How to be a Priestly Kingdom:

A Sermon on Gen 18:22-33

 

by John Drury

 

April 14, 2003

 

Congregational Context

The following sermon is on Gen 18:23-33.The congregational context I have in mind is my summer field education site, Spring Lake Wesleyan Church.It is a large staff church with deep commitments to prayer and missions.I believe this passage can provide insights into the relationship between intercessory prayer and cross-cultural ministry.Just as it taught Israel how to be a priestly kingdom, Abrahamís story can teach the church how to intercede for the nations.

Sermon Manuscript

After God miraculously saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness.There God revealed to them their election as his chosen people.Exodus 19:1-6 tells us that he called them his special possession.He called them a holy nation.And he called them a priestly kingdom.These are Godís pet names for Israel.They also indicate her vocation, her calling, her purpose.The last one especially stands out.Priestly kingdom.What does that mean?What does a kingdom of priests look like?

††††††††††† Now I could give you a quick answer to this question.A priestly kingdom stands as a mediator of blessing between the God of Israel and the other nations of the world.And that is the right answer.But we all know how definitions, even the most precise ones, seldom drive us into action.We need something more than a definition Ė something that will put flesh on the skeletal idea of a priestly kingdom.Well, we are in luck.There is a story tucked away in Genesis that exhibits what mediation for other nations looks like.Listen now to Godís Word as it comes to us in Genesis 18:22-33.


 

22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom,

while Abraham was still standing before the LORD.

23 And Abraham came near and said,

"Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?

24 "Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city;

will you indeed sweep it away

and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?

25 "Far be it from you to do such a thing,

to slay the righteous with the wicked,

so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.

Far be it from you!

Shall not the Judge of all the earth judge justly?"

26 So the LORD said,

"If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city,

then I will spare the whole place on their account."

27 And Abraham answered and said,

"Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord,

although I am but dust and ashes.

28 "Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five,

†††††††††† will you destroy the whole city because of five?"

And He said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there."

 

29 And he spoke to Him yet again and said, "Suppose forty are found there?"

And He said, "I will not do it on account of the forty."

 

30 Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak;

suppose thirty are found there?"

And He said, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."

 

31 And he said, "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord;

suppose twenty are found there?"

And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the twenty."

 

32 Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once;

suppose ten are found there?"

And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten."

 

33 And as soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed;

and Abraham returned to his place.

 

 


Now in a church like ours that values and practices prayer, there is a level of excitement when we hear this text.We love to watch Abraham the intercessor display the art of powerful prayer.We anticipate learning new tips on how to pray earnestly and effectively.But I want to pause for a moment to reflect not on how Abraham prays, but for whom he prays.He is praying for Sodom.Now thatís Sodom from Sodom and Gomorah.Whatever the sin of the Sodom was, it was clearly great enough to incite the anger of the Lord.God has just revealed to Abraham his plan to investigate the two cities.Abraham knows this investigation will not go well.

††††††††††† What does Abraham do?He immediately stands in the gap to intercede for Sodom?Why Abraham?Why this urgency to pray for Sodom?Do you not take into account its wickedness?Is it because of your nephew Lot who is living there?Are you just interested in saving him?If so, why not go to Sodom with the men and warn Lot?Or at least pray to God that he will protect him.But why do you pray for the salvation of this whole city?Why ask God to save the whole city on account of a few righteous within it?Why are you so concerned?

††††††††††† Abraham is living out his call.He is moving with the grain of his election.Abraham has begun to understand why God has set him apart.From the beginning of their relationship, God made it clear that he intends to bless others through Abraham.And here at Mamre the Lord once again reminded Abraham of his promise to bless all the nations through him.God reminded him that he was chosen in order to do righteousness and justice.Abraham seizes the chance to speak out for justice.He seizes the chance to bring blessing on others through intercessory prayer.He prays with urgency and intensity, arguing with God, whittling him down to the smallest stipulation for salvation.Now that is what it looks like to be a priestly kingdom.

††††††††††† Unfortunately, Abrahamís hopes are unfulfilled.His prayer comes true, but in a backhanded way.God does promise to not destroy Sodom on account of ten righteous, yet not even ten are found.Sodom meets its fate.Yet Lot and his family do flee.His family minus one survive.And in the chaos and fear that follow the destruction of the city, Lotís daughters decide to bear children by their father.And here comes the twist.The sons they bear Ė the very offspring of the one for whom Abraham earnestly interceded Ė become the fathers of the sworn enemies of Israel: Moab and Ammon.Not only was Abraham praying for a city synonymous with wickedness, he was unwittingly praying the survival of Israelís nemeses.

††††††††††† Now you might ask, ďDoes that mean Abraham should not have prayed that earnest pray?ĒThe answer is no.Despite the twist, Abrahamís prayer stands as an example of election-for-intercession.Not really despite, but because of the twist, for we now see clearly that Abraham is an example to Israel of prayerful concern for her own worst enemies.Intercession is not reserved for friends and nice folks.It is not a method of winning friends and influencing people.No.The chosen one and the chosen people pray for enemies.

††††††††††† We too have been called a priestly kingdom.1 Peter 2:9, drawing on Exodus 19, calling us a chosen race, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood.The church is also a kingdom of priests.And we could learn a thing or two from Israelís story about how to live out our calling and election.Those of us who are under the New Covenant tend to think we have a corner on cross-cultural ministry and enemy-love.But Abrahamís story shows how the chosen one, without taking a single step toward to other, sought to bless the other by intercession.Youíve heard many times that mission starts here at home.And thatís true.But it means more than reaching out to others in your neighborhood or workplace.It also means intercession for others both here and abroad.Even the greatest missionaries will tell you that their most important allies are their prayer partners back home.And they mean that.So sometimes the best way to ďgo and tellĒ is to stay and pray.

††††††††††† Where is your Sodom and Gomorrah?Who is your Moab and Ammon?Are you praying for them?With earnestness and intensity?Do you have intercessory initiative?Is there someone you have been reaching out to, but not backing it up with prayer?Or is there someone you just canít stand Ė a bona fide enemy Ė and you canít bring yourself to reach out to them.Start praying for them.Mission is grounded in intercession.And donít just think about personal enemies, but think ecclesial, national and global.Does this church have enemies?Does our denomination have enemies?Does our nation have enemies?Who have we vilified?Who do we deny?Who do we forget?Let us pray for them, all of them, and begin living out our call to be a priestly kingdom.