Tag Archive | Love

A Tomb Which Hides Your Life

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet Heaven knows it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, ‘This poet lies,
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’
So should my papers yellow’d with their age,
Be scorn’d like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice,– in it and in my rhyme. – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 17

—–

So far on this Lenten Journey, I’ve spent my time pretty much doing what’s expected.  I’ve talked about my dalliances with the Cardinal Sins, and how they’ve woven their way through my life.  I’ve described sins of betrayal, of dehumanization, of selfishness expressed as pride, and humility, and lust.  I have talked about the need to carry the shame that my sin has created, like an enormous rock, along this long trek down this dirt road to the events of Holy Week.  None of this is, or should be, surprising.  Isn’t this what we do when we confess?  Don’t we discuss our sins, errors, crimes?

For all I’ve exposed parts of myself and my life I would rather no one ever see, this next part of the journey is far more difficult.  Not because there are worse things lurking in the closets of my life.  No, now we get down to admitting how even those parts of my life I consider the best parts are no less tainted by sin, run through with pride and selfishness, and are no less in need of being set before the Cross for redemption than that which we normally consider our worst parts.  If we’re willing to confess to our sins, can we be strong enough to confess our virtues as well?

I see autumn around me.  Not deep autumn.  At least, not yet.  No, it’s just that time when summer’s worst heat is ending, the morning air has a crispness to it; even in the afternoon, as the air warms, there’s an undercurrent of cool that keeps the worst of the heat from being unbearable.  The leaves aren’t so much starting to turn as they are hinting that turning might be coming soon.  After months of humidity, that damp smell is gone and everything smells crisp, clean, ready to get ready for the sleep of winter.

I smile as I stroll, stone of shame or no, because this is one my favorite moments of the passing year.  Summer has always been a time when the world takes a break from routine; it is just now, at this point when the world announces that summer is over, that routine returns, that long, warm rest of summer is over, and we have work to do.  What I see, surprisingly, is the old Cokesbury Bookstore at Wesley Theological Seminary.  I feel younger.  Despite other things just prior to this moment in my life, I’m smiling because the new students have arrived, and that’s always a time to see who comes in with a chip on their shoulder; who comes in ready to learn; who comes in unsure of why they’re in this strange place (that, by the way, was me).  I see myself, sitting at the receiver’s desk, boxes piled around me.  The line of new students buying their textbooks stretches around the store; we only have one cash register, so everyone has to be patient.  I don’t notice a pair of eyes on me, busy as I am putting price labels with bar codes on the backs of all the new books that have come in.

I look to my right, and I’m inside the house of the President of the Seminary.  This isn’t as big a deal as it might sound.  The President’s house used to sit just at the bottom of the hill below the dormitory, and former President Doug Lewis always hosted a reception that invited both returning students and returning students.  I’m talking with a couple friends who’ve returned to campus after their long summer away.  I’m sipping some punch and glance across the room.  Standing, leaning against the opposite wall, I see someone looking at me, her eyes never flinching or moving from mine.

This Is The Face I Saw Looking At Me

This Is The Face I Saw Looking At Me

I won’t lie.  She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.  That she was looking at me, and with such intensity, without fear, was a bit unsettling.  Someone said something to me, and the moment passed as I turned to ask for a repeat of the question.

It didn’t take me long to put a name to the face – Lisa Kruse.  She had come from Richmond, although that was about all anyone seemed to know.

A couple weeks later, I was working on the catering crew for a wedding reception to be held in the Dining Hall.  I was busy doing prep work when who should I see coming down the back steps outside but Lisa.  I thought I was working with someone else, but Lisa told me that person wasn’t feeling well, and she was filling in.  She confessed later that she actually had kind of wormed her way in to working that day because I was working, too.  Talk about flattering . . .

I don’t remember much about that first time we worked together at a reception.  Except for one thing.  It was hot, and the dress shirt I was required to wear was causing me not only to sweat but to itch.  I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I scratched my chest.  Lisa said to me, “Fleas?” thinking she was clever.  I looked her in the eye and said, “No.  I’m allergic to weddings.”  And then I went, washed my hands, and went back to work.

