July 11 2020 Genesis 18:1-15 ; Matthew 9:35 – 10.8
Expect the Unexpected
Sarah stood in the semi-darkness, concealed behind the skins of the tent, listening to her husband and his guests. “A baby!” she thought to herself, and then she laughed out loud at the sheer unlikelihood of such a thing. The men on the other side of the tent wall heard her laughter.
One of Abraham’s guests asks “Why did Sarah laugh?” Why indeed. Maybe she laughed because having baby was a preposterous idea at her age. Maybe she laughed because she thought the sun and too much good wine had gone to their heads. Surely they could see she was an old woman? Surely they notice that Abraham is not exactly in his prime. He’s 99 years old for goodness sake. A baby? Yes, Sarah laughed at the sheer outlandishness of such a suggestion.
It’s an understandable reaction. It’s not as if Sarah or Abraham knew they were entertaining angels. It’s not as if the promise made so many years ago to them had ever even come close to being true. It’s not as if Sarah expected to be have baby at this time in her life.
But expectations are a funny thing, especially when our expectations confront God’s expectations. When that happens, we often find the unexpected. God’s like that. God does the unexpected.
We ought to expect that God does the unexpected. We read about it over and over again in scripture: Joseph didn’t expect that he would become Pharaoh’s right hand man. He had been in prison, awaiting death.
Moses went for a walk one day, had a conversation with a bush and unexpectedly became the leader of a nation.
Peter didn’t expect to be forgiven, to become a pillar of the church after getting it wrong so many times, and even denying God.
The prodigal son didn’t expect to be welcomed home. To have his presence rejoiced over and celebrated after the way he had treated his family.
And this morning we hear two more stories which illuminate this very idea. The first is the story of Sarah and Abraham and the promise of a son.
The second is in our passage from Matthew. I’m sure the disciples did not get what they were expecting. These were common folk, ordinary people like you and me and in this passage, Jesus sends them out into the world. Out to cure every disease, and every sickness. I can almost hear Simon saying “But I’m just a fisherman!” Or Matthew, “How can a tax collector heal diseases?”
And as if they weren’t feeling ill-prepared as it is, Jesus gives them strange instructions. Take nothing he says.
Both passages this morning are linked to the idea of hospitality.
For us that might mean having a few friends over for a meal. It might mean hosting a party, or having someone by for coffee. Or, it might mean an obligatory neighborhood, work or family gathering.
for people in ancient times, hospitality was not a social event. It was not about getting together with those you like, or pretend to like, or have to pretend to like. In ancient times, hospitality was a matter of basic survival.
Hospitality was originally offered to complete strangers. It didn’t matter whether the one who appeared at your door was someone you knew. It didn’t matter whether they were friendly with your family or tribe, or if they were your enemy, hospitality was expected. Hospitality was not about human politics and pettiness, it was about coming together over and above human differences to meet human needs.
But hospitality isn’t ever just about humanity or simply about meeting basic human needs. There was something else there.
In some mysterious way, the hospitality given to those in need invites God’s presence. Hospitality links humanity and God.
When Abraham and Sarah welcomed and fed three total strangers, they discovered God’s presence and the fulfilment of God’s promise to them, a son. They got more than they expected. When offering hospitality, biblically it is understood to be a way of meeting and receiving holy presence. Jesus confirms this when he says “Whatever you have done to the least of these” of his brothers and sisters, we do to him.qqw
In the passage from Matthew, we see the disciples being asked to depend on the hospitality of strangers. “Go”, Jesus says, “find where you are welcomed.” Because the ones who welcome Jesus’ disciples are the ones who are open to God’s spirit.
The disciples were meant to heal and nurture but also – and this is the hard part – to accept care and nurture for themselves.
Hospitality like this isn’t easy. We can sense that from the disciples, or perhaps we just read our own feelings of discomfort into the story and imagine how we might feel in their place.
