This is a Reflection based on Genesis 19:12-25. It focuses on how church as we are familiar and comfortable with is dying and that we need to take what is important with us and leave the church as we know it behind.
You might think this is a very pessimistic and dark passage of scripture but I believe that it has a lot to say to us at St. Andrew’s and many other congregations.
So let’s begin by seeing what’s in the story. Prior to this passage Lot has been visited by messengers of God. The people of the city failed to offer them hospitality. Lot provided hospitality and protected them. And so the story begins with the messengers speaking to Lot:
“Who are your people in this place?” The messengers provide an opportunity for Lot to identify and speak with family members so that they may leave with him. Lot’s family is not being left in the lurch when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. But when Lot goes and speaks with his sons-in-law and other family members they think he’s crazy. “What do you mean the city will be destroyed?” they ask. They can’t imagine that what they know, what is familiar to them will disappear. A bit earlier in Genesis we hear the story of Noah building an ark in the desert. People thought he was crazy and his family were the only ones to survive. When we hear prophets talking about destruction or when we see things looming on the horizon we need to pay attention. Unlike the son’s-in-law who thought Lot was joking or jesting we need to take the voices seriously.
Lot tried his best to get his family to believe him. He wanted them to come with him but in the end he had to leave with his wife and daughters. Even Lot didn’t really want to leave. He waited around hoping the others would come with him. He waited around hoping the messengers were wrong and that the destruction would go away.
In the end, God’s messengers had to take Lot, his wife and daughters by the hand and lead them away. They liked their city. They weren’t sure they wanted to leave without the rest of the family and their friends and neighbours. But in the end God went with them out of the city.
When they finally left the city, God told them to run for their lives and not look back. If they looked back they would “be consumed” (NRSV). The inclusive translation says they would be “swept away.” They had to leave in a hurry with only what they could carry. Once they had started moving they could not stop and could not look back.
And Lot’s wife stopped and looked back. Perhaps she was a bit nostalgic for the city. Perhaps she was worried about her friends and neighbours. Perhaps she just wanted one last look at her home. And as she turned to look back she became a pillar of salt, frozen for all time in a landscape that was destroyed.
There are some references in various commentaries to natural disasters that would fit the description of this event. Some suggest a volcano. Another suggests a tectonic earthquake that released gases and ignited. As with so many scriptures, the stories are a way to explain natural disasters. This story explains what happened to the cities and why the destruction was so total and so few survived. As with so many scriptures it is not intended as fact but it does continue to speak to us.
If we think about the church as we know it, the end has been coming for some time and is now almost upon us. It isn’t that the church as a community of faithful will be destroyed but how we live our church experience is dying. The death will not be as violent as the ones in this story but it will be death just the same.
And so we look around and say to the people around us: “The end of the church as we know it is coming.” For some folks this is very scary and it is hard to imagine anything else in its place. Some people think that the threat is not serious or imminent. And so we wait around trying to see if the threat will materialize and maybe we try to convince people who don’t want to be convinced.
But at some point we need to leave the church as we know it. If we don’t we will be swept away. The church community needs to leave behind comfortable patterns, routines and structures in order to survive as a community. Like Lot’s wife, we don’t want to leave anyone behind and so we keep looking over our shoulder with hope that everyone else will follow us out of the valley of death. We look over our shoulder with nostalgia—grieving for what has been and wishing it could continue as it has been for many years. But we have to leave or we will be frozen forever in a world that has changed.
And this is where the church in North America finds itself. Not just the United Church. Not just St. Andrew’s but many churches. As we leave the destruction behind we need to choose carefully what we will take with us. If we take too much we won’t be able to carry it but we need to take those things that shape who we are as a community.
As we set off on this journey we do not know where we are going. We do not know what will happen next or how we will survive but we do know that to stay is certain death. As we set off on this journey we know that we do not go alone. God walks with us and leads us to safety and life. We go with a group of people who also heard the call to leave.
Which way will you look? Will you walk forwards or look back and be frozen? What will you take? Will you try to take everything that weighs you down? Or will you travel lightly and take the things that connect you to God and your community?
 Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1972. 220.