As I had a Sabbath School lesson to teach today on Genesis 14, and Abraham’s rescue of Lot after he was captured by the armies of four Mesopotamian rulers, I was a little late for the start of the sermon. That said, what I heard gave me much to ponder about, and I will do my best to ponder in at least a somewhat coherent matter here. A large part of the message was spent by the speaker sharing anecdotes from his own observation, mostly in other congregations, seeking to draw a contrast between previous times and our own in terms of mindset. It is that question of mindset that I would like to examine as well, albeit briefly, as I find it very helpful in understanding at least some nature of our difficulties not only with regards to churches, but to institutions in general. As it happens, my Sabbath School lesson on Lot’s experiences in Sodom are relevant here as well. There larger question here is when we come looking for change, how much do we come looking for change for ourselves, or how much are we looking to change the institutions around us to reflect our own positions?
Genesis 13 and 14 are part of the saga of Lot and his growing trouble by venturing too close to Sodom. In Genesis 13, Lot sees the green grass near Sodom and does not fully understand the wickedness that goes along with it, and so he separates from his uncle and the conflict over limited water and grazing pasturage and travels to the doomed city to pitch his tents outside of the city. Shortly thereafter, in the next chapter, Lot is taken prisoner by an alliance of four kings , and Abraham and his small but well-trained military force of 318 armed servants rescues him and defeats the army, making sure that their efforts at bullying other Levantine city-states would end up glorifying no palace walls. By this time Lot is dwelling in the city, and only a few chapters later, when Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim are destroyed, Lot has become an elder in Sodom, even if he is never accepted as truly belonging. Lot was tormented, we read in 2 Peter 2:7, by the unrighteous conduct of his neighbors, but he was surely corrupted by that example as well, and his family certainly was also. Lot did not go to Sodom looking to be changed, but he found his fellowship there to bring him little but trouble, for he was left to deal with the shattering effects of his lack of wisdom as much of his wealth ended up being burned up with fire and brimstone, and his family ended up proving to be disastrous for him.
Genuine repentance often springs from a moment of recognition that we are not right with God or other people and want to be made right, and realize that we can do nothing on our own to earn the sort of restoration we want in our relationships. At times, this moment can come far too late for a relationship to be restored. For example, I often wonder about the way that my father sought in self-restraint, emotional suppression, and sobriety a way out of the disastrous errors he made in the early 1980’s. Yet, despite the fact that he had changed his behavior, he never came to a moment of actually apologizing to those he had wronged. I often wonder why that was the case; surely, I believe him to have been a morally sensitive enough person to realize he had done wrong, grave and serious wrong. Nor do I think I am that hard of a person for others to apologize to, although few have tried. That said, while I do not think that the sorts of changes that people take in their behavior always address all of the aspects of alienation between themselves and God, clearly it is a worthwhile thing to see an estrangement and to want to make it right, even if one cannot always make it right by oneself. If one is in a position where grace needs to be extended, it pays to be around others who are gracious. We could probably all stand to be more gracious in our own dealings with others as well, for we receive the level of grace that we extend, after all.
Yet now it seems that many do not come to institutions looking to change, but rather look to be validated as they are, and look for an institution that somehow matches all of what they consider to be important. This is troubling for many reasons, one of which is that we all have blind spots and are likely to be particularly sensitive about those areas where we see poorly and where others see better, which are precisely the areas where we need others to help us out. To come into an institution seeking to change it, whether that institution is a nation with its governing documents, or a church, or even a family, is a fundamental act of hubris, for such institutions are noted for requiring difficult processes of amendment that require wide degrees of consensus and require a great deal of buy-in as a result. Furthermore, such institutions are famously resistant to change, not least of which is because they are full of people who already think that they know what the truth about life is, and that makes them less interested in changing for others without some sort of compelling reason. Can we, who have much that others would say needs to be changed, be good at pointing out what needs to be reformed, and does it do any good if we are not changing even as we seek to improve corrupt institutions while not becoming corrupted ourselves?
 See, for example: