A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, June 19, 2011
Genesis 13:1-13 The Message
Well, there we were camping on the beach in southern California. We had pitched our tent late that afternoon on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and not far from the main highway. In the middle of the night a loud rumbling startled us from our sleep. The ground beneath us began to shake. Of course, our first thought was a California earthquake. But we were wrong. We soon figured out that we had pitched our tent just a few yards from an Amtrak train track. We really did not know where we had pitched our tent. But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to back up a little.
Some years ago, we took a cross-country trip to California. (I have mentioned this before, but this is a different story, I promise.) We decided it would be a good experience to camp at different points along the way. One of the first places where I made advance reservations was at Sedona, Arizona. Now I need to tell you that darkness was falling when we arrived at the campground in Sedona. And there were only a couple of spots left. We took what we could get. But we really couldn’t see what was behind our camping spot. We set up our tent by flashlight and car light, and since it was late we crawled into our sleeping bags and tried to go to sleep. But it just so happened that a strong wind blew that night, which rattled and shook the tent all night long. We were afraid at times that the wind would blow the tent in on top of us. Well, when daylight came and we got up, and stretched, and took a look behind the tent to see what we could not see the night before, we discovered a steep cliff just a few feet away. Our hearts skipped a beat when we realized that the wind could have blown us right off that cliff. It pays to know where you are pitching your tent.
With the high price of gasoline, many families are deciding to vacation close to home this summer. And many are planning to go camping instead of staying in an expensive motel. As I have already indicated, one of the most critical aspects of camping is deciding where to pitch your tent. I am speaking from experience. When you go camping, a big block of time will be spent inside the tent on the ground where you will try to sleep. In pitching a tent one must consider such factors as the lay of the land, access to water, shade, the surface of the ground and the number of rocks or roots that will serve as your mattress. Not to be overlooked is whether you are pitching your tent near a steep cliff or close to train tracks!
In today’s reading, we have heard the story of Abraham and Lot pitching their tents. Now, there is a lot to this story that we were not able to read because of time constraints. In a nutshell, Abraham and his nephew Lot were nomadic herdsmen. Like the Bedouin shepherds who still inhabit that part of the world today, they lived in tents. They would move their families and herds to a well-watered, grassy area and stay there as long as they could. When the vegetation was depleted, they would pack up and move to a new location. But Abraham and Lot’s clan became so big that it was no longer feasible for them to live together. Trouble began to brew between Abraham’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. So the two decided it best that they split up and go their separate ways. Abraham gave Lot first choice. He said, You go this way and I’ll go that way, or you go that way and I’ll go this way. Lot looked it all over and saw that the plain of Jordan was well-watered and looked much like the garden of Eden. Lot chose the plain of Jordan thinking it the better deal. And the story says, “Lot settled in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom” (Genesis 13:12).
Now, everyone knows of the reputation of Sodom. The city’s name brings to mind extreme wickedness. In fact, the scripture says “the people of Sodom were evil, flagrant sinners against God” (13:13). But as I pointed out in a sermon a few months ago, Sodom’s wickedness often is misunderstood and unjustly labeled. In reality, the people of Sodom were inhospitable, they practiced and condoned sexual violence and forced rape, and evidently lived hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered lives. Such was the real wickedness of Sodom. The question is, Did Lot really know where he was pitching his tent in the direction of Sodom? Was he aware of Sodom’s reputation? Or was he totally in the dark when he chose to pitch his tent in that direction?
Then in the next chapter of Genesis (14:12) we find Lot not living in a tent next to Sodom; we find Lot living in Sodom. The implication is Lot’s eyes were focused on a hedonistic world with all its temptations. The biblical writer seems to imply that Lot chose to worship at the altar of pleasure, and vice and greed by choosing to pitch his tent in the direction of Sodom.
In contrast, it is interesting to consider where Abraham pitched his tent. Abraham pitched his tent in the land of Canaan toward the altar of God at Bethel where he could go regularly for worship. Immediately we see Abraham calling upon the name of God. Now, it should be noted that Abraham was not a perfect man; he was not a perfect husband or a perfect father; he had his faults too, and some of them are chronicled in later chapters. But to his credit, Abraham chose a life of faith and sought to know and honor God.
It is interesting to note the outcome. Abraham and Sarah, who pitched their tent toward Bethel and a life of faithful living and acknowledging God, were blessed abundantly. The reward for this man and woman of faith and their descendants was their names would live on in memoriam. Abraham and Sarah’s offspring became as the stars of heaven and the sands of the seas. Abraham, we remember, is constantly made reference to in the New Testament as “father Abraham,” the example of faith. He became the father of the world’s three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who all trace their faith roots back to Abraham and Sarah.
Lot, on the other hand, who pitched his tent toward hedonistic, inhospitable, violent Sodom, lost his wife, sons-in-law, and all his possessions in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He came close to losing his own life as well. Furthermore, Lot lost his own self-esteem and respect. After getting drunk, he lay with both of his daughters and had offspring by them. This is basically the last we hear of Lot until we turn to the New Testament where he is mentioned a few times as an example and warning to all who would go the way of “the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7). Abraham and Lot both reaped what they sowed, as the saying goes. Their life decisions—where they pitched their tents—had a profound impact on the outcome of their lives.
Could this story of Abraham and Lot serve as a parable for us today? Aren’t all of us faced with the metaphorical question of where we are going to pitch our life tent? This ancient story illustrates that we do well to be careful about the life choices we make, because the choices we make about life can have a dramatic impact on our future. Sometimes we make life choices and don’t know we are making a bad choice. All of us have done it, perhaps. Sometimes, as with our tent-pitching experience in Sedona and California, we don’t really know where we are pitching our tent as it were. At other times we may be fully aware that we are making a bad choice but we go ahead and do it anyway. Many of the problems in today’s dysfunctional families, and many of the problems in today’s world, are self-inflicted because of the “Lot-like” choices that are made. As humans we bring a lot of self-inflicted troubles upon ourselves because of the poor choices that we often make.
And aren’t we, like Lot, constantly faced with life decisions about re-pitching our life-tents (metaphorically speaking), often tempted to choose the lesser good, and ignore the higher, spiritual claims upon our lives? In the workplace, the business world, in this troubled economy—it is easy to be tempted to pitch our tent in such a way to get ahead without regard for the well-being of others. The news is full of stories about those in the world who pitch their tent with the pegs of injustice, dishonesty, and disregard for the rights and feelings of others.
The constant challenge for us it to pitch our life-tent toward the good and the right; toward the just and the true. The challenge is to stabilize our life-tent using the pegs of love, compassion, kindness, service to others, justice, rightness, and many of the other teachings of Jesus that enable us to live out the principle of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
And on this father’s day, we are reminded of the importance of the decisions we make regarding how much time we spend with our children and other family members, how we relate to them, and the example we set before them.
And so, the question, “Where are we going to pitch our tents?”—though an important consideration for those contemplating camping on their summer vacation—also has deeper philosophical and theological implications as well, doesn’t it? “Where are we going to pitch our tent?” beckons today’s fathers—all of us, in fact—to stop and consider the daily decisions we make and the direction our path in life is taking us. Where we going to pitch our tents? Amen.