Within a couple more week, we went on our first date.  The next night we went on our second date.  The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Wedding.  A year still at Wesley getting adjusted to this whole “marriage” thing, then suddenly we’re in this little town down south, Lisa’s a preacher, then it’s all – BAM!BAM!BAM! – house, pets, kids . . . At least, looking back on it, it feels it was like that.  After all these years, the time in-between, the days and weeks and months and even years, are all a bit of a blur.  With one constant, however: Lisa and me, together.

Twenty-two years later, we’re both much older.  Our older child is going to be heading off to college in a few months.  We’re a thousand miles from where we started.  If someone had told me where we’d be, what we’d be doing, the only thing that wouldn’t surprise me is Lisa being a District Superintendent.  Beyond that, I probably would have laughed.

The Years Have Been Kind To Us

The Years Have Been Kind To Us

I can hear the questions.  It’s like rusty wheels turning.  What the hell do I have to confess about any of this?  I met a beautiful woman, we fell in love, we started a family, a career, a life together.  If the photo above is nothing else, it’s a portrait of the American dream realized.  Nothing seems out of place, amiss, awry, or otherwise worth confessing as sinful about our life together, right?  I mean, shoot, we have a St. Bernard, for crying out loud!

Except, as I look around at all the images from our life together, I know there’s so much more beneath those surface images.  Moments of anger.  Spans of time when each of us were unhappy.  Persistent doubts each of us had about the love and commitment to the other.  The struggles of early parenthood.  The struggles of living together, when each of us were, even at that young age, set in ways from years of being alone and single.  Former lovers who kept intruding in one way or another.

d Yet it is more than these mundane realities all married couples have and either get through or don’t; no, our love and our life together, for all it has survived the various changes in weather and time, is no less steeped in sin – selfishness and lust (the bad kind); anger and sloth; a lack of concern for the feelings of the other, crossing in to ignoring the other, sometimes for days or weeks at a time – than any other part of our life.  And by “sin” I am being quite serious here.  Sin as in death are the wages of.  Sin as in brokenness that lies at the heart of our human relationship with God, as well as our relationships with one another.  No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we work at it, no matter the professions of love and dedication to one another – ours is a relationship no less broken, no less battered by our weaknesses, our insecurities, and our outright horrid inner natures than any other.  That we have managed to stay together, stay committed to one another, to raise two happy, basically well-adjusted children; share a home and a bed and pets and laughter; these things aren’t because there’s something special, or unique, or blessed about our life together.  I know plenty of married folks who are little different from us in all these regards.

We are together, and are who we are together, because we both know just how broken each of us is.  Perhaps not all the ways we’re broken, but that we’re broken, and that this mutual brokenness creates barriers to a full life together, that is something we not only know, but acknowledge.  We work on these parts together, knowing full well they will never disappear.  Anger.  Self-doubt.  The fact that we just don’t believe the other loves us in the way the other says.  All these things could tear us apart before we’re even aware it’s happened.  We’ve had our close calls; I won’t lie.

All of this swirls around me, and that smile with which I began is gone.  I start to cry.  No, I start to weep.  None of it makes sense.  Love is supposed to be one of the few truly good things in human existence; in particular, that love between a man and a woman that brings children in to the world, does the hard work of raising them, and all that work of staying together.  This is good, right?

Actually, it is good. At one time, all creation was called good, and human beings were called very good.  In an instant, however, all that vanished.  Even this, with its all-American goodness, is something I need to bring before God; it is something I need confess is sinful, a failure, something in which I take inordinate pride, a thing that lives despite the two of us rather than because of the two of us.  To do otherwise would be to lie.  We are always praising one another on how hard we work at being married, on how good things between us are, even after decades together when other couples are getting tired of one another.  We congratulate each other and ourselves on our parenting, on our ability to carry on a conversation, on how much better we relate to one another, because we’ve just worked so hard at it.

Except, to be blunt – that’s all bullshit.  When we praise one another, and that thing that is greater than each of us alone that is us married, we are no less idolatrous than if we entered a pagan temple and set fruit basket in front of some statue.  Until and unless we’re willing, individually and together, to carry all our self-serving lies and mutual back-patting for just how wonderful we are together, lay it at the foot of the cross, and declare, individually and together, how much we’ve fooled ourselves, how much we’ve lied to ourselves, to one another, and to God.

