Sermon: Showing Hospitality

In our time together, I want us to internalize a bible verse as we walk through a bible story. My hope is that when the match of our verse strikes the surface of the story, it ignites, giving light so we can see and heat to warm our hearts. The verse is Hebrews 13:2 and the story is from Genesis 18. Here it is:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Let me tell you a story, but before we do, please pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and go on your way – now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, Abraham stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

Then one of them said to him, “I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old and Sarah was beyond the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers. Evidently, we need to be reminded. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.

But we do forget.

The pace of life picks up, stress levels rise, and the idea of hospitality toward the stranger slips out of the back of our minds. My wife tells me that the letting the cows out to pasture for the first time in the spring is pretty stressful and usually not a time when the family loves each other best. A cow breaks through the fence and words get spoken. Stressful situations can lead us not to treat our family very well and those are the people we love the most. The stranger might not even get the time of day.

But even in non-stressful times, we forget the stranger. As a family, we have gone to the same coffee shop on Fridays for almost five years and it is only in the last couple months that I have gotten to know some of the people who serve me coffee every week. I still don’t know their names. Part of my role in our family is to get groceries. I am on auto-pilot most of the time. I have a list to take care of. I know where things are in the store. I move quickly, carefully, efficiently through the store with very little thought for the people around me.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

But we do forget. We get busy, we get self-absorbed, we get lost in our own problems and we can struggle to love those in our own homes, let alone the stranger. So we need to be reminded. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.

But it is not just that we forget to show hospitality, but we often forget how. Many of us, I’m guessing, associate showing hospitality with hosting a dinner party. The people with the gift of hospitality always have their house in order and are great at hosting an elegant evening with others. This may be one way to be hospitable, but if that is our goal, we might find ourselves missing the heart of hospitality. 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

The author of Hebrews connects the call to hospitality with the story of Abraham and Sarah by speaking of hospitality to angels. What do we learn about the heart of hospitality from Abraham and Sarah? Let’s look together at Genesis 18.

First, hospitality is active. Listen again to the beginning of the story:

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and go on your way – now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

Abraham actively seeks the stranger. The LORD appears to Abraham in the form of these three men, but Abraham does not know it was the LORD at the time. He sees them standing nearby and he hurries out to them. Abraham takes the initiative. When these strangers enter into Abraham’s orbit, when they come near enough to him that he can see them, he gets up and goes out to them.

He goes out to meet them and insists that they stop in. When they finally agree, he hurries to Sarah in the tent to get her baking bread. Then he hurries to flocks to select a calf and sets a servant preparing it. He then brings all the food and sets it before them.

There is an energy in the way Abraham’s actions are described. He didn’t mosey over to the tent, he hurried. He didn’t amble his way to the herd, he ran. Abraham has a zeal for showing hospitality to the stranger. There is a passion here to welcome the stranger in his midst. Abraham actively seeks the strangers standing nearby and draws them in through his hospitality.

Second, hospitality is humble. Abraham sees the stranger, actively seeks them out, and then approaches them humbly. Even though Abraham is the one offering the food, offering the shade, offering the rest, he doesn’t approach them as high and mighty. As we have seen throughout our study of Abraham, everything he has in his life has come from the LORD’s hand, so Abraham has no need for pride, but can be humble in his hospitality.

Third, hospitality is sacrificial. If you were here with us last week, you might remember that Abraham has just been circumcised at the age of ninety-nine. There were no anesthetics in the Old Testament. Abraham didn’t have ibuprofen. So it is no surprise that the story begins with him lying in the tent during the heat of the day. To put it simply, he is recovering and probably pretty sore and uncomfortable. But when he sees the strangers, he jumps up and runs – runs – to welcome them. Abraham didn’t wait until it was comfortable and convenient to welcome the stranger. He didn’t give himself a pass because his life was difficult at the moment. Instead, he went to the stranger, even though it hurt.

Then he and Sarah welcomed sacrificially as well. Listen to this:

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, Abraham stood near them under a tree.