It is often easier to be the host like Abraham than to be the one who is hosted, particularly if you are in need. Both giving and receiving asks us to open ourselves beyond our comfort, to possibly confront danger, to risk, and to trust.
Maybe we are called to give up all, to journey to distant places and care for the most desperate people in our world. Maybe we are called to dedicated service in our community, giving countless hours and unbelievable energy to bettering our tiny part of the world. We are not all activists, philanthropists or world changers.
Some of us are just fishermen, or tax collectors. And we are reminded that so too were the disciples. And so too the gifts we have to offer are important. The hospitality we have to give may not change the world in great ways, it may not make The National or even the Creston Advance and our efforts may never be recognized for any special honors, but we do have the potential to change the world one action, one life, at a time.
To touch someone’s heart, to demonstrate the love of Christ no matter how small it may seem is never a little thing. It is a miracle when love freely given touches the life of someone else and brings about transformation, new life, joy and thankfulness.
When we offer Christ’s love to the world, who knows what we might expect. Great things from ordinary people. People like you and me. Sarah laughed at the possibility of a child and she kept right on laughing every time she called her son’s name. Her greatest expectation was realized. The preposterous has been known to happen, God relishes the absurd, and Jesus delights in astounding us with outlandish and unpredictable behavior. And through it all love is shown, care is given, people are healed and lives are renewed.
Expect the unexpected. Invite them in and welcome the sacred into your heart. Now that’s hospitality.Whatever these threshold days (weeks, months) are holding for you, may there be grace. May there be sustenance. And may there be, perhaps, a few angels to meet you.
Blessed be the sacred stranger …. amen
Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers
as dear to us as our own needs.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves,
we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions
on behalf of the church and the world.
Holy One ….
There is a whole lot of pain and fear around us right now.
In the world.
I look around and see so much fear
People becoming more comfortable with hate than with love
People united in their separation, more at ease with acts of hostility and pain than they are with acts of kindness and mercy
Make haste to save us.
Wrap us in love.
Remind us to wrap one another and the stranger in love.
i long to lay hands on my loved one lying in the hospital bed, and seeing them get up and walk, healed and restored: but you call me to sit by their bed and hold their hand during the sleepless night.
i would give almost anything to make a paste out of dirt and spit, and to rub it on the eyes of my sightless neighbor and witness her joy at seeing a sunrise for the first time: but you call me to read a book with a child who stumbles over the words.
i would like to win the lottery so i could give the money away and improve the lives of all those people saturated with poverty: but you call me to help frame walls for a Habitat family.
You call us to be a priestly people and a holy nation, but we, like lost sheep, go astray. We know that peace comes through openness to our neighbors, but we make little effort to crash the walls between us.
We know that the soft answer turns away wrath, but we greet our enemies with hard words and even harder looks. We know that self-giving breeds self-givers, but we refuse others the grace with which you treat us.
As we think of your other sheep who have gone astray, we think of ourselves as your instruments for bringing them home. If they tarry for a sympathizing tear, let us shed it without shame. If they wait for a soothing word, let us speak it without hesitation. If they desire a cup of water, let us offer it without delay. If they hunger for a decent meal, let us provide it without suspicion. Remembering that you are not impressed by gracious words unaccompanied by generous deeds, make us the instruments of your grace in speech and in action.
We are your people, O God; grant us the wisdom to affirm your claim upon us. We await your revealing word; grant us the sensitivity to hear your demands in clear and compelling language. We long to do your will on earth as in heaven, our Heavenly Father; grant us the courage to fail neither you nor your children.
may i take all the ordinary gifts you have given me, Exuberant God, and use them where you send me. Amen.
18:1 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.
18:2 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.
18:3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.
18:4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
18:5 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.”
18:6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”
18:7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.
18:8 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.
18:9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”
18:10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.
18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”
18:13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’
18:14 Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”
18:15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
9:38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
10:3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
10:4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,
10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
10:7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
10:8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
The gospel of Christ ….….. Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.