Isn’t it amazing how God strings seemingly random things together to get us thinking in a certain direction?
On Saturday a friend linked to a blog post about how young children have died at the hands of their mother’s boyfriend and that the mother is “rarely charged with criminal neglect, or complicity in the murder.” These children are often abused over a period of time and obviously the mother does little or nothing to stop the abuse and sometimes is even an active participant in the abuse. You can read the story of Karly Sheehan here. I will give a disclaimer – it is hard to read about and even harder to imagine the atrocities suffered by little ones living as close as next door.
My response was this: It scares me to think what the Church will have to answer for if it does not stand up for these little ones!
On Sunday our sermon was taken from Genesis 18 in which Abraham receives three visitors who tell him that his wife will yet bear a son out of which will all nations will be blessed. We all know the story of how Abraham and Sarah had taken matters into their own hands and now these visitors prophesy the birth of another son – the promised one.
It is at the point of their departure that I want to pick up the story. As the men “got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” We know how the Lord told Abraham what was about to happen to Sodom and how Abraham interceded for the city.
Now our pastor shared something that I’m not sure I had ever noticed before. There were three men who came to see Abraham, right? In verse 22, we read that “the men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.”
Fast forward to verse 1 of chapter 19 and we read this: “The two angels arrived at Sodom.” So where is the third person and who is this person that was on the way to Sodom when they stopped to talk with Abraham? The case is made that He stayed behind to hear Abraham’s plea for Sodom, after which He leaves Abraham and does not seem to rejoin the other two characters. The case is further made that this was very likely Jesus Himself and that Abraham was interceding for Lot, his family and indeed the entire city in the presence of Jesus.
If we look back at verse 20 in chapter 18 we see that the Lord said “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great”. And this brings me to my point, I promise. Who is this cry coming from? The cry had reached the ears of the Lord and He came to “investigate” (verse 21) and to see if the cry was indeed in proportion to the oppression. And I say oppression because I believe the cry came from the neglected and abused and tormented people who were living under the rule of the very wealthy and lazy and arrogant elite of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were crying for deliverance from the horrible conditions they were living in, used as slaves and treated worse than animals, for the sadistic pleasure of anyone willing to pay the price.
Now we go to Ezekial 16:49-50. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” Does this sound anything like present-day culture at all? Prideful and arrogant? Overfed? Not helping the poor and needy? Unconcerned about injustice?
I believe there was unspeakable oppression going on here and it was the cries of the oppressed that the Lord was hearing and that He coming to investigate. The cries of those in slavery, the cries of those starving to death because of the taxes imposed by the ruling elite, the cries of those who sold their children to put food on the table, the cries of those whose hope was gone.
Any kind of research at all upholds the idea that it takes an enormous work force (often slavery) to support the decadent and luxurious lifestyles of the rich and powerful. We need look no further than ancient Egypt or first century Rome to understand how this kind of system works. More recently, we could look at the aristocracy in England and in Europe. And dare I say, even more recently – even now, in many parts of the world there are scores of people trapped in oppression and yes, slavery. Numbers show that there are more people trapped in slavery right now than ever before in the history of the world.
Who is hearing their cries? For I have to believe that now, today, the oppressed in this world are crying out for deliverance! Is the Church stepping forward and interceding for them? Are we storming the throne room of Heaven on behalf of those who cannot help themselves? Are we pleading with Jesus to bring relief? And are we then acting on what we know and coming to the aid and defense of the oppressed? Ezekial says Sodom and Gomorrah did not come the aid of the poor and needy and this was a sin that was held against them.
I believe Jesus hears the cries and I have to wonder at what point will Jesus once again say “Enough!” and pour out His wrath on the earth in judgment? Jesus says in Matthew 24 that in the end if the Lord did not cut short the days, no one would survive.
What are we doing in the fight against injustice and oppression? Are we defending those who cannot defend themselves? Do we know the signs of abuse and do we know what to do if we do see them? They story of Karly Sheehan is tragic. What may be even more tragic is the Church’s neglect of care and compassion. And even more than that, it takes individuals acting on behalf of the Church to stand up and fight! Will you do it?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
This is what God calls every believer to – sacrificing our comfort and ease to fight for the downtrodden and oppressed. And this (and much more) is what happens when we do it –
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”
Will God hear my cry for help in the day of trouble? According to this passage, it may depend on whether or not I have reached out to the oppressed and helpless.
Oppression takes many forms today – do we recognize it? What if we educated ourselves and learned what it looks like and how to step in when we see it? And yes, what will the Church have to answer for if we do not stand up for even one of the least of these? What will I have to answer for as an individual?
It’s easy to point our fingers at Sodom and Gomorrah and see many of the things they didn’t get right, but at this point I’m not sure that we have much to say except “Forgive us Lord, for we have sinned!”