He squats in the entrance of a shallow cave, shivering from the cold.
There is a wineskin by his side, but it is drained to the dregs.
There is a purse at his feet, but it is empty.
His daughter is huddled in a threadbare shawl and she sits apart from him, staring angrily into space.
This is the end of one of the most desperate stories in the entire bible and it spells out a warning to those of us who might be embracing Lent without really thinking.
The man in the cave goes by the name of Lot. His daughter is unnamed. You may know something of his story, For wasn’t he the one who had a foolish wife who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back at a burning city.
Yes… that’s the one…! But that is only the culmination of a haunting tale.
Of a man who had the world at his feet, but made too many wrong decisions and ended up in bad company.
It’s a horror story for Ash Wednesday I am about to relate. And it haunts me! It haunts me more than it should!
But Lot’s story starts on a bright sunny day. There is no terror in the air at all.
Abraham and his family are setting out for the promised land. They are God’s chosen people and the future looks bright, and in amidst the caravan of husbands and wives, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, there is Lot, happily one of this number.
And Lot is a good man. And Lot is a faithful man. Abraham is his Uncle and he is right there at the great man’s side.
But as the journey goes on, so there is bickering in the ranks. Bickering and backstabbing. Oh nothing very serious. You know the way things can get sometime.
But it all starts to get a bit divisive and some people end up not talking to one another, and Abraham and Lot decide that there needs to be an amicable parting of the ways, before things get out of hand.
They come to the plains of Jordan and Lot looks away to the East and sees a beautiful land opening up that way. It will be just the job for him and his part of the family.
“Look, uncle, let there be no hard feelings between you and me. I’ll settle here in the east, you go on into the west” And they part company without rancour.
Then scripture tells us …so Lot decided pitched his tent amidst the cities of the plain of Jordan near the land of Sodom where the people were sinning against the Lord.
Oh please don’t go Lot! Please think again! These might be well watered grazing lands, but have a mind about the people in Sodom. Don’t go too near lest they get their hands upon your heart and your faith.
The temptation to take the easy option. The temptation to strike out on your own. The temptation to go your own way in life, rather than stay with the Lord. The temptation to keep bad company and see that as some form of bravado.
Oh Lot, you have been richly blessed! Stay with your uncle! Please don’t cast your blessings away like this.
Well, there is war in Sodom and in nearby Gomorrah. Abraham hears about it and he turns round and rescues Lot and his family before they get sucked in.
It’s a second chance. Stay with your uncle now. Mend those broken relationships. But when things quieten down, Lot returns to the plains of Jordan, seduced for the second time.
We don’t hear of Lot for quite a while after that, but when we do, it is to discover, and this is tragic, that Lot no longer inhabits the plains of Jordan. He has been sucked into the city and he is sitting in the city gate now and do you know what that means? To sit in the city gate means you are one of the leaders of the people.
He is trying to do good, he really is. He tries to reason with the other leader. He tries to bring light and love to bear, but you see he is so close to the darkness now, he has become so remote from God!
The temptation to trust in your own strength. The temptation to let what needs to be distinctive about a person of faith to become faded. The temptation to think you can do God’s work without God.
The plight is desperate. In a strange episode, angelic figures come to Lot to warn him to get away from Sodom They offer an escape route. They offer a third chance. But the wicked men of the city terrorise these holy men and to placate them do you know what Lot does? He offers the wicked men his own daughters to do with them whatever they will.
The temptation is clear and very uncomfortable. It is when you are beckoned by darkness to a place where the only choices you can make are between the lesser of two evils.
Oh Lot, what has happened to you that you would make this decision. Like this! Your own family!
And his daughters never forgive him. Never ever. And can you blame them?
The city starts to crumble in the cross fire of more war . Everything Lot had invested in, is going up in smoke. “Flee for your life, please flee for your life” cry the angels, one last time, a fourth chance to make the right decision for once.
At last he flees with his wife in tow and his wife looks back at the burning city – because maybe that place had become her livelihood and her home and it had become hard to leave. Like a sin you can’t get rid of.
The temptation to look back at the past and even though you can see it’s going up in flames and has no future, yet to be drawn by it.
Lot is offered a small city to dwell in – but he never gets there. A fifth chance goes begging. He is so fearful that he holes up in a cave with just one daughter for company, and she is seething with resentment. Dreadful things happen which I will not recount from this pulpit.
Lot’s grand children are Moab and Ammon and they become tribes that are thorns in the flesh of Israel.
And Lot’s name – and his inheritance – disappear from the biblical narrative.
Somewhere within this sad tale we may identify our own life’s experience,,and we would rather not have it pointed out to us.
But thank God the Gospel won’t let us leave it there.
Didn’t you say Lot ended up in a cave in the wilderness – somewhere in the plains of Jordan?
Yes ! I did say that!
Well wasn’t is somewhere round there that Jesus spent his forty days of temptation?
Well, yes some scholars would say so!
So are you saying that Jesus’s time in the wilderness may have been in the same place where these dreadful things happened to Lot?
Well it could have been yes!
So if God is not restricted by time and space in the way we are…maybe during his forty days, Jesus is searching for Lot amongst the caves of the wilderness. Calling his name! Giving him a sixth chance..and writing his name back into the narrative of salvation.
Searching not just for Lot but for you and me in the parts of these reflections that have rung a bell for us.
Oh this is far away from a Lent observed by refraining from chocolate – but yes – could it be true. Lot’s story. Jesus’s story. My story and your story are all wrapped up as one in these forty days.
It was at this point in this somewhat marathon sermon, that I found myself singing the great hymn “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer”. Like you I have been singing it for years and I had not realised until now – that it is Lot’s victory song!
Guide me O thou great redeemer – pilgrim through this barren land – I am weak but thou art mighty hold me with thy powerful hand. That’s him!
When I tread the verge of Jordan – that’s where Lot went wasn’t it… bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death and hell’s destruction – that’s like the burning up of those wicked cities that had enslaved him – bring me safe on Cannaan’s side – Cannaan is the promised land – that’s where Uncle Abraham was bound and where Lot could have gone too.had he not made those wrong choices.
And now he can and now we can… because of Jesus and the cave he ended up in just before Easter morning.
I’d always wondered why my heart missed a beat as that hymn reaches its thunderous climax..because it’s where Lent takes us.
Songs and praises… songs and praises… I will ever give to thee… I will ever give to thee…
Shall we go to Canaan with Abraham now….even though the verge of Jordan still looks strangely inviting.
He squats in the entrance of a shallow cave, shivering from the cold.