A pastor once asked me, “How can I get my people to be more concerned for the poor and the disadvantaged?” Without thinking, I blurted out impulsively, “Get them on their knees in prayer… and get them on a diet!”
That morning I had been reading in the book of Ezekiel, and I came across the prophet’s words condemning the people of Israel for the “sin of Sodom.” In Ezekiel 16:49-50, the prophet declares that the sin of Sodom and her daughters was that they were “arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy.” The formula of “arrogant + overfed = unconcerned to help the poor and the needy” was on my mind that day.
If we surveyed church leaders, my guess is that most pastors would cite “prayerlessness” (or at least not enough prayer) as a concern. Few of us, however, worry much about the spiritual state of the overweight and obese people in our congregations. Yet obesity is considered an epidemic in America, and it seems to be one of the few acceptable “sins of the flesh” in our churches. We’ll condemn drugs, drinking, and smoking as sins against our bodies, the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” yet few preach against overeating, poor diets, and obesity – even when the “temples of the Holy Spirit” in our churches start to look like mega-churches!
My point is not that we all need to go on the South Beach or Atkins diet. My point is that we forget that our bodies, our spirits, and our actions are intertwined. If we grow arrogant or complacent in our hearts, our prayers wane and we forget about the needs of others around us – whether across the street, across cultural barriers, or across the ocean. And if we allow ourselves to live as “overfed” people – with no apparent curbing of our physical appetites – it follows that we will lose a sense of concern for others. All of us know how apathetic and sleepy we get when our bellies are too full.
The sin of Sodom might not be what you think. Ezekiel does point out that the “arrogance – overfed – unconcerned for the poor” equation eventually led to haughtiness and “detestable things” (the sins we usually equate with Sodom), but I wonder if we rush ahead to condemn sins that might not tempt us while we forget that God looks deeper into our hearts. The greatest evaluation of whether or not we’re following the sins of Sodom is how we treat poor people.
Ezekiel’s condemnation of those who were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned for the poor has forced me to scrutinize my own life, to make sure my appetites are not dulling my spiritual senses and numbing my compassion for the poor. It has also led to challenges to others – like my challenge to the pastor to get his people on their knees and on a diet.
I’m thinking of doing a missions/compassion sermon and titling it, “Are You Guilty of the Sin of Sodom?” but I’m not sure I’m courageous enough – though I am convinced it might arouse curiosity.