Energetic Lavish Hospitality

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).

 

References

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&gt;.

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/&gt;.

 

Seeing Rightly

A sermon for Proper 6

1 Samuel 15:34- 16: 13, Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 20, Psalm 92:14, 11-14, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 4:26-34

What in the world happened to Saul? Last week’s reading ends with Samuel anointing him King, albeit with some reluctance. Today Samuel is grieving over Saul, and that just doesn’t sound good. Then God sends him off to Jesse’s because God “has provided for myself a king …” Let’s back up a bit for more of the story.

Last week, God tells Samuel to grant the elders wish for a king. Then we skip forward a couple of chapters until Saul is called forth, from his hiding place in the baggage and is anointed king. Saul initially meets with great success, defeating Ammonites. He son Johnathan ambushes and defeats the Philistines. That’s good news, except that it inspires the Philistines to come after Israel. The people cry out, Samul agrees to come out of retirement and offer a sacrifice. However, he is some days late arriving, and Saul offers the sacrifice instead. No big deal, except that it is, it is not for kings to offer sacrifice, it’s kind of like the separation of powers in the US Constitution. Either way, Israel is eventually successful though it is a mess of a thing. Saul goes on to successively defeat the Moabites, the Ammonites, Edom, and Zobah. One day God tells Saul to utterly destroy Amalekites. He does; well, he almost does.

He burns the city to the ground, kills everyone, except the king, ~ and the best of flocks and herds. When confronted by Samuel, Saul tries to say herds and flocks were saved for a sacrifice. Samuel asks “Does the lord prefer sacrifice or obedience?” (15:22 ff) At this point God rejects Saul as King because he does not listen, does not obey.

So God sends Samuel off to anoint a new King. We know the story, the endless procession of Jesse’s strapping sons. God’s admonition to look rightly, upon the heart. Calling David in from tending the sheep. The smirking description of David’s ruddy appearance, and beautiful eyes. Finally, the rush of the spirit upon David as Samuel’s anoints him. We know the story. We’ve made it our own.

We made it our own, just as we have adopted the parables of scattered seeds, and the mustard seed. David Lose notes that because parables have a tendency to point out something we’d just as soon not see, we make them our own and then we domesticate them. (Lose) Have we done the same thing with the story of David’s calling?

When was the last time you thought about why Jesse and the elders are frightened when Samuel appears? Remember, Saul is still king. To anoint a king, when a king is on the throne, is treason. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner), (Brueggemann) It’s the stuff of The Game of Thrones.

And of course, there is the wee wrinkle of Jesse’s pedigree. I mean you want your king to come from a long distinguished tribal and family line. Well ~ Jesse’s grandmother is Ruth. You remember Ruth? She’s a Moabite, not Jewish, a foreigner. His grandfather is Boaz. His heritage includes Tamar, an adulteress, and Rahab, the prostitute, who lets the spies into Jericho. And Oh yeah, both of them are Canaanite, foreigners. This is not stuff royalty is made of; it’s not the classic royal family. (BIRCH), (Brueggemann) It kind of draws us back to the mustard seed parable when we realize that in Jesus’ day mustard is an invasive plant. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) Back some weeks ago, the Gospel reading was Jesus as the good shepherd and the sheep-fold. I think we touched on how in the Old Testament shepherds are symbols for kings. So here we have a story of Samuel out looking for a king, and about the only place he doesn’t look is among the shepherds. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) And we shouldn’t be surprised that God chooses the youngest son. Remember Able, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph? All of them are youngest sons, who are favored over their older brothers. I have got to wonder why Samuel just doesn’t ask for the youngest shepherd, up front. One other thing, the length of the process is curious. All seven sons are singularly paraded out for Samuel. And it must have taken quite some time for someone to go get David from the fields. I begin to wonder if there’s not some gleaning here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point to God telling Samuel “the LORD looks on the heart.” We know the heart is a muscle, an organ in our bodies. We also speak of the heart as a type of emotional relationship center, as in “I love you with all my heart.” In Samuel’s day, all inner organs had similar meanings. The heart was the center of  thinking, reasoning, planning, conduct and action; it is the center of spiritual activity the seat of conscience. It is distinct from the soul, though the two can be in synch with each other or at odds. Its importance is revealed in the Shema “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your might.”

The flood story links the thoughts of the heart to the evil of man, which causes God to be sorry God made man. (Gen 6:5) (Sakenfeld), (Orr) Perhaps the parable of … the story of David reveals something about the importance of our hearts to God, and to each other.

Karoline Lewis asks what this morning’s parables tell us about the Kingdom of God. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) I’m beginning to wonder what the story of David’s anointing tells us about our relationship with God? And not so much from God’s perspective, but Samuel’s. Think of it this way. The elders wanted a king to fight their wars for them. Saul does, but that doesn’t work out. The psalmist, perhaps David, pens a victory celebration in Psalm 20. In the same lyric, the psalmist puts more faith in the presence of God, than the presence of chariots.

On Friday in the news was a story about the House defeating fast-track authority for an international trade negotiation; and the continuing debate about congressional authorization for military action against ISIS; and simultaneous critiques of the President’s plans with regard to ISIS. We continue to seek power within the established patterns of power.

[W]e fail to look for possibilities of grace and hope beyond the traditional channels of power, influence, and success. (Brueggemann)

We don’t trust God to find a new path to a new future among those hiding in the baggage or tending the sheep, or the marginalized and disposed. In our own doubts and distress do we really believe God sees grace in us, or for us? We still look to the traditional places for solutions to individual, local, national and global problems. We don’t look to the very far a-field, we don’t look to the youngest possibilities. And I admit, it’s not an easy path to discern, because the youngest may be ancient, and that which is furthest away may be nearest to us.

So having taken the delightfully giddy story of David’s anointing and brought us around to looking into the mirror darkly, where are we? And that’s the real question isn’t it. Where are we? All this unpacking of scripture and reframing sullied perspectives isn’t about Samuel, Saul, Jesse’s family line or David. It’s all about us. It’s about us looking for, listening for how God is calling us into the future. Will we look at nontraditional long shot prospects? Will we see the very new, very old opportunity? Do we really trust God with our future? I believe we can, for “… we are a people called to walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and as Paul say “… everything has become new.”


References

BATES, DR. J. BARRINGTON. “Proper 6.” 14 6 2009. Sermons that Work. 14 6 2015.

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 6 | OT 11, Cycle B. 14 6 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, ‘Bruce. The. 14 6 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 6B. 14 6 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher A Life in Parables. 14 6 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 3 B: Preach The Truth Slant. 14 6 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net&gt;.

Nam, Roger. Commentary on 1 Samuel 15:34-16:  14 6 2015.