All those scenes from our life together, they fade.  What I see now are two people, sullen, distant, casting angry, hurt glances at one another, unable and unwilling to speak to one another, even to look one another in the eye.  This, rather than the Hallmark scenes and all the sweet words and photographs, is who and what we are.  All the rest are sweet, consoling lies I tell myself, and we tell each and one another so that we don’t have to see the anger and hurt and lack of any sense of self-worth that lies not that far below the surface of so much of our life together.

This isn’t added to that stone of shame I carry.  No, instead that ring I wear on left hand, it tightens to the point of pain.  I can’t move that finger.  For all it symbolizes the bond of love that cannot be broken, it now carries the weight of years of lies – lies to ourselves, lies to each other, lies to the world.  Until and unless we are willing to confess this, and admit that all the smiles, the laughter, the happiness and love and lovemaking has nothing to do with any virtues we have, but comes from God and God alone, that ring will continue to shrink, the pain increase, until it becomes unbearable.  It is one more thing I know I have to set at the foot of the cross: For all its seeming success, for all the “love” we share together, for all the smiles and laughter, if we don’t recognize our individual and mutual brokenness, if we’re not able to look at it and name it for what it is, if we’re not able to lay even this, what is supposed to be our best before the cross and confess that it, too, is sinful – if we can’t do that, I’m not even sure why I’m going down this road.

Confessing to evil stuff is easy.  Confessing the broken, sinful nature of human love – that’s hard.  But that pinched finger reminds me that if I don’t, none of the rest matters.

Your Channel Is An Orchard

How beautiful you are, my love,
how very beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
moving down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them is bereaved.
Your lips are like a crimson thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in courses;
on it hang a thousand bucklers,
all of them shields of warriors.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that feed among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you. – Song Of Songs 4:1-7

I'm Not Being Subtle For A Reason

I’m Not Being Subtle For A Reason

The Biblical book subject to the most commentaries in history isn’t the Psalms.  It isn’t Romans, either.  No, the book that monks, scholars, and just regular folk have turned to most often in the church’s history is The Song Of Songs.  For centuries, folks have argued all sorts of things: Is it an allegory?  Is it a wedding poem?  Some scholars have noted similarities of phrasing, structure, and theme to the love poetry of neighboring societies, which, really, isn’t all that surprising.  Tiny Israel, surrounded by enormous Empires, from Egypt and Assyria, the influx of the Phoenicians (referred to as the Philistines in Scripture) and even far flung Empires including the Persians and Akkadians and Etruscans.  After all, Israel sat at the hub of major trade routes.  They had to take in influences from all over the world.

Which is kind of back story, really.  Because while interesting, this approach attempts to answer the unanswerable: From whence this poem?  It should seem obvious through all the digging in lost Sumerian scraps, the writings of Ovid and Sappho, that this poem is a poem not just about love.  This poem is a celebration of sex.  It is a celebration of the beauty of the human body, male and female, and what happens when two people come together intent on enjoying and appreciating one another’s bodies.  There is certainly love in this poem; chapter 8 insists that love is stronger than death.  Yet, from the context of the whole poem it seems pretty clear this is a love born from a mutual physical appreciation.

I have written about the Song of Songs before, especially when Church Ladies, including the male Church Ladies, get all huffy about sex, as if somehow this generation of humanity has not only invented new ways of having sex, but of abusing the gift of sexuality.  Even that last phrase, “gift of sexuality”, I’ve had questioned by some who find sex dirty – one person told me, insisted in fact, that even in marriage and between lovers, all sex is basically selfish – as if, somehow, sex were not part of what it is to be human.  As early as the second chapter of Genesis, we read that before the Fall, the man and woman enjoyed sin-free sex, reveling in the joy of being together.

Before I turn to how lust can distort human sexuality, turning it into something horrific, I want to make clear that I firmly believe that, in and of itself, sexual desire is not bad.  Not even the Bible argues that, taken as a whole.  No, in the Song of Songs there are many references not only to the physical beauty of the male and female body, there are hints about how best to enjoy the beauty of your partner.  Chapter 5, verse 5 certainly sounds like it is referencing female masturbation brought on by a sexual dream: “I arose to open to my beloved,  and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh,  upon the handles of the bolt.”  Further down, in verse 15b, when describing her man, the woman says, “His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.”  Now, the cedars of Lebanon were renowned for being tall, straight, and thick, so please don’t pretend you don’t understand what she’s talking about here.

