Greetings in the name of our God who speaks into our lives through the practice of hospitality!
There is a wonderful verse of scripture that we find in the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. “Let love continue among you. 2 Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all—even to strangers—for as you know, some have shown kindness to angles/heavenly messengers without ever knowing it. (Hebrews 13: 1-2)
This verse of scripture captures so well a theme of hospitality that runs through the whole of scripture. Early in the formation of God’s people they are reminded that beyond the important practice of loving and caring for each other they “shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19; also Leviticus 19:34). Jesus through his earthly life modelled hospitality well as he welcomed many people into his life, those closest to him and those he was meeting for the first time. Jesus through his teaching even reminded his followers that when they extend hospitality to those in need they welcome and extend hospitality to the very presence of God!
“…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…. ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35, 40)
This notion, that in welcoming human people into our lives we may in fact be welcoming God, is made so clear in the story of Abraham and Sarah that is recorded in Genesis 18:1-15. Abraham and Sarah have set up their home for a time near Hebron, by “the oak trees of Mamre.” Often, in the heat of the day they would rest in the shade of one of the oak trees. In the Genesis 18 story Abraham is resting but clearly not sleeping. Abraham is awake to the hospitality customs of his day; what scholars call “the ancient law of the desert.” Such hospitality was developed and practiced among nomadic and particularly the Bedouin peoples of the Ancient Near East because in that landscape, hospitality was a matter of human survival. Comfort Inn and Super 8 hotels, along with all the other lodging and eating places, had not yet made their debut. So everyone had an eye open to those who may need a cool place to rest, a refreshing drink of water and a bite to eat. On that particular day Abraham sees “three men” coming near. He instinctively jumps up and runs to meet them. He welcomes them to have a little water, a little bread and some needed rest. He seems to go a little overboard because the “little” snack quickly becomes a gigantic feast. I have to wonder if maybe Abraham was thinking/expecting that these “men” could actually be “heavenly messengers”! Genesis 18 certainly leads us to think in that direction. “The Lord appeared to Abrahamby the oaksof Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him…”
Abraham and Sarah were at a point in their life where needed a word from God. Their hope for the future was getting as dry as the heat of the day. They had been waiting for years for the fulfillment of the promise of God to make them into a great nation. It seemed like they may never see the promise fulfilled. They were a bit discouraged but kept working to be a blessing and extend hospitality as God had called them to do. They would do their part and try to trust God to do God’s part. That day, under the shade of the oak tree, the Lord through these “three men” speaks into Abraham and Sarah’s life. God makes his promise again in order to refresh and revive their hope.
“I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”
Sarah laughs at this message for she knows that both her and Abraham have grown old (and maybe a bit cynical) and well beyond childbearing years. The Lord challenges Sarah’s laughter and then asks the question that we all need to hear, ponder and respond too.
14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord?
The question is meant to confront the hopelessness that Abraham and Sarah sometimes feel.
How they respond, and how we respond, to that question matters! If we answer, “YES!” and believe that some things are too hard and impossible for God then we have not yet fully confessed God as God. We are not allowing God the radical freedom that God has. We have not let God out of our self-defined box.
But if we answer, “N0!” and profess that nothing is impossible for God then we accept God’s freedom to be who God will be. We entrust ourselves and the world to God and not to our own human logic and reasoning. When we profess that nothing is too difficult for God we open our lives to the promised future and new community that God has planned for us.
When we believe that nothing is too hard for God and that all things are possible for God we need to remember that what is possible is not everything we want, but rather everything that God has promised and all that corresponds to God’s good purposes for our world and for our lives.
What reality in your life right now feels hopeless and impossible?
What promise from God can you hold too in the midst of the seeming impossibility?
As you ponder those questions ponder God’s question too: Is anything too difficult for the Lord?
The Abraham and Sarah story invites us to find ways to extend hospitality to each other, to the sister and brother we know, and to the stranger we have never met. For when we open our lives to others through the practice of hospitality, like Abraham and Sarah did, we open our lives to the messengers of God who want to speak into our lives and revive our hope. Their message, or actually God’s message and promises, will continue to empower us for this moment and for the future God has for us!
The small groups we named last week may be one potential place of hospitality that we can provide for each other, one more place God will use to speak into our lives to renew and revive hope within us. I remind you of the questions and the invitation in last week’s letter focused on small groups. We continue to invite your response.