entered incorrectly in our Christian glossaries, and thus must be repaired before we can go on.

The word is “Sodom” – proper noun, geographic twin city with Gomorrah, introduced in Genesis 13 as a fertile and beautiful settlement in the plain of the Jordan River, chosen by Abraham’s nephew Lot because of its wealth of natural resources for the ranching and farming he planned to do – and then played off the stage of biblical history in Genesis 19 when God brings down fire from heaven to eliminate Sodom’s influence from the ancient Middle East. 

Jesus says, in Luke 10, concerning the places to which he is sending his emissaries, that wherever his disciples don’t experience welcome, there will be an eventual reckoning for their lack of hospitality, and even Sodom will fare better than those cities “on that day,” a reference to a future time when God evaluates the effects of all that God has made and assigns consequences to the actions of God’s creatures here below.

And what I need you to hear is that the word “Sodom” in Jesus’s mouth evokes a specific memory for those in his original hearing – only [not] the false memory that has been planted in our minds by fundagelical and homophobic preachers and scholars who want to pretend that the story of Sodom’s destruction in Genesis 19 reinforces and protects a heteronormative sexual ethic or expectation for God’s people. 

Rather, for Jesus’s hearers and Luke’s readers, the word “Sodom” calls to mind a memory of an ancient pair of cities where God’s emissaries, sent to investigate a complaint that has risen to God’s ear about Sodom and Gomorrah’s cruelty to migrating strangers, who depended entirely on the hospitality of residents along their way for the basic necessities of water, food, and shelter. Genesis 19 reports that God visits Sodom God’s own self to experience first-hand the horrific conspiracy in that city to terrorize outsiders by means of sexual violence and gender-based humiliation based on deep-seeded misogyny. The intention of the locals toward the strangers in their midst is to expel traumatized visitors into the world to spread the word among fellow migrants that Sodom is not your friend and you should stay the hell away.

Thus Sodom demonstrates a materialistic, protectionist ethic, proving their love of possessions and economic isolationism – in short, their greed – over love of people; their respect for the artifice of geopolitical borders over their inclusion in the global family of humanity; and their view of violence as a resource to be deployed in hopes of negating the necessity of neighbor-care.

And God, the God we have gathered to worship this morning, hates that protectionism with a white-hot passion.

The Bible itself reinforces again and again and again that “Sodom” is a symbol standing for isolationist policies that result in cruelty to migrants. Look it up: Isaiah 3:9, Ezekiel 16:48 and 56, Deuteronomy 29:23, Jeremiah 23:14, Amos 4:11, Zephaniah 2:9. Sodom is evoked in each place to remind God’s people that hospitality is what God expects from us.

So when Jesus conjures up “Sodom” in Luke 10 he is drawing on the ancient prophetic tradition of naming the place most notorious for its mistreatment of the stranger, its systemic lack of welcome and systemic imposition of punishment simply for being a human being far from home in search of opportunity. Woe, Jesus says, to any place whose protectionist xenophobia calls to mind Sodom. 

Usually in the church’s memory, Jesus is very chill. He tells his cousin John that there’s a special beatitude for people who clear the very low bar of just [leaving him be] – “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” Luke 7:23. He keeps his friends from acting like apostolic bouncers at the entrance to the reign of God, prevents them from smiting people and places that aren’t fully on board with his discipleship program. “Whoever is not against you is for you,” he says, Luke 9:50. This is Jesus in command and control, but wearing it lightly, keeping it cool. 

And then we get to a story like we have here in Luke 10, where basically Jesus loses his cool. No chill whatsoever. His ministry has moved through the honeymoon phase where everybody loves him; it has become clear that some people really, really don’t. Just before our passage for this morning, in Luke 9:51-57, he and his friends have tried to spend the night in a village on their route but have been turned away.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

So now it’s not going to be enough that wherever Jesus goes, people are healed and fed and forgiven and reconnected. He won’t be able to count on his good reputation as a guest who gives more than he takes. As he has grown popular, he has also gained enemies, powerful people who perceive him as a threat to their own positions; and when you have enemies, other people perceive you as a risk. They go out of their way to not get caught up with you. They call the police on you because your presence and their prejudice make them anxious. They just want you to pass on by, ease on down the road.

So Jesus, after the Samaritan Village episode, after a night spent on the hard ground under the starry sky, gathers the caravan that’s traveling with him and proposes a better idea.