In the portion quoted above, the man insists “Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.”  That certainly sounds like oral sex to me.  Apart from all the other references to sex, the poem really doesn’t pull too many punches, explicit in detail as well as theme: Sex is a beautiful thing, and creates a bond between lovers that is stronger than death.  Passion, the author writes in chapter 8, is as jealous as the grave, refusing to relinquish its object.  The sum total of this poem, whether liturgical or merely cultural in origin, is a praise for physical love unmatched in beauty of imagery or explicitness in detail of what physical love entails.

Which, of course, leaves us with a conundrum.  The church has paid much attention to this particular poem throughout its history.  In its earthiness and sensuality, however, many commentators have focused overmuch on the allegorical aspect, with the “bridegroom” God and the “bride” the church.  Which, you know, is a beautiful imagery, too; that God would pursue the church, desire it as the man does the woman in this poem.  Yet, even a careful reading of the details should make even the most ardent allegorical reader uncomfortable.  It may well be true that God’s love for humanity is unending, even passionate just as the passion between lovers can be irresistible.  All the same, the allegory fails, or at least should leave the reader uncomfortable, when we delve in to the details.

When the church was birthed, at the pinnacle of Roman power, sexual freedom (at least for men) was rampant.  Temple prostitution was an enormous generator of cash.  The wealthy enjoyed a kind of reveling in sensuality that would make most porn directors stop and think.  The church’s earliest teachings against fornication, sodomy, and idolatrous sex can only be understood clearly against a background in which sex was a religious practice as well as the province of the wealthy, a kind of conspicuous consumption as well as display of power, particularly over women as well as over the poor, who were hemmed in by official rules and laws that were, in fact, quite restrictive on sexual activity.  There was something countercultural about a religious body insisting its members refrain from sensuality, not only because some might believe the end of the world was nigh.  It was a social and cultural distinction that would have set the earliest Christians apart even from members of the Jewish communities who probably enjoyed some of these fruits of the poisoned tree.  When this practice and these admonitions met the neo-Platonic rejection of the body, we are left with a centuries-old denial of the basic goodness both of the human body and human sexuality that hangs on, to this day, even in societies where the opposite might well serve just and good and righteous ends far more than the rejection of human sexuality.

There is something empowering about discovering that human beauty, human sexual love, and the pleasures we all know come from mutual passion are celebrated in the Bible.  There is something about that “Yes” that frees us from worry.  At least, it should free us.  It should be freeing to know we can enjoy the pleasures of sex without fear or guilt.  Alas, we in the churches have far too many centuries of “No” through which we must burrow to arrive at that original Biblical “Yes”.  We also have social and cultural forces that would insist on the “No”, not least because the abuse of human sexuality is all around us in popular entertainment.  It would seem it’s up to us in the churches, however, to free even this from the clutches both of a tradition that has distorted the original beauty and power of the Song of Songs as well as a culture that degrades the gift of sex even while we as a people are either embarrassed or ashamed to speak openly of human sexuality in all its varieties.

Before we consider “lust” as a deadly sin, it is important to remember that sexual passion is a part of the original creation.  It is something celebrated in poetry and song in the Bible.  The beauty of the human body, the enjoyment couples have in sharing their bodies with one another, the love that becomes deathless because of such joy – this is all there, in the Bible.  Just as I have done here, before we go around talking smack about sex, it is important we affirm what the Scriptures already affirm: that sex is a beautiful, good gift from a God who loves us enough to share this beautiful gift with us so that we can share it with one another.

Faith, Hope, And Love Abide

Thus doth God himself answer that weighty question, What is it to be born of God Such, if the appeal be made to the oracles of God, is “every one that is born of the Spirit.” This it is, in the judgment of the Spirit of God, to be a son or a child of God: It is, so to believe in God, through Christ, as “not to commit sin,” and to enjoy at all times, and in all places, that “peace of God which passeth all understanding.” It is, so to hope in God through the Son of his love, as to have not only the “testimony of a good conscience,” but also the Spirit of God “bearing witness with your spirits, that ye are the children of God;” whence cannot but spring the rejoicing in Him, through whom ye “have received the atonement.” It is, so to love God, who hath thus loved you, as you never did love any creature: So that ye are constrained to love all men as yourselves; with a love not only ever burning in your hearts, but flaming out in all your actions and conversations, and making your whole life one “labour of love,” one continued obedience to those commands, “Be ye merciful, as God is merciful;” “Be ye holy, as I the Lord am holy:” “Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” – The Marks Of The New Birth, John Wesley, Sermon 18, John 3:8-37

