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 Sunday, August 14, 2022

Pentecost 10

Genesis 18:20-32

20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.[d] 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare[e] the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”

“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”

He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”

He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”

He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”

He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

              “Try, try, and try again.”  Sometimes that is the best advice that we can give to someone who is struggling to complete a task.  They may have the right tools, the right ingredients, or the right equipment for their project, but they may be lacking the technique or experience to get it done right.  So, if it doesn’t come out just right, they may need to start over, and over, and over.  “Try, try, and try again.”
            In our text for this morning, Abraham had been told by God that Sodom and Gomorrah were going to be destroyed because of their sinfulness.  He could hardly argue with God’s decision since he knew the wicked reputation of those two cities.  But he also knew that his nephew, Lot, a Christian, and his family, and perhaps other Christians, lived there too.  Abraham prayed for them, and he prayed, and he prayed again.
            Today we can learn from the example of Abraham to be as comfortable talking to the Lord as he was.  This story will encourage us to…

“Pray, Pray, and Pray Again!”
I.Boldly, trusting God’s faithfulness
II.Humbly, trusting God’s wisdom

            Last week we were told that three heavenly visitors appeared to
Abraham and his wife Sarah one day, one being the Lord himself.  They told them that in a year Abraham and Sarah would have a son.  As they began to leave, Abraham walked with them and was taken aside by the Lord.  He told Abraham that he intended to destroy the wicked cities.
            His announcement made Abraham think of Lot and his family.  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” he asked.  “What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?”  That was quite a bold prayer on Abraham’s part!  He could have thought to himself, “Well, God’s mind is made up.  What good will it do for me to try to intervene?”
            But Abraham had learned to know that God was a kind, loving and gracious God.  He had seen it in his own life, and now he was going to appeal to God’s faithfulness on behalf of his nephew and his family.  When he did, God listened!  The LORD said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’”  Because Abraham knew that God was a gracious God, he appealed to God’s faithfulness.  He asked, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?”  Pleased by Abraham’s prayer, the Lord conceded.
            But that’s not where the story ended.  Abraham prayed again, this time asking God to spare the city of the sake of forty-five.  And then he prayed again, and again, and again, finally saying, “May the LORD not be angry, but let me speak just once more.  What if only ten can be found there?”  And again, God complied.  “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
            We might not find ourselves in a situation where we are pleading for an entire city, but we might be surprised to see how many situations arise in our own lives where we can take our concerns to our Lord.  It could be that we don’t always take advantage of those opportunities or we don’t pray as boldly as Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah.  We might pray with an “I’ll give it a try, but it probably won’t do any good” attitude.  We may not approach the faithful God in heaven who controls the events of the world with the boldness that we should.  Prayer is a wonderful gift that God has given to us and encouraged us to use throughout the Bible, but in sinful weakness we don’t always use prayer as confidently as we should.
            In fact, we might not have as much confidence in the power of prayer as our enemy, the devil does!  CS Lewis, the well-known author, wrote a book called “The Screwtape Letters.”  It is a series of letters from one of Satan’s demons named “Screwtape” who was writing to other demons.  The letters were discussing the battle of Satan’s demons against God’s people.  In one striking verse he lamented, “Prayer is lethal to our cause.”  “If they pray,” he implied, “we are doomed.”
            Through the pen of James, our Lord has promised that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16).  A righteous man is one who is in a “right” relationship with God.  They are joined to Jesus in faith, and his forgiveness makes them righteous before God.  People like that are often called “Children of Abraham,” because they share the same faith in the Savior that Abraham shared.  His faith led him to an active prayer life, and in this situation, to a bold and confident prayer trusting that his faithful God was going to listen and answer.
            Through faith, you and I share that same relationship with God.  We are “all sons (and daughters) of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26) That puts us in a very powerful position.  It gives us direct access to our loving and almighty God.  After teaching his disciples how to pray in our Gospel reading today, Jesus pointed to his heavenly Father’s faithfulness to his children.  He said, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk. 11:13)
            No matter what the situation might be, you can talk to God in prayer.  And you can pray, and pray, and pray again.  He doesn’t lose his temper or get tired of hearing your voice.  He is waiting for us to come to him, commanding us on several occasions to pray.  “Pray continually,” he said in I Thessalonians 5:17.  Abraham did, and God listened.  Abraham prayed….

II.  Humbly, trusting God’s wisdom

            Abraham had lived near Sodom and Gomorrah for some time now.  He knew what was happening in those cities.  He may even have tried to talk with some of the people, sharing his faith, and pleading with them to turn from their wickedness.  We are told that Abraham often “called on the name of the LORD,” which is the Old Testament way of saying that he spoke to others about the LORD.  When Abraham looked at the wicked cities, he was concerned that the believers would be destroyed along with the unbelievers.  He may also have held out hope that some of the unbelievers would repent.  So, he prayed, and prayed, and prayed again.  And Moses adds, “When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.”
            The next morning, Abraham woke up early and walked back to the spot where he had prayed to God.  He looked out over the valley and saw smoke rising from where Sodom and Gomorrah had been.  God hadn’t listened!  Or, had he?!?
             The story of Abraham’s prayer to God ends chapter 18 in the book of Genesis.  Chapter 19 injects the story of what God did after listening to Abraham’s prayer before he destroyed the cities.  It tells the story of the other two visitors who had come to Abraham and Sarah.  They continued on to Sodom and Gomorrah and rescued Lot and his family, saving them from the destruction that took place.  God had listened.  In his grace and mercy, he did not “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.”  God saved the righteous who were in the cities, but, sadly, it seemed that Lot and his family were the only righteous in the two cities.
            God had listened, and, he had spared the righteous.  As we continue to read through the Old Testament, we see story after story that tells us about the wisdom of God as he interacted with his people often in ways that we would not expect or even suggest.  God used Joseph to provide for his people during the drought and famine in Israel.  He used Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt and back to Canaan, protecting and preserving them over 40 years in the dessert.  He took a young shepherd boy named David into battle with a giant and brought him out victorious.  He used that same young shepherd to be one of the most famous kings who has ever lived.  The stories of God’s wisdom and his love for his people run throughout the Bible.  They prove to us that God wants us to pray and that he will answer us according to his wisdom.
            God encourage us to pray, pray, and pray again.  The faithfulness of God gives us the confidence to come to him in prayer and to know that he will answer us.  God also teaches us to realize that his answers will be based on his wisdom and his divine love for us.  The answer that we get might be different than the answer that we expect, but it will always be better than what we expect.  We are pointed to the wisdom of God when we are taught to pray as Jesus did, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39)
            As we grow in faith, we will learn to understand his love for us and his desire to keep us spiritually safe and healthy in a world of sin and temptation.  We will see the wisdom of God as he guides us through our lives along the path that leads to our home in heaven.  As we walk that path, we can be sure that God is listening, and God is answering.  So in all situations, remember that you can pray, pray, and pray again.  Amen.