“I’m sending out scouts ahead of us,” he says, “like we did back in the day, but this time I’m sending 70 instead of just 12. Y’all fan out between here and J-town, and let’s figure out where I can go in safety, and where we can all get some sleep.

“It’s dangerous out there, lotsa people baring their teeth like wolves in the hungry winter – but don’t go with your defenses up. Be as vulnerable as you [can stand], and then a little more so. Don’t even wear shoes. But wear your need on your sleeve, and see who picks it up, offers you a hot meal, lends you a mat in a corner of their house. Those are the places we want to go next. Those are the places that are ready for the reign of God.”

And I just want to pause here to consider what he’s saying, because it gets me every time. He’s saying that there is a way of being in the world that makes one ready to receive the good things God has to give. Not that knowing God or being faithfully religious turns you into a kind person, but that kindness as a function of simple human [being] in this world is a prerequisite for even the possibility of knowing God and experiencing the fullness of faith. “If they’re kind to you, preach the gospel,” Jesus says. “If they’re not, don’t waste your time.” 

We have been tempted to imagine that people who open their homes to the poor, or who feed the hungry from their own grocery budget, or who volunteer their time to tutor immigrants in English, are the uber-Christians, the Jesus fanatics, the rare saints among us who have mercy (and resources) to spare. But for Jesus, this ethic, this lifestyle of being open to the needs of your itinerant neighbor is so basic that you could – indeed, should – possess it even before you lay eyes on him.

Maybe if your heart is closed to the human being right in front of you, your heart cannot be open to Jesus? “Whoever rejects you rejects me,” he says, “and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” It’s a hard word that reshuffles the deck of virtues, with kindness as the very first card that must be dealt, else the whole game is utterly unplayable.

And as he shuffles our deck in Luke 10, he gets madder and madder. He calls out whole cities where his welcome has been less than fulsome. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! Watch out, Capernaum! I’ve shaken your dust from my feet, and you have no idea what a mistake you’ve made.” This is not chill Jesus – this is Jesus in a lather, so mad he’s damning people to Hades, playing the Sodom card. We might be tempted to ask him to calm down, lower his voice, breathe deeply, we can work it out.

But if we do that, if we turn away from his fist-cinching, jaw-clenching rant, we miss something vital about him, about his full humanity. And that is his mastery of the fine art of the oh-so-human rhetoric of rage, which I contend opens up space for a more measured response in practice. You get it out in your words, all the hurt feelings, all the wounded pride, all the anger over someone’s denial of your full humanity, their withholding of the dignity you deserve and must have – you say it all, you spit it out – and then you do what must actually be done. You do not act out your rage-filled rant. You take a deep breath, set your face on down the road, and shake the dust.

That is Jesus’s advice to his 70 representatives. “Where they don’t receive you, move on. Let it go. Don’t carry your resentment or your hurt or your rage or your grief; leave it all there, on the ground of that city. It’s too heavy; it will impede your movement toward all the good that God has imagined for you. Wipe them off the soles of your feet, and carry on.”

But, Jesus says, let us not pretend that what they’ve done is without consequence. It sucks to be on the receiving end of someone else’s / shun. There is nothing chill about being discriminated against. There is nothing easy about enduring people’s prejudice and fear, knowing that they feel they must protect themselves from you and people like you.

And that’s why God, as embodied in Jesus’s hot flare of temper, hates that protectionism so much. Because it always diminishes the person on the other side of the boundary line you’ve drawn. It leaves them vulnerable, disadvantaged, and without the companionship toward flourishing that every human life deserves.

Indeed, I wonder what it sounds like in heaven when the God who smote Sodom, the Jesus who was rejected in places that should have received him with joy, hear about a prosperous nation such as our own with such ridiculously poor immigration policy that 53 migrants, searching across human-made borders for their own human flourishing, perished in a tractor trailer last week? I wonder if God rants and raves, the way God did when God walked among us as a migrant, a stranger in need of hospitality? I wonder if God compares us to Sodom, so infamously protective of their own welfare, so infamously inhospitable to any perceived threat to their own wealth and comfort?

We don’t have to solve U.S. American immigration policy this morning, church. That’s beyond my pay grade and probably yours, too. But we do have to reckon with the God who disrespects borders, who discounts our claims to “own” or “belong” or “deserve” our place on this earth any more than anybody else. And we do have to remember that the Spirit of the living Christ in us compels us to offer welcome to all who seek it. As God has welcomed us, may we seek to welcome all. Amen.

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