Yr C ~ Creation 3 ~ Genesis 13:1-11
A large family moves into a new neighbourhood and starts to live their lives. But this large family has so many people, so many possessions, so much stuff, that they find themselves feeling crowded and start to get on each other’s nerves. So the patriarch of the family says to his kin, “Rather than fight let’s spread out. Look out the window. You can have whatever house in the neighbourhood you want, including this one. You pick what you want and I’ll take what’s left.”
So the younger man lights up like a kid at Christmas and says he wants the nicest house in the neighbourhood – 4000 square feet, professional landscaping, every upgrade you can imagine, the works. The patriarch says ok and they go their separate ways, and all seems to be fine.
But what you may not know is the rest of the story. The younger man took the nicest house but he didn’t realize it was in a sketchier part of the neighbourhood. Eventually he ran into a lot of trouble (pardon the pun) and it cost him everything, including his wife who was once a pillar of the community but now was just a pillar. His short-sighted desire for choosing what was shiny instead of what was deep, and for having the most and the best “right now” and for his own gain ended up blinding him to what’s really important.
The patriarch, on the other hand, lived happily ever after (mostly), because he was content to be grateful for what he was given and to make choices for the sake of his family and his progeny rather than his own immediate gain. He had a deeper appreciation for the land he was on, that it was a gift, and that there was more to life than stuff. He slowly and reverently walked around every part of his property, savouring the experience and being grateful.
What I want to know is how did the writers of the book of Genesis know so much about life here in the 21st century? The characters of Lot and Abram are archetypes for how humanity works on a fundamental level. They are exploring some of the same existential challenges we are.
You get to read this story, ponder it, and decide for yourself: Would you rather be a Lot or an Abram?
Lot chooses for the benefit of himself. Abram chooses for the benefit of others.
Lot sees with selfish eyes. Abram sees with reverent eyes.
Lot says “me, me, me.” Abram says “we, we, we.”
But more than just a morality tale about the dangers of selfishness and materialism this story invites us to go deeper.
It is not the materialism per se that is the problem here.
It’s not that coveting more and more as a human character flaw is the ultimate sin.
It’s what this character flaw leads us to.
It’s about how we act in the world based on this character flaw.
It’s about what impact on the world our choices and actions have.
We are all aware of the environmental movement. We all know that climate change is a real thing, that relying on non-renewable resources is a foolish strategy, and that it’s a bad idea to “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”. We all know that it’s better to touch the earth lightly than to touch it heavily. We know that – and yet look at how we live.
Think about how many ways we touch the earth heavily.
We drive cars that use non-renewable oil and gas.
We build massive multi-lane highways that cut through forests and farmland.
We complain about the 4 bag limit on garbage forgetting that those bags have to go somewhere.
We transport our food over long distances.
And how about right here?
We brag about our air-conditioned sanctuary and then complain about our hydro bill.
We insist on printed bulletins when everything is pretty much up on the screen.
We love our stuff, and we love our conveniences. We touch the earth heavily without really thinking about the consequences. It’s a fundamental human dilemma that was laid out in the first book of the bible. Lot and Abram had the same challenge. The question before us is which one of them will we respond like?
Genesis 13:6 – The land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.
The land could not support them because they had too much stuff. No, they didn’t drive cars or have big houses, but their way of life exceeded the capacity of their environment to sustain them.
Their holding of wealth and possessions caused them to overtax the ability of the land to provide.
In other words, their desire and affection for stuff was hurting the land.
They were touching the earth heavily! This is a strikingly pertinent message for us today.
The land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.
This church is in the town of Courtice. Back in the 1980s this town had around 5000 people. Today it’s around 35,000 people. All those people need houses – and the houses are built on land – land that used to be farmland, or forests, or open fields.
But we don’t want quaint little 1200 square foot homes anymore. No, today people want to live in homes 2 and 3 times that size – as starter homes!
And everybody needs their own car.
And we want more highway lanes because all those cars are jamming up all those lanes and it’s slowing us down and wasting our time.
Our desire and affection for stuff is hurting the land.
