Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

July 23, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Genesis 18:3-10a

Dear Friends in Christ,

When I was in late grade school our pastor’s father, also a pastor, retired and came to live in our town to be near his son. My parents got to know him and would have him over for supper on occasion. He would bring a little notebook with him in which he had recorded interesting stories from his ministry and he would share some of those stories with us as we sat and talked after supper. Since I didn’t grow up in a parsonage or have any close living relatives who were pastors, his stories were very helpful as I thought about studying to become a pastor. My parent’s hospitality provided some unexpected blessings.

We see something similar happening with Abraham and Sarah; and with Mary, Martha. Abraham showed hospitality to three strangers and ended up entertaining angels without knowing it, and was strengthened in faith by a wonderful promise of God.

God had repeatedly told Abraham that he would have a son; that he would have descendants as numerous and the stars in the sky and the sand on the sea shore; and that all nations would be blessed through him. But it seemed that God was taking his time in keeping his promise. Abraham and Sarah continued to be childless. As the years passed, and they discussed God’s promise, they became impatient and decided that maybe God meant that he would provide Abraham a son through Sarah’s maid, Hagar. God appeared to Abraham again and made it clear that this was not his plan. Even though he was 99 and Sarah was 90 and it would take a miracle for them to have children, they would have a son. As a sign confirming his promise, God had Abraham and all the men in his household undergo circumcision.

It wasn’t long after this, within the year, that Abraham was resting at the entrance of his tent. Suddenly there were three men standing in front of him. He had not noticed them approaching, but there they were. He didn’t know them. There were strangers, but he eagerly and willingly showed them hospitality. He invited them to rest under the trees from the heat of the day. He offered to wash their feet and to give them something to eat. When they accepted his invitation, he hurried to take care of everything. He hurried to ask Sarah to make the quick bread, a lot of it. He ran to his shepherd and picked out the best calf to slaughter, a choice one. And when everything was ready he didn’t sit down to eat with them, but stood nearby to serve as a host and quickly get these men anything they might want or need.

We know that Abraham was a man of faith. We are told that when God promised him seemingly impossible things, he believed. He trusted God to do what he said, and God credited righteousness to him by faith. Abraham’s faith was a living faith. When God asked him to do something he did it. When he had this opportunity to show hospitality he doesn’t seem to be just going through the motions of what his culture required. He shows eager and unselfish service to these strangers even before it becomes obvious who they really are. His hospitality was a fruit of faith.

Faith, as it grows and matures, produces fruit. The Bible suggests that one fruit that faith produces is hospitality. The writer to the Hebrews, who seems to be thinking of Abraham’s example, says Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers. Paul tells the Romans, Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. And Peter says, Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Our culture today is a lot different than it was in Abraham’s day. It wouldn’t be a wise, or safe practice to just invite strangers passing by your house to come in for a meal. But what about people we do know; what about our neighbors we don’t know maybe as well as we should; what about members of traveling choirs from our schools; or international students? What about taking time to get to know your fellow members after church, or inviting a new member to your home so that you can get to know each other? I know it takes extra time and effort, but look at the example of Abraham. He eagerly and unselfishly offered his time and his possessions to show hospitality to these three strangers.

As Abraham showed hospitality he received unexpected blessings. It wasn’t that his good deed earned him respect from these men, or a good reputation in the community. It soon became evident that these three strangers were not ordinary men. It soon became evident that two were angels who would leave Abraham’s tent and go on to Sodom and Gomorrah, and one was the Lord himself, all appearing to Abraham in human form.

Just being in their presence would have been blessing enough, but they had come to Abraham’s tent to repeat and confirm God’s promise of a son, especially for Sarah. It all started when these men did something unheard of in that culture. They asked about his wife and even called her by name, Sarah. That was something a stranger would never do. Abraham must have thought, “How do these strangers know my wife’s name?” And when Abraham assures them that she is nearby, in the tent, within earshot, one of them, from verse 13 we know that it is the Lord himself, graciously repeats the promise he had given to Abraham so that Sarah might also hear it directly from him. The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

At first Sarah laughed to herself. But when the Lord demonstrated his omniscience and called her on it, she began to trust his promise and, when the child that was promised was born, she was happy to name him Isaac, or laughter, so that she was reminded to trust the Lord and give him thanks every time she said his name.

The most important part of this incident isn’t that Abraham showed hospitality. The most important part of this incident is that God graciously chose to appear to Abraham again, and to do it in a way that Sarah could hear his promise, not just from Abraham, but from his own mouth. What a gracious, loving, condescending God we have! And even more important for us is that we get to see that God kept his promise. Not only was Isaac born when God said he would be, a miraculous thing considering the age of Abraham and Sarah, but we know that God continued to keep his promise from generation to generation until the one through whom all people are blessed was born; Jesus our savior.

Showing hospitality brought an unexpected blessing to Abraham and Sarah. Showing hospitality brought blessings to Mary and Martha as well. Mary realized it first. She realized that showing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples gave her the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn God’s word from him. Martha learned to receive that blessing too, for when Jesus returned after Lazarus died, she was the first to speak with him and to beautifully confess her faith in Jesus and in the resurrection of the dead.

What unexpected blessings might showing hospitality bring to you? The greatest blessing would be that you have the opportunity to discuss God’s word with each other. Those to whom you show hospitality may be able to encourage and build you up with something from God’s word that you might not have thought of or remembered, or you may be able to encourage them and build them up by sharing a promise of God with them. You might discover and encourage each other to use a spiritual gift that God has given you. Such hospitality might happen in a discussion after church, or over coffee at your favorite coffee house. It doesn’t have to be as formal or elaborate as it was for Abraham or Mary. But the point is that as we share time with others and, during that time, share something from God’s word with each other, we will receive unexpected blessings. God’s word does not return empty.

One thing that Satan loves to do is to isolate us. He wants us to think that we can do everything by ourselves. He wants us to withdraw from everyone else so that, when we realize that we can’t do everything by ourselves there is no one there to help and encourage us, and we despair. Satan has been very successful in isolating us. People don’t know their neighbors. People don’t greet strangers. People don’t encourage each other with the word outside of seeing each other at church.
People get up, go to work, play on their phones at break, only talk to those they have to talk to, go home, lock the door and turn on the TV. Satan loves it when we are isolated so that he can keep us from talking to others about God’s wonderful promises.

As you hear and read God’s promises, as you are assured that Jesus came to pay for your selfishness and the times that you have not shown hospitality and ignored your neighbor, may you be strengthened in faith and thankfulness. May a fruit of your faith be that, like Abraham, and Mary and Martha, you are looking for opportunities to connect with others. As you do, may you find the unexpected blessing of hearing God’s promises from and sharing them with others. Then, as Paul told the Colossians, people will rejoice in your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints that springs from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven.