You know the sermon is especially good when someone walks out crying half way through. Okay, the pain and tears unfortunately came from cramps and not from conviction. But the sermon was good, nonetheless. Brother Norman Troyer spoke on the topic of Christians living as strangers and pilgrims.
I wish I could give you an outline of the sermon, but I confess I spent part of the sermon walking out back with the poor brother suffering from leg cramps, and part of the sermon letting my mind wander on nearby mental paths.
I thought the sermon was especially timely. One reason it was timely was because I had just finished updating the congregation on our tentative plans about moving away from Leon, Iowa. I sit down, Brother Marvin prays, and then Brother Norman stands up and reminds us we shouldn’t set our roots down too deeply anywhere. We are just strangers and pilgrims. We should let God relocate us if he wants to. Ka-ching! I’m thinking I just heard from God.
Another good thing about the sermon was one of those mental farm paths down which I strolled. Brother Norman was just getting nicely started on his biblical survey of S&P (not the 500 type). After hitting a few prominent NT passages (Heb. 11:13; 1Pet. 2:11), he prepped for a home run by winding his bat way back—all the way back to Abram in Genesis 12.
Genesis 13 was where I got lost in the corn maze. (This was before the cramps began. Are you still with me?)
Abram was a stranger and a pilgrim. Lot was not.
Why not? What was Lot’s first mistake?
As Anabaptists, we know the story well. Cities are bad. Or they are dangerous, at least. Rural life is best. True, if you are careful you can live a godly life in a small town. Maybe even in a small city. And if you are really certain that God has called you, a few of you might even be specially gifted to live a godly life in New York City. But rural life is still best. And farming is next to godliness.
Okay, I might be stretching it just a bit. But, though I can’t find it right now, I know I’ve read a book or essay where someone seriously questioned whether Anabaptism can survive if Anabaptists give up farming. (And that “someone” isn’t alone, as you and I both know.) Perhaps Anabaptism as we now know it can’t survive off the farm for more than a generation or two. And that may indeed be a second-order kind of a loss, worthy of some grief. (Second-order, because most Christians have not and never will be Anabaptists; Christianity wouldn’t die with Anabaptism. Truth.) But I propose that it might be significant to recall that some of the very first Anabaptists were not farmers. They lived in the city of Zurich and were—wait for it—college students. Imagine that!
Back to Lot. So, we know the story well. Here was Lot’s mistake: He was enticed by the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. True, at first he didn’t actually move into the city. But he chose to pitch his tent nearby. He enjoyed being tempted, you know, even if he wasn’t quite ready to give in. So Lot’s first mistake was that he was enticed by the sensual excitement of the big city. This is what eventually led to the tragic loss of his family.
Right? (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed the previous paragraphs do not represent the substance of Mr. Troyer’s sermon, nor the opinions of the author, editor, or publisher of this article. Opinions of readers are, as yet, unknown.)
Let’s read that story again. Here it is, as Scripture tells it:
2 Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. 3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. 5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, 6 so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, 7 and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.
8 Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. (Genesis 13:2-11 ESV)
Yes, if we include one more verse, we get this: “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” And there does seem to be a typological significance to the fact that Lot moved east—a direction associated primarily with evil in Genesis ever since mankind was driven eastward out of Eden (see Gen. 3:24; 4:16; 11:2).
But notice, please, that Lot didn’t seem to notice the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah at all when he “lifted up his eyes” to chose where to settle. No, it seems that the cities weren’t on his radar at all.
What was on his radar? What did Lot see when he lifted up his eyes?
Read it again:
Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar… So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley. (Genesis 13:10-11 ESV)
Lot saw some lush, green farmland. He saw land that reminded you of the Garden of Eden. It was like the Nile River valley in Egypt—the bread basket of the ancient Near East.
And why, pray tell, was Lot interested in some well-watered, river-bottom land? Because Lot was a farmer! That’s right, Lot was a farmer.
A big-time farmer. Read it again:
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold… And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together… (Genesis 13:2, 5-6 ESV)
Abram and Lot were both big-time farmers. And—notice this, too—they both lived near wicked pagans. Yes, Lot lived near wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. And yes, these cities were so exceptionally wicked that God saw fit to destroy them some 600 years before the Canaanites were destroyed. “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete,” God told Abram (Gen. 15:16). But it had begun. And our text specifies that Abram was not settling in an empty promised land: “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land” (Gen. 13:7).
So, let’s summarize: Scripture does not say that Lot was enticed by the big city while Abram was wise enough to prefer a secluded rural life.
What does it say? It says that Lot chose the best farmland. This is what motivated his choice. As any good farmer knows, there is only so much top-quality farmland around, so if you want it, you better step quickly.
Does this sound familiar? Have Anabaptists ever done such a thing, perchance?
So, Mr. Gingrich, what exactly is your point? What are you saying we should learn from this passage?
Well, I’ll leave that for you to puzzle over. (And hopefully you don’t get a brain cramp.) I’ll just say two unrelated things before I quit:
First: Lot’s greed was what enticed him to leave the Promised Land. Ponder that, brothers and sisters.
Second: I’m thinking I might go find me some really bad farmland to pitch our family’s tent. That is, if that’s where God calls us to be strangers and pilgrims.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? What might God want Anabaptists to learn (or unlearn) from this story about Lot? Share your insights in the comments below!