I had to look it up, but does anyone have a footnote in the bible about how much flour Abraham told Sarah to get? I found that three seahs is somewhere between 36 and 60 pounds of flour. For three men. Olga didn’t approve of me buying 60 pounds of flour for a visual aid because it would take us forever to go through that much flour and we eat a lot of bread. I have trouble imagining how much bread Sarah made by hand. And not with the normal flour either, but the best flour they had. Sarah sacrificed her best ingredients and a lot of time to welcome these strangers.

Lastly, hospitality offers rest and refreshment. Abraham offers the three strangers food to eat and water to wash up after the long dusty journey. Abraham offers rest and refreshment for those who are near to him. Hospitality is about offering rest to the weary and refreshment to the thirsty. It is welcoming others in, into our days, into our lives, into our homes, into our church, so that they might find rest and refreshment.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

If only the family of Abraham were more like Abraham and Sarah. I heard a statistic that 80% of churches believe they are more friendly and welcoming of guests than the average church. Think about that for a moment. 80% believe they are above average in being welcoming. I have known some of you to be incredibly welcoming to the strangers and guests who have come into this congregation. I have been proud to see it.

But if we are honest, we need the story of Abraham and Sarah. We are often passive in our hospitality. I am usually proud of how we receive the people who walk through our doors here in Stout, but most of the time we sit waiting for them to find us. We think, “They know we are here. When they walk through the doors, we will be welcoming,” so we easily sit at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day, while strangers walk on by. Our doors are open not only for others to go in, but so that we can go out and actively welcome the stranger.

We also need this story because we all, myself included, give ourselves a pass when life is stressful. If we are waiting for life to be calm in order to welcome the stranger in our midst, we may never do it. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. We walk by the same people every day, order the same cup of coffee, sit around the same table in the fellowship hall and we simply forget about the stranger, the visitor, the guest.

I hope that, like me, the Spirit is convicting you through the example of Abraham and Sarah. I hope that all of us, myself included, would be more active, humble, and sacrificial in offering rest and refreshment to all those weary and thirsty in body and soul. But more than just conviction, I hope that we leave this morning encouraged and empowered to leave the entrance of the tent and welcome the stranger.

This morning, I hope the match of Hebrews has ignited upon the surface of Genesis for us. But I want to close with a word of encouragement. In welcoming the stranger, Abraham and Sarah welcomed God. Those three strangers were not ordinary travelers on the road, but were a revelation of the LORD himself. God who needed nothing, let himself be served by Abraham and Sarah. God who chose Abraham and adopted him into his family, God who welcomed Abraham into his household, allows himself to be welcomed in Abraham’s household. There is a surprising grace here that the God who welcomes us all through the gospel is willing to be welcomed into the home of this man and this woman.

But there is a double grace here. Abraham and Sarah receive the grace of welcoming the LORD into their home, but they also receive the grace of the joy that the LORD brings.

In many ways, Abraham and Sarah were not ready for God to act. Sarah was still bound by her struggle with infertility and could not see a way out. She was beyond the age of having children, so there simply was no way. But the LORD promised to make a way where there was no way. By being open to the stranger, Sarah and Abraham found themselves receiving and welcoming God. And Sarah laughed. She laughed in joy, disbelief, and bewilderment. As Psalm 126 says, “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

Abraham and Sarah welcomed the stranger and, in doing so, opened themselves to the presence and work of Christ. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

The Benedictines have a saying that I believe will be a good word for us as we close. In the early 500s, a man named Benedict sought to follow the LORD as faithfully as he could. He gathered a group of fellow Christians and they committed to live together, pray together, worship together, and work together. As Benedict founded this movement of monks, he wrote a rule the monks were to follow, a guidebook on how they would live out their Christian faith. In one section, he says this: “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those “of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers.

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” Let every guest you receive, every stranger you meet, be treated as if it was Christ himself who you were meeting. Let this be our rule this week, that those we meet, we would show hospitality as Abraham and Sarah did, as if Christ himself were meeting us in the stranger.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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