The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’ Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door. Then the men said to Lot, ‘Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.’ So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, ‘Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.’ And Lot said to them, ‘Oh, no, my lords; your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!’
How do you decide it is time to leave? For leaving is to say goodbye – perhaps forever – to this home, this life, our jobs, the children’s connections. It may be a final goodbye to family too. Can we take mum? Would she cope with the journey?
Many refugees test this decision for weeks or months before they decide, but like Lot and his family some have no notice. Lot becomes a refugee because his decision to offer protection to two strangers in the city square has brought an angry mob to his front door. He has survived the night only by divine intervention, a temporary blindness that keeps his destruction at bay. His daughters become refugees with him, but they have survived only because their father’s attempt to bargain with their bodies for the safety of the strangers happened to fall on deaf ears. Lot’s wife never finds refuge. Mum doesn’t make it; she doesn’t survive the desert crossing.
In Lot’s story I hear that of a nurse in Zimbabwe, who became a refugee because she showed kindness to a stranger. During an election rally a clash between government and opposition party members had led to many injuries. The nurse did her job, treating the most injured first but was ordered by a government party official to break away from one patient to treat someone more important. The nurse declined, knowing that her patient was critical and the other could wait. Nothing more that day, but soon her loyalty to the government party was being publicly tested, people were watching her. It was surely, her husband said, time to leave.
“Get up, get out of this place” say the angels to Lot. Thank God for places of safety in this world for those who need them.
prompt the hearts of those who need to leave
that they may be kept safe from harm.
And prompt the hearts of those who will receive them
that there will be places of safety and kindness
across this world,
and in our communities.
The Rev’d ‘Frin Lewis Smith is the Minister of Darwen and Tockholes URC.