It was the hottest part of the day; the horizon shimmered with heat. Abraham had been dozing, or perhaps daydreaming in the shade of the tent. He had not seen the strangers approach. They had already arrived and were standing, waiting, right outside the tent.
The passage told us that these strangers are a mysterious manifestation of God, but Abraham did not know that. These are ordinary strangers and according to Abraham’s customs and understanding of God’s expectations, they must be welcomed. At 99 years of age, Abraham leapt into action greeting them, offering them refreshment and finally calling the well-prepared machinery of his household to life. They brought water to drink and to wash. A calf was prepared, and bread was baked. As a result, Abraham entertained angels without knowing it.
I try to imagine this passage in a modern context and it seems like it might unfold much differently. The strangers might be greeted with fear rather than concern for their welfare. They might be asked to leave rather than invited to stay for a meal or even a glass of water. Hospitality to strangers is not a widely held value in our culture anymore. However, it is still a key element of our faith.
Baker Memorial UMC is a traditional church for a modern world. Therefore, our challenge is to translate God’s expectation of faithful hospitality into modern practices. We know that no single formula will work because different situations need different responses. Abraham met three men perfectly able of continuing their journey, they needed food, rest, and conversation. Had the stranger been a woman with a child, the response would have needed to be different.
Welcoming the stranger takes practice and preparation. First, they must be noticed and greeted warmly. Then perhaps engaged in a time of conversation to understand the appropriate response. Finally, a way of providing that response must be called into action.
We have welcomed quite a few strangers during this season of distancing. Many of these needed food, shelter, and conversation. As we look forward to the pandemic being better controlled, perhaps sometime this summer, we will need to develop new methods of welcoming people we do not know. This is our time of reflection, prayer, and preparation.
|God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. He said, “Master, if it please you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” Genesis 18:2-8 The Message|
Lord, we look forward to a time of being able to enjoy life together once more. Help us use these days, weeks, and months of separation to prayerfully learn how to welcome the stranger well. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.