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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Today’s Reading | Genesis 18:1–15

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. 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. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 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.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 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.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 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. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 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.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

This is a strange story. How do we make sense of three ghostly characters arriving in the heat of the day to advise a woman well beyond childbearing years that she and her husband would have a baby? Even if we already know they will indeed have a baby boy named Isaac. Even if we know that Abraham’s family is the one through whom the history of God unfolds. That their the lineage migrates us from Genesis to Luke and the birth of John to another elderly mother and eventually to another angel announcing Jesus’ impending birth to Mary.

However wonderful, this story feels relatively safe when viewed solely from a historical perspective, because it really doesn’t ask us to behave differently. But what if we zero in on Abraham and his response to the three elusive characters? Perhaps that is where God invites us into this story. Where God challenges us to see the stranger among us and welcome her as a guest, prompts us to not only offer the “other” a spot to rest under our tree but also to listen to him.

Father Daniel Homan wrote about Abraham’s rare example of hospitality. In his small volume entitled Radical Hospitality, he suggests that merely being nice to people is not what God has in mind. This often-used word—hospitality—is not just about water, freshly baked cakes, and cheese, he notes, but about being vulnerable in the face of encounter. Through Abraham, we get a glimpse of God’s expectations for us, expectations of allowing another human being to stir us, to connect with us, to send us, in Father Homan’s words, tumbling into “the magical realm of personal transformation.”

Lord, help me to practice radical hospitality, to break out of my comfort zone, to recognize that when I’m open not only to my close circle but also to strangers I encounter that I am opening myself to you and the wonderful, surprising news of salvation that you bring to me. Amen

Written by Beth Truett, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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