Genesis 18:1-8

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  Genesis 18:1-8


This chapter is a turning point in the Abraham/Sarah narrative.  At first glance it seems a simple encounter of desert hospitality.  (The first of two such encounters.  We will get to the other on Friday.)


Abraham is surprised by the visit of three strangers.  He welcomes them.  Provides for them.  Serves them.


I know there are people who roll their eyes when they hear mention of “desert hospitality.”  The Bedouin caricatures of which we have become familiar have been stripped of honor and dignity, degraded to men with head scarves riding with machine guns in the back of pickup trucks.  But such is both a modern minority and a modern invention.


In the desert culture, honor and hospitality were linked.  In a fierce, wide open land, travel is dangerous.  Food and water are scarce.  Even the poorest of the poor will make room and whatever provisions they have to provide lodging and help to travelers.  The early Christian leader in the monastic movement, John Cassian, wrote:  “We came to another hermit and he invited us to eat, and though we had eaten he urged us to eat more. I said I could not. He replied, ‘I have already given meals to six different visitors, and have eaten with each of them, and I am still hungry. And you who have only eaten once are so full that you cannot eat with me now?‘”


So we look again at Abraham’s visitors and we see that Abraham did no more, and no less, than what honor and hospitality required of him.  He had no idea who these three strangers were, or what their business might be, he just did the right thing.


Just yesterday, a man came into our church between services looking for the pastor.  This isn’t unusual for a church right on the main bus line.  It happens with regularity.  He was well aware of the services available to him through our cooperative social ministry but what he wanted was money and I didn’t want to give him any.  Sometimes I do.  Yesterday I didn’t.  I showed him the food that we had available.  I invited him to stay for worship. He didn’t stay.


I don’t blame him for trying nor do I feel guilty for making a judgment call that his was not a situation where the help we could offer would be really helpful.  But it was still a painful encounter.  Even as I talked to him I thought about how many more spare bedrooms there are in Houston than there are homeless people. 


We try to be a congregation that practices radical hospitality.  But do we really?  The irony here is that we had “greeter training” after worship.  Is that what the world really needs?


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we face many challenges in life but none more difficult than the tensions between those who have and those who don’t.  We divide people into categories and launch our verbal bombs over the dividing walls.  Resentment, entitlement, jealousy, deprivation – so much acid eats away at human community.  Maybe we don’t have easy answers, but continue to inspire us to ask the right questions.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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