Do you trust God enough to argue with God? do you trust God enough to get angry?
As I read Genesis 18 in my devotions a week or two ago, it struck me how this passage of Abraham insisting that God take even a small number of people into account out of a whole city, was based on two-way trust.
Notice that as the passage starts out, it is God who recognizes that if God is going to have this strong relationship with Abraham, whom God has already chosen, to whom God has promised that he will make him a father of many nations, God can’t do this big action that he planned, without talking about it to Abraham first.
Let that sit with you for a minute. God doesn’t just go ahead and do it. God chooses to disclose, to reveal, to talk with Abraham about the decision to destroy the city.
Now the whole idea of destroying people does not sit really well with me, even if they have committed the awful sin of denying hospitality to strangers. I have my own arguments to take up with God. And let us not forget that the fullest revelation of God we as Christians have received, is Jesus Christ, who, over and over in his life, discouraged violence, taught his followers to look for a third way that was neither aggression nor passive acceptance. But let us try to put that part of the story to the side so we can focus on the transparent relationship God and Abraham have, that allows their trust in one another to grow.
So God chooses to tell Abraham that the cries against Sodom have to be heard. God is upfront with Abraham about this. Abraham lingers with God as the men who are also angels- leave to go to the city, and begins to ask, will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?
And almighty all powerful God who already had made a decision, agrees to bend to what Abraham says. Yes, if there are fifty, I will spare the city for their sake.
And then Abraham continues. What about for 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? And each time the Lord hears Abraham out, changes the decision, if but for 10.
God has trusted Abraham enough to tell him about what was going on. Abraham trusted in God’s goodness enough to argue, to challenge God, to bring up a contrary viewpoint, and insist- 6 times for God’s will to bend.
We are in a series on holy relationships, how love, true love illuminates the way we act with one another. Last week we heard 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul’s great treatise on what real love looks like, what it does and does not do. How we are all called to grow up into the love God has given us and revealed to us in Jesus Christ. How that is to be the template for the relationships we have with one another.
And I mentioned that I have noticed that our congregation tends to avoid conflict. Now I include myself in this diagnosis. I think that is one reason we get along well, we have the same deficiency. But as I have been trying to grow in this area myself, I see how changing my attitude about conflict really can be beneficial.
To be able to engage conflict in a healthy way, we need a deep level of trust with one another. We have to build up that trust so that we know that the relationship will not end just because we bring up a differing viewpoint. And it also has to do with our relationship to God. I asked at the beginning of the sermon, have you ever trusted God enough to get angry in your faith? Do you trust God enough to argue with God?
And at face value those seem like they don’t make sense. If you trust you don’t argue, you just accept. But Abraham’s story tells it a different way. Trusting God means speaking up. And Ephesians points out that you can be angry without sinning. Being angry is an emotion. It is what you then do with that emotion that could be sinful or not. We are all humans with a full range of experience and response to those experiences. To trust God is to be honest. To trust one another is to be fully honest.
Now we can do that in respectful and loving ways. Abraham did not attempt to curse at God or take a tone of telling God what to do. It was done through questions. A dialogue of hearing one another out. Be angry, but do not sin. This takes growing up emotionally, becoming mature people who can let our emotions be what they are, acknowledge them ourselves, be curious about why we feel that way, and learn to let go of the sharp edge of the anger.
Paul tells the community of Ephesians to get rid of bitterness, rage anger brawling slander and malice. To speak well to one another, building up. What we say is important, and how we say it matters as well.
Ephesians also talks about a community of forgiveness. But forgiveness cannot be offered if the fault is not recognized. As Paul said in what we heard from 1 Corinthians 13 last week, love rejoices in the truth. So there is a way to lovingly bring up faults, a way to be transparent and argue, to find forgiveness when it is needed, to continue to work on those relationships of trust.
This past Friday was transit equity day, in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, you probably remember the story of Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus. Here is an example of trusting love in action, an action taken on behalf of herself and others, but also taken to get to the truth, that all humans are created equal. Love rejoices in that truth. And that action was part of a movement for civil rights, that felt angry, it felt confrontational, and many of you know the history of that time better than I do because you lived through it.
But I think we all agree now that the holy anger and confrontation of not giving up her seat was a courageous action to help our nation bend its way of being. Rosa Parks was inspired and grounded by her faith. “I learned people should stand up for their rights, just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh,” said Parks. This truth-loving, confrontational action didn’t involve hurting anyone, it was non-violent, and it trusted that people could learn and change and grow. That God would come into that process as love rejoices with the truth.
Do we have that kind of trust in one another? That we can lovingly talk about how we disagree, can say what is on our minds? Do we have that kind of trust in God?
We are on a journey, and this is not meant to try to shame anyone or force anything, but my prayer is that with these questions we can all continue to grow up in loving as God has loved us, as Ephesians says to walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us. To learn that we can trust God as God has trusted us, we can speak our minds, we can express the truth and know that God can take it, can help us hear one another. May we grow up in love as we grow in trusting God and trusting one another, Amen.