Love Means Being Ready To Lose
July 13, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Abraham Was Ready To Lose
1. In today's first recitation, we read Genesis chapter thirteen. Affluent people appear in this text. One [of them] is Abraham. At this point in time [his] name is still "Abram." The scripture says in verse two that "Abram had a great deal of cattle and silver and gold." Another person is Lot. He is Abram's nephew. "Lot also had journeyed with Abram, and he raised herds of sheep and cows, and he had many tents," (verse five).
2. Wealth and longevity are often declared in the Old Testament as blessings of God. Therefore, Abram was blessed by God. We could say that Lot also was blessed by God. Yet, we know [that] wealth does not necessarily always bring a person blessing and happiness. In that sense, we can say that whether or not wealth in a true sense amounts to happiness for somebody is also an issue up for grabs. Now, the individuals themselves will be put to questioning about it. It is certainly possible that being poor and destitute can be a test and a trial. But, when a person is given something, when one is made wealthy, we can say that that is also a big test even more so. For, the person will be tested by it at a truly significant [level].
3. Both Abram and Lot became wealthy. But there arose from it a troublesome situation. "There was not enough land there for them to dwell upon together. Since their fortunes became too large, they could not dwell together. Disputes arose between those who raised Abram's cattle and those who raised Lot's cattle," (verses six and seven). I suppose their fortunes were mostly in cattle. For semi-nomadic peoples raising cattle, securing pasture and water is a matter of life or death. What's more, the Canaanites and the Perizzites had been living there all along originally. While having temporary residence in that land, they secure pasture and water. Therefore, those disputes often lead to grandiose battles in which deadly feuds between one's one flesh and blood [took place]. In that setting these kinds of things could take place to the hilt. Will Abraham's household win? Or else will Lot's household win? In either case, it wasn't as much of a disaster as the quarrel itself between kinsmen. They certainly did acquire fortunes. But, it had also turned out to be a curse for them.
4. But Abram's proposal came to the rescue in this situation. "Abram said to Lot, 'Are we relatives? Of course you and I are. Let's stop the disputing between our shepherds. Since there is so much land before you, shall we not separate? If you go left, I will go right. If you go right, I will go left.'," (verses eight and nine). Abram was senior over Lot, nevertheless, he let Lot choose first. This must have been a greater compromise in an ancient society than we moderns might think. Abram chose the path in which he was ready to lose. Their dispute ended.
5. Well, this is a very easy to understand story. In fact, don't you think this kind of thing is familiar to us, too? I'm sure there have been plenty of problems we settled when we decided to be ready to lose a little, like when we were willing to take responsibility for [some] hard work, or we were ready to give in to insults. I gave the sermon title for this [week] "Love Means Being Ready To Lose." When we're trying to build for peace in this world, we first have to become loving people. And I think it makes sense to say that this love is the choice "to be ready to lose."
6. But if that were it, we should probably not reason any more from the scriptures. I think we might be telling something similar in subject to a fairy tale. There would be no need for stories in which God appears in the plot. There would be no need for anything to be declared in church. The reason this story is written in the scripture and this story is given in church is because this is more than just a moral story. This is every bit a story of the faith. Even with the topic of "Love Means Being Ready To Lose," this is simply more than just that. We must understand this as a matter of the faith.
Lot Had Journeyed With Abram
7. With that then, let's turn our attention from Abram to Lot for just a bit. How does the scripture describe Lot? As I read just ago in verse five, it presents the statement that "Lot had journeyed with Abram." In chapter twelve and verse four the following is written. "Abram set out in his journey in obedience to the word of the Lord. Lot went with him." He "went with him." With whom [did he go]? It was with Abram. After hearing the word of the Lord and believing the promise of the Lord, Abram goes in obedience and trusting in the Lord. Lot just keeps close to Abram. That's the picture [here].
8. A special feature during Abram's journey is the repeatedly used phrase "he built an altar." It is also found in verse eighteen that we read today. The way it is presented in the text is [this] image of him turning himself to the Lord, trusting the Lord, and living in worship of the Lord. On the other hand, the scripture doesn't even state once about Lot that "he build an altar." There is a person turning to the Lord, trusting and obeying the Lord, and living in worship of the Lord. Then on the other hand, there is also a person not willing to turn to the Lord but only looks to a human being who does live with faith in the Lord. In short, it is saying that.
9. This Lot was asked to make a choice. Where does Lot, who had only been looking at the human being named Abram, look when pressed upon to make an important choice? His eyes go only to this temporary world. "Lot lifted his eyes and gazed; since it was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, the entire plain of the Jordan River basin, as far as Zoar, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, was watered well as far as he could survey," (verse ten). The only thing Lot could see was the abundance of the land. The only thing that came into view for him was the fact that whoever choose it had the advantage. His eyes go only to "The News For Your Gain" of which this world is full.