That sounds a lot like Lot and not much like Abram in Genesis 13.
So what’s the difference between these two men who embody our two choices for how to live today?
How do you explain their different ways to approach their lives?
What gave Abram the ability to see what Lot couldn’t?
You already know the answer. It’s why you’re here this morning. It’s why you’re on this journey of faith.
It’s because you have awoken to the deep truth that a life open and committed to this spiritual path of walking in the Way of Jesus makes a difference in the way you live and the choices you make – because faith is not an add-on that makes you feel better about yourself when you show up once a week (or whenever) faith is a rewiring of your circuitry – a rebooting of your software – a refocusing of your eyes – a rebirth from a life of “what’s in it for me” to a life of “we’re all in this together.”
If you look at this chapter in Genesis very carefully you’ll see what I’m talking about. Now Abram was no saint, and he was far from perfect, but he did have something very important that Lot didn’t have.
Abram saw things differently because he was grounded in the Presence of God.
The chapter begins with Abram and his kin travelling to a new place and do you know what the very first thing is that he does upon arriving there? He worships God. He “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:4). So Abram begins his journey rooted and grounded in God’s Presence.
The chapter ends with Abram at peace with his choices, connected to the land, and the very last act in the chapter is that he builds an altar and worships (Genesis 13:18).
Ok. There is something really important to notice here. It’s a literary device called “bookending.” The chapter begins and ends with Abram in worship. When a literary passage is bookended by two actions that are the same it means we’re supposed to go back and reinterpret everything between the bookends in light of the bookended actions.
The gospel of Mark has the same technique. Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism in which the heavens are torn open revealing the Presence of God for Jesus – and Mark ends with Jesus’ death during which the curtain in the Temple is torn open revealing the Presence of God for all of us. Mark’s whole gospel then is about tearing open the veil, learning to see God’s Presence that has been revealed.
The bookends of worship in Genesis 13 function the same way. This means that this chapter was written to show us that everything Abram did in the chapter was an act of worship.
He begins with an act of worship.
His realization that they are touching the earth too heavily is an act of worship.
His selfless offer to Lot to have the first choice of land is an act of worship.
His choosing for his progeny rather than for his own immediate gain is an act of worship.
His seeing the land as a gift from God is an act of worship.
His reverent walking of the land in gratitude is an act of worship.
His trusting in God’s promise of many descendants is an act of worship.
And he finishes the chapter with a physical act of worship.
So, what does this mean for us? How does this help us approach our choices for how to touch the earth more lightly?
Or, in other words, what can faith say to the Lots among us?
And how do we grow more Abrams?
It all comes back to the bookends.
Bookend your actions with prayer and praise and you will “see” the world differently.
Bookend your days with an awareness of God’s Presence in everyone and everything and you can’t help but see the sacredness all around you and have that affect your actions.
An environmentalist’s motivation for touching the earth lightly is a respect for the earth and a desire to protect it.
A Christian’s motivation for touching the earth lightly is all that plus a deep understanding that it is all a gift, that we are stewards of God’s creation, that the land and all upon it are sacred, and that our light touch is a reflection of our deep love and gratitude.
We live on a planet that overflows with abundance. We have more than enough of everything. We can produce enough food, water, and shelter to take care of all 7 billion people on this planet. We have the capacity. What we don’t have is the desire. And the reason is because we think it would cost us too much. And the reason for that is because too many people are more like Lot than Abram. But not us, right? Well, at least we’re trying.
Those pesky environmentalists remind us that no matter the cost we need to do something about this and stop touching the earth so heavily – but they make us feel guilty.
I don’t want to make you feel guilty. I want to help you feel grateful!
I think gratitude is a much more potent motivator than guilt.
Gratitude flows from love, and joy, and peace.
Guilt is heavy.
Gratitude is light.
A heart filled with the lightness of gratitude, cultivated by bookending our days and actions in awareness of the sacredness of everything, will find it pretty hard to go stomping on the world – because when you realize you’re on holy ground you take your shoes off, and walk lightly.