Statue of John Wesley as Wesley Theological Seminary

Statue of John Wesley as Wesley Theological Seminary

We Wesleyan Christians have a treasure in the many sermons he preached over his long career.  In the midst of our artificial crisis it might well serve all of us to turn to what Wesley said.  Especially as the Anonymous 80 insist that this “crisis” is at least in part one of the proper interpretation of Scripture, reading the words of Wesley preaching on these same Scriptures might be a nice beginning out of the mire into which we’ve been led.

For Wesley, the marks of the new birth are found in Scripture.  The first is faith:

The true, living, Christian faith, which whosoever hath, is born of God, is not only an assent, an act of the understanding; but a disposition, which God hath wrought in his heart; “a sure trust and confidence in God, that, through the merits of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God.” This implies, that a man first renounce himself; that, in order to be “found in Christ,” to be accepted through him, he totally rejects all “confidence in the flesh;” that, “having nothing to pay,” having no trust in his own works or righteousness of any kind, he comes to God as a lost, miserable, self-destroyed, self-condemned, undone, helpless sinner; as one whose mouth is utterly stopped, and who is altogether “guilty before God.” Such a sense of sin, (commonly called despair, by those who speak evil of the things they know not,) together with a full conviction, such as no words can express, that of Christ only cometh our salvation, and an earnest desire of that salvation, must precede a living faith, a trust in Him, who “for us paid our ransom by his death, and fulfilled the law of his life.” This faith then, whereby we are born of God, is “not only a belief of all the articles of our faith, but also a true confidence of the mercy of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The second mark of the new birth is hope:

 “Ye,” saith St. Peter, whom God hath “begotten again unto a lively hope, are kept by the power of God unto salvation: Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ: In whom, though now ye see him not, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:5, &c.) Unspeakable indeed! It is not for the tongue of man to describe this joy in the Holy Ghost. It is “the hidden manna, which no man knoweth, save he that receiveth it.” But this we know, it not only remains, but overflows, in the depth of affliction. “Are the consolations of God small” with his children, when all earthly comforts fail Not so. But when sufferings most abound, the consolations of his Spirit do much more abound; insomuch that the sons of God “laugh at destruction when it cometh;” at want, pain, hell, and the grave; as knowing Him who “hath the keys of death and hell,” and will shortly “cast them into the bottomless pit;” as hearing even now the great voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:3, 4.)

And, of course, the final mark of the new birth is love:

 [T]his is the sign or proof of the love of God, of our keeping the first and great commandment, to keep the rest of his commandments. For true love, if it be once shed abroad in our heart, will constrain us so to do; since, whosoever loves God with all his heart, cannot but serve him with all his strength.

5. A Second fruit then of the love of God (so far as it can be distinguished from it) is universal obedience to him we love, and conformity to his will; obedience to all the commands of God, internal and external; obedience of the heart and of the life; in every temper, and in all manner of conversation. And one of the tempers most obviously implied herein, is, the being “zealous of good works;” the hungering and thirsting to do good, in every possible kind, unto all men; the rejoicing to “spend and be spent for them,” for every child of man; not looking for any recompence in this world, but only in the resurrection of the just.

Where these exist, there are the children of God, by Adoption, able to cry out “Abba!  Father!” through the Spirit who turns our groaning in to prayer and praise.   Faith, real faith, begins with our understanding of ourselves as sinners, coming before God with nothing except the grace of Jesus Christ, which turns our mourning in to dancing.  Hope, real hope, is the fervent, faithful following of the commandments of God, in expectation of that glorious Event when Christ for the Father in the Spirit brings about the New Creation, and all that is praises God.  Our hope, flowing from our faith, is the source of our mission and ministry, the root of our claim that we are making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Love is more than just obedience to, but abiding in, the two Great Commandments, with the second flowing naturally from the first, both flowing from our faith and the expression of our lived hope.

