A sermon for 2nd Pentecost, Proper 6; Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7), Psalm 116:1, 10-17, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
This morning is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost and for the next 22 weeks we will see lots of green and our Old Testament lesson will be a sort of continuous reading beginning with Genesis and will go all the way to Joshua. As a back-ground to this morning’s story of Abraham and Sarah greeting three strangers in the wilderness let’s review their story so far.
In Genesis 12, God calls Abram, out of the blue, to leave his homeland and his family and move to a faraway land, he has never seen. God makes three promises to Abram: he and his heirs will become a great nation, he will inherit the land of Canaan, and his nation/family will be a blessing to the entire world. Since then there has been a famine that drives him and Sari to Egypt for a while. After that Abram and Lot (his nephew) go their separate ways. Lot manages to get himself captured and Abram organizes rescue mission. The victorious Abram meets Melchizedek, a priest, who blesses him, and Abram gives him a tenth of all the loot, he captured rescuing Lot. A bit later Abram has a vision in which the promises are renewed, by a strange covenantal sacrifice. Time goes on, and Abram and Sari get nervous, it has been more than ten years since God’s promise and still there is no heir. So, they devise their own plan; and Ishmael is birthed by Hagar, as a sort of ancient surrogate mom. It is not the best idea; there is plenty of jealousy and conflict, and it requires God’s mediation. All things are settled, and God renames Abram – Abraham and Sari – Sarah. Then the covenant is once again renewed, this time sealed with circumcision rite. Ishmael is 13, and Sarah is now 90; all in all, something like 25 years has gone by (Schifferdecker).
This morning Abraham and Sarah are encamped by the oaks of Mamre. (Have you ever wondered where the rest of the camp is? Hagar and Ishmael are still with them.) Three strangers appear. Visitors, especially unexpected visitors, can and do bring chaos into our homes and our lives (Bratt). And they do for Abraham and Sarah; nevertheless, Abraham and Sarah welcome them with lavish hospitality (Gaventa and Petersen). Their hospitality has several characteristics: it is extended to strangers who appear unexpectedly, it follows tradition, and it is highly energetic, ‘rushing’ is used five times to describe Abraham’s actions. Their invitation extends a courtesy that allows their visitors to accept the invitation without embarrassment (Fretheim).
This story establishes hospitality as a basic tenant of human relationship. Hospitality is to be extended to everyone, especially to strangers, not because they might be angles, or God in disguise, but because it is how God wants us to treat each other. However, there is more to hospitality. The story now comes to its 2nd point. Sarah laughs when she over hears the promise to Abraham that she will bear him a son. It’s been 25 years, I’d laugh too. Her laughter, and Abraham’s laughter in the previous story, raises an interesting idea; is accepting God’s covenant an act of hospitality?
Do the expectations of hospitality, provide the context from which we can answer today’s fundamental question Is anything too hard for God (Fretheim)? Hospitality toward God is not simply a spiritual matter, it is also a response of the whole self to the mundane affairs of everyday life (Fretheim). For Abraham and Sarah, it is the birth of the promised heir. In our everyday life we face different forms of the same question? Will our beloved heal from injuries? Will Burt really learn to be the service dog Angie needs? Will the weather drown or nurture crops? Will commodity prices go up or down? Will my family member be safe while deployed serving our country? Everyone here, everyone here, has a specific form of the question Is anything too hard for God? Against our hopes, the answer is not simple.
If we say yes, we are professing the belief that some things are too hard for the Lord, and we imply that God is not really God (Bratt). Saying yes somethings are too hard for the Lord means it is possible for us, for anyone, to define what is possible for God, and [n]o human construct can finally define God’s possibilities (Fretheim) . However, if we say no, nothing is too hard for the Lord, then we fail to recognize that God has given genuine power into the hands of the creation (Fretheim). And you know that we are partners in the continuing creation and that we are called to till and nurture the earth for the good of all God’s people.
So, maybe the answer to question of God’s ability cannot be spoken. Perhaps the answer is in our responses to the circumstances that raise the question. Perhaps being an absurdly gracious host to God’s presence in the seemingly hopelessness of todays scattered, troubled, despondent, cast off lives (Pankey, A cure for hopelessness). opens un-seeable ways to the future (Harrelson).
Sometime this past week I read Peter Marty’s article about struggling with divine causality in tragic circumstances. He rejects clichés, about God’s plans, often used to explain away such circumstances. Marty does not believe that we are passive marionettes at the whim of a stage-managing God. He writes God may work in inscrutable ways, but there’s no evidence that God works in nonsensical ways. He goes on to quote a seriously ill father’s answer to his son’s anger at God Peter, God has trusted me with this illness (Marty). Trusted me.
God trusts Abraham and Sarah to host the promise of an heir. God/Jesus trusts the disciples to host the commission to go into a world of the shepherdess, harassed and helpless. God trusts us to host the response to ball field shootings in Washington. God trusts us to host the divine presence at a residential tower fire in London. God/Jesus/Spirit trusts us to host their continuing presence, in a world where somebody is always selling something, by sharing an alternative message of God’s steadfast love (Pankey, Wanted: FT Laborers for the Harvest).
That God/Jesus/Spirit trusts us to be gracious hosts in all the world’s tragedies and treasures take us to the very edge of acceptance. However, we should remember that neither Abraham nor Sarah responds in particularly exemplary ways to the call of God; and the disciples, they do not do any better; yet, their responses is not a revelation of unbelief (Fretheim). We know they become gracious hosts of the trust God/Jesus/Spirit extends to them; if for no other reason than we have the remarkable story of hope of resurrection life to share with all the world.
So, I find myself leaving us to ponder: What will life be if we take seriously the divine trust given us to host the worlds tragedies and treasures with energetic lavish hospitality (Koester).
Bratt, Doug. Proper 6 A Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7). 18 6 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Koester, Br. James. “Mission.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 13 6 2017.
Marty, Peter W. “Does God cause our suffering?” 21 6 2017. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org /article/does-god-cause-our-suffering>.
Pankey, Steve. A cure for hopelessness. 14 6 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.
—. Wanted: FT Laborers for the Harvest. 12 6 2017. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Schifferdecker, Kathryn M. Commentary on Genesis 18:1-15 [21:1-7]. 18 6 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.