The Lord appeared to Abraham near 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,[a] 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 then 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, he 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, “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 past 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.”
From Genesis to Jesus, from Jesus to Paul, the theme of hospitality runs through the Bible. Generous, cheerful, unsparing hospitality is the mark of the people of God and this is extended especially to strangers, foreigners, refugees. The story of Abraham by the oaks of Mamre makes this clear. In the heat of the day Abraham is having a siesta in front of his tent; while he is dozing, suddenly he becomes aware of three men standing near-by. At least he thinks they are men, we know better! This is the LORD! He rushes to meet them, greets them warmly and with respect, and in a rather long-winded speech, invites them to stop, rest, have a foot-wash and a bite to eat.
Sarah his wife, is pressed into action immediately to bake bread with the finest flour; Abraham selects a tender calf and gives it to the servant to cook. A lavish feast, scarcely a snack, is prepared and Abraham waits upon the strangers as they sit in the shade and eat. Then the unexpected happens. One of the men speaks to Abraham, and promises that Sarah will bear a son. It’s too ridiculous! Sarah is well past child-bearing age. But miracle of miracles, she will bear a son and through Abraham’s descendants, all nations of the earth shall be blessed.
Hospitality brings blessing to the recipient and to the donor. As we welcome the stranger to our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, we glimpse the possibility of good beyond the bleakness of our current situation. As individuals and churches, we are nourished by God’s word and called to respond with thanksgiving to our Lord’s abundant hospitality. As we share the feast he has prepared; so we strangers are welcomed with dignity and respect.
Gracious God, You have blessed us so lavishly, with the gift of life and the gift of new life in Christ Jesus; and your Spirit is at work among us, continually transforming us and our world according to your purposes of love. May we in our turn honour you by the welcome we extend to the stranger and the refugee. Through Jesus Christ we ask it, Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, Park Green and Bollington URC, Macclesfield
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