First Parish Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine
Rev. Kate Dalton
September 15, 2019
Scripture: Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7, Mark 10:27
We had just ridden into town. Our group gathered on a small grassy square surrounded by local businesses. Our bikes were strewn everywhere and we were definitely making an impression on the locals in our bright spandex bicycle clothing. The sky was looking ominous and we were trying to rest for a bit before making our way to a local nature preserve where we were scheduled to camp for the night.
When you are in the midst of a 10 week bike trip across the country – you learn to make good use of local facilities when they are available. A few of us went into a local business to buy a snack, use the bathroom and ask for some directions.
“Why do you need directions to the nature preserve?” the employee inquired. We explained we were camping there for the night. “You can’t do that!” the employee emphatically replied. There are severe storms coming into town tonight from all directions – there’s a high likelihood of tornadoes. You can’t be camping in this weather.” The employee immediately started talking to other locals at the establishment and making phone calls. “How many are in your group?”
Within about 20 minutes – our new friend had found people to house everyone in our group. And soon after people began to pick us up and take us to their homes so that we would have a safe place to go should a tornado touch down.
That trip was 15 years ago and my most distinct memories of the trip relate to the kindness and hospitality offered to me by strangers multiple times throughout the journey.
This morning’s story centers on hospitality. Rolf Jacobson, Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary, reminds people that travelers in the time of Abraham couldn’t just pop into a local store for supplies or respite that we did on our bike trip. Instead travelers were at the mercy of strangers to support them. And so we see Abraham receiving travelers in the heat of the day – a time when traveling would have been the hardest. Not only that – Abraham is still recovering from being circumcised – so you might imagine he’s not feeling great, but nevertheless he runs out to greet them and invites them to rest and have some food and drink.
And then, as Jacobson also notes, he not only feeds them – he prepares the best food he has for them. This is not a can of beans from the back of the cupboard. It’s the finest flour and veal. He offers extravagant hospitality.
And then Jacobson goes on to note that it is during this extravagant hospitality when Abraham and Sarah are promised a child. It’s as if the extravagant hospitality is a glimpse of what God intended for the world and as such makes room for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember God promised Abraham descendents that would outnumber the stars – but that was years ago. Abraham and Sarah are now really old and their life experience tells them that having children is impossible.
But then, in this moment of hospitality, something changes and they are promised a child.
Craig Koester, New Testament professor at Luther Seminary, notes that the promise challenges Abraham and Sarah’s notion of resignation to being childless. The promise generates a sense of the future – God is calling them out of the sense of the inevitable to see what else might be possible.
God is calling them out of the sense of the inevitable to see what else might be possible.
I am often feel resigned with regards to the state of the world. I have a strong sense that we reap what we sow and we have been sowing however we please for so long that there’s no surprise that our reaping is perhaps not what we want but more like what we deserve.
And yet, I am struck by the notion that God challenges my resignation and instead wants me to see what else might be possible. How could a way appear when there seems like there is no way? I have to say, I don’t know exactly how this works – but I do believe that orientating towards possibility has the power to change reality.
Before my bike trip I had only camped once or twice before for a couple of nights as a youth. I really had no idea what I was doing and probably had no business being on the trip, but I decided to open myself up to possibility. I was able to make it across the country because of the hospitality of my fellow travelers and many strangers we met along the way. I barely like speaking with people I know, never mind accepting kindness and help from people that I’ve never met. And yet, that was the most memorable part of my trip – experiencing that another world is possible. One in which people work toward the common good. One in which people look out for each other and are kind. One in which fear is replaced by a belief that reality can mirror the kindom of God if we open ourselves to the possibilities.
Hospitality and graciously greeting and caring for the stranger is not held up as an expected value in our world today. Instead fear and scarcity rule. But as I consider this morning’s story – I wonder how we could change the world if we opened ourselves up to possibility rather than protecting ourselves from the inevitable. Made God bless us on this journey. Amen.