Wesley goes on to make clear that baptism alone is not a solace.  The New Birth is marked by faith, hope, and love, lived out in service to God and the world, spreading the Gospel of peace that passes understanding, and loving our hurting world.  We United Methodists teach, with the historic faith, “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” accomplished as we proclaim, “by Water and the Spirit.”  Yet, do we not also insist that whole congregation, as those who bear witness to the baptism, are responsible for the proper spiritual instruction of the one baptized?  Are we not, after all, our sibling’s keeper, to make clear that the New Birth, the coming of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful believer, is a mark of our Discipleship?

It is in these Scriptural, theological, and spiritual truths we United Methodists should rest with confidence in our insistence that the nameless who would demand we separate are not just “mistaken” but are antithetical to the Spirit and Word, not just the John Wesley preached, but that is supposed to mark us as adopted children of God?  I would demand to know where is the faith, the hope, the love from those anonymous ones.  Where is the faith that puts their whole life before God, knowing only Jesus Christ stands between them and condemnation?  Where is the hope that is lived out as we anticipate that day all tears are wiped away?  Where is the love for our neighbors that would go as far as Jesus went for us?  These are the questions, and to them I have no answer that I can accept.  They proclaim fidelity to Scripture, through the power of the Spirit, yet I see none of the marks of the New Birth, I read no traces of such in their words.

The least we can do is remember who we are as Wesleyan Christians, and turn to him to discover the questions that need asking and demand answers in the midst of far too much heat and too little light.

Justice And Grace Are All A Part Of Love

martin sodoma 2

John Martin The Destruction of Sodom And Gomorrah, 1852, Oil on canvas

Miriam, our 12 year old, came to me with a question.  It was a really good question.  It was a really hard question.  It was a really honest question.  I did my best to answer her.  This is my second attempt.  I have no idea if it will go any better, but I have to try.  For her sake, if for no other reason.

The questions: “So, Dad, if God is a God of Love, and loves everyone, why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?”

See what I mean?  A really good question.  The kind that folks in churches have been tripping over for a long time.  Here’s a longer answer, a bit more in depth (you aren’t 12, I hope), but the same in essentials, I hope.

First, God is not ONLY a God of love.  God is a God of justice.  Love and justice, for God, are inseparable.  Sodom was a city with neither love nor justice.  Even the most elementary courtesies to be extended to strangers – what has come to be called hospitality – were unknown.  Lot, who happened to be Abram’s brother, extended the courtesy to some angels disguised as travelers; the residents of the city saw no reason to treat the strangers with courtesy.  Neither love nor justice had a home in Sodom, except perhaps for Lot’s house.  God loved the people of Sodom; God loves justice and love, and the capacity of human beings to extend love and justice (and what is courtesy or hospitality, after all, but a kind of just relating to those we do not know?).  The people of Sodom had rejected both.  This rejection is more than just a rejection of social norms or moral laws.  This was an outright rejection of the Divine decree that we are to live in a community of love and justice with one another.  Sodom was, for all intents and purposes, a dead town.  Lot and Lot’s family were given warning to flee, then God’s justice landed on a city long since dead to Divine love.

In the crucifixion and resurrection – you remember those things, right?  We were just talking about them – we see this same action played out.  In the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus we have not only a worldly decree that a criminal must die.  We also have the Divine decree that Divine justice demands recompense not despite but precisely because of Divine love.  Thus it is that Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, died.

That, of course, is not the end of the story.  We also recall Jesus being raised back to New Life because God’s Love and God’s Justice are both stronger than death, even death meted out to satisfy Divine Justice.  Another part of the lesson of the cross and resurrection, a corollary let’s call it, is that those so killed in Sodom were not (so far as we can tell) condemned to the lake of fire, or whatever passes for eternal punishment these days.  The redemption God offers creation in the crucified and risen Jesus includes those killed in Sodom.  Why?  Because the death and resurrection of Jesus was the act of Divine Justice and Love for all creation.  Our paltry, human notions of time, temporal succession, and whatever else we might wish to toss up as an impediment to Divine grace are as nothing to the once-for-all Salvation offered by the Father in the Son through the Spirit.

It doesn’t seem to make sense.  Not really.  But then again, we’re talking about God, God’s Justice and God’s Love.  If this makes any kind of sense, don’t thank me.  If it doesn’t, well, I don’t think my abbreviated version convinced Miriam, either, so don’t feel bad.