10. However, there is something I think that we must truly have a look at. Doesn't the text say, "... since it was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah ..."? In verse thirteen the scripture says, "the citizens of Sodom were wicked, they committed many sins against the Lord." No matter how abundant it was, the Lord turned an unsparing look upon it. That which the Lord found abominable was practiced in it. They are not even fit to see [these abominations]. Why? To begin with, since they do not even consider [anything] about the Lord, [their spiriual blindness] makes sense. Thus, they can only see the wealth and abundance in it. A person's actions are determined by what that person sees. [Lot] could only see the abundance of Sodom. Thus, "He moved [his] tents up to Sodom," (verse twelve).
11. By the way, do you know what became of Lot? Immediately following this in chapter fourteen, the city of Sodom finds itself getting looted. All of the fortunes and the food supplies of both Sodom and Gomorrah were taken away by force; even the nephew of Abram Lot, who had been dwelling in Sodom, and his fortune were all hauled away together," (14:11-12). This time he barely managed to be rescued by Abram. It was a [good] chance to reflect upon his own walk. But, surprisingly, even after that, Lot keeps living in Sodom. He keeps living [there] until Sodom is destroyed. When Sodom is destroyed, he will come to lose his wife and his entire fortune. Never building an altar, never thinking of the Lord, his eyes are only fit to see useful news from which he can gain something, and at the end of the day this Lot has not made a single gain.
Come On Now, Lift Up Your Eyes!
12. Meanwhile though, Abram did make the choice to "dare to lose," but then this [next part] is written in verse fourteen. "After Lot separated and went his way, the Lord said to Abram, 'Come on now, lift up your eyes!; look out across from where you are to the north, south, east and west!'," (verse fourteen). "Come on now, lift up your eyes!" that was said by the Lord, and then Abram lifted his eyes. Until then he was probably hanging his head with his eyes lowered. [I'm sure] you know that feeling, don't you? In order to settle the dispute for sure, he had to make the kind of proposal in which he took the risk of losing. But, when he offered Lot the first choice, Lot [rudely and without respect to his relationship to Abram] took the abundant side without any reserve whatsoever. Worse, he wasn't even thankful to him! The injustice of it was so frustrating [for Abram], wasn't it!?
13. Well, [let me say that my] speech on "Love Means Being Ready To Lose" is not so simple [and falls in] that vicinity [of frustration]. When love settles a dispute, being daring, we are probably making a losing choice. If that's it, [we could probably live with it] all right. But, what [do we really do]? We make a close count of how much we've lost. Our thoughts of "I've had a loss!" & "I made a compromise!" are left forever inside stewing. And then the other guy may present us a short word of thanks, or the people around you may say, "You're awesome, you know!," and if that happens, your thoughts of "I lost" are compensated for and may vanish down to almost nothing. But, it doesn't always work out that way. Without offering thanks, the other guy may carry off all the good stuff, and then if you've been made a fool of, instead, by everybody, your anger and hatred, "Even though I did this for [him]!," may boil over because of this stuff and all. Thus, it does happen that "Though I took the risk of losing, [what I did] was quite far from love."
14. That's how it goes. God fully knows we are humans like that. Even Abram was not an exception. So, the Lord said, "Come on now, lift up your eyes!" And the Lord said, "All the land as far as you can see, I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants like grains of sand on the ground. Just as the grains of sand on the ground are innumerable, your descendants will also be innumerable You should walk around this ground in every direction because I am giving it to you," (verses fifteen through seventeen). That's right. Abram does not lose one bit. Because he is with the unlimitedly wealthy heavenly father. Because he worships, trusts, and lives obediently to Him. God gave Abram a reminder again that Abram is under this unlimitedly abundant promise. So Abram begins to live from that [moment]. Still infertile [and without children], he pitches [his] tents in Hebron and lives there. And, like always, he builds an altar there.
15. "With love, we are to be ready to lose." That surely seems the right thing to do. But, in order to live in that kind of love, we will need to discover more and more of God's abundant wealth. Before Jesus sends [his] disciples out into this world to live that kind of love and to live as a serving people, he demonstrated that God has unsparingly given even his son. Yes indeed, and we ourselves need first of all to turn to this same God and build altars [to Him].
The catchiness of this phrase used in Japanese news to refer to useful news you can use for profit and to your advantage is hard to turn over into English and preserve the impact of it that goes with the theme of this sermon. "The News For Your Gain" or perhaps "News You Can Use": This kanji of 得 (toku) for gain is the antonym of the kanji of 損 (son) for loss according to 新明解国語辞典.
Paragraph 13 was a real challenge in several places. From paragraph 13, sentence 1: "Sono atari": 話し手や問題にしている人や事物を中心と して、その地域の情報を持っている比較的狭い範囲をばくぜんと指し示す語。... 表記 例外 ... p. 25, 新明解国語辞典.