First in a Two Part Series on Abraham
Genesis 18:1-10a And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks[a] of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord,[b] if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of 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.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs[c] of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 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.
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Who’s serving? That was the question of the month back in Peace Lutheran Church in little Barney, North Dakota years ago. First of all it was the question asked about the monthly Ladies’ Aid meeting. Secondly, it was the question asked about the monthly Walther League meeting.
Who’s serving? It was a big deal. The answer was in the weekly bulletin, and the answer was right on the monthly church calendar. And the answer of who served and what exactly they served could be found in Ladies Aid minutes and perhaps even in the Walther League minutes. To this very day, in little and big churches all over the country, including here at Trinity, if you want to know who’s serving at the monthly meetings coming up, we can get that answer for you. In fact, if you want to know what the ladies will be serving, and let me tell you, it’s always really good, we can get that answer as well. (Story of Mom and her sister Linny getting ready to serve at Ladies Aid just ten years ago, when they were both into their 80’s. A big deal!)
Who’s serving? That’s a question we want to ask both about our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today. Who’s serving whom? And what are they serving? Three answers to those questions today, three parts to our sermon. 1) Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality) 2) Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality) 3) Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First, Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality). Hebrew 13:2 urges New Testament Christians to show hospitality to stranger for this reason – some have entertained angels without being aware of it. This may well be a reference to this Bible story, where Abraham rolls out the red carpet for three strange men before he realizes that they were Yahweh himself and two of his angels. Abraham made them feel welcome, and he did so in a hurry. He ran to where they were standing, and he prostrated himself before them. He makes it clear to them that it would be his privilege to serve them and he pleaded with them to stay. He insists that their feet be washed, which was step #1 of desert hospitality. He offers a little bit of bread and then orders Sarah to prepare three measures, four and a half pecks, approximately a bushel of flour into bread, way more than three men could eat. He personally ran out to his herd, selected the finest of heifers, and made sure it was slaughtered, butchered, and roasted. He personally saw to it that they could drink the best of drinks, and he stood by while they ate.
(Story of the first Christmas meal Debi ate with my family, where ladies served and stood by while the rest of us ate, and then sat down at a card table later to eat. Debi not impressed with that custom and saw to it that it never happened again!)
One wonders why Abraham was so very hospitable. Was it because he wanted something in return? In fact, in the very next chapters of Genesis, he does ask God for a huge favor. He pleads for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in general and for his nephew Lot in particular to be saved. In next Sunday’s sermon, we will focus on Abraham interceding and God hearing the prayers of his saints.
But today, we would take a look in the mirror and see whether we are ever guilty of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. The times we have found ourselves in all kinds of trouble and promised God if he would just get us out of this mess, we would come to church every Sunday. The times we have imagine our going to church and volunteering in the church should count for something in the courtroom of God? Have we ever wined and dined others with less than pure motives? Along with the Psalmist, we pray and we pray often, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
In today’s Gospel lesson, we know what Martha’s thoughts are about her sister Mary. It’s Martha who is fussing and stewing and preparing and cleaning and baking and serving and it’s Mary who is just sitting there and listening to Jesus. It’s Martha who is getting more annoyed and irritated by the moment until she just can’t keep it in any more. “Jesus, don’t you even care that Mary is just sitting on her duff while I do all the work? Can’t you just tell her to start pulling her weight around here? Don’t you think everybody should do their fair share?
Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality)At first glance, Martha was doing the one thing needful. The New Testament makes it very clear that when your neighbor is hungry, you should feed him. When she’s thirsty, you should give her something to drink. When your friends are in the hospital, you should visit them. When your acquaintance in is jail, you should visit. Peter writes, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Jesus takes New Testament hospitality a step further when he says to go beyond normal duties of being a decent and kind person. If some nasty neighbor is suing you for your tunic, go ahead give him your cloak as well. If some detail oriented friend insists that you walk with her one mile, go ahead and go with her the second mile. If you get slapped on the right cheek for the sake of the Gospel, go ahead and turn the other cheek as well.
Again, at first glance, Martha is doing what is right and God pleasing. She is going the extra mile, and she is covering for her princess of a sister Mary. And when she just can’t hold it inside for one more minute, she lets the fur fly. No doubt with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, she wonders out loud why her Lord doesn’t seem to be appreciating her as she deserves to be appreciated.
Which is exactly the moment where Jesus had to gently rebuke dear Martha. Martha, you’re doing a really good work there, but in this moment Mary is getting it right. I really do appreciate you fussing and bustling about and I know you love me, Martha, but your first assignment each day is to receive, not give. That’s another way of saying this, Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First of all, it was true that the preincarnate Christ came first of all To Abraham and Sarah not to be served, but to deliver divine hospitality. This visit wasn’t about getting something to eat and drink, it was about God telling Sarah in person what he had already told Abraham – that she was going to have a baby. Keep in mind that Sarah and Abraham had heard this promise before- twenty five years ago they had heard they were going to have a baby, when Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 they were told that their descendents would be like the sand on the seashore and as many as the stars in the sky. And they were still waiting and hoping and doubting, and no doubt there were many days when they wondered if the Lord was really going to come through on his word. Perhaps they prayed as did the Psalmist, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
The good news has always been that God is a covenant God, that He keeps every promise without exception, and that it has always been about Jesus Christ coming first of all not to be served, but to serve. So also in our Gospel lesson was Jesus coming To Mary. The front cover of your bulletin today gives you a picture of Jesus serving Mary. Serving her with the one thing needful, which is that her God had loved her with an everlasting love. Which is that when Jesus was born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem, he would be born for her. When he would live the perfect life, he would be living it for her. When he would suffer under Pontius Pilate, he would be suffering for her. When Jesus would be crucified and dead and buried, he would be crucified, dead, and buried for her. When Jesus would rise up again, he would be rising up again for her.
So also to us. We made the case in last Sunday’s sermon, and we make it again today. In Divine Service, our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are serving us. In the words of absolution, God is serving us with the forgiveness of our sins. In the reading and preaching of His Word, God’s Spirit is coming into our hearts calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying us with His truth. God’s Word is truth. In the Holy Supper, Jesus is present. He’s really present, and as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we taste the very goodness of God. Make no mistake about it, our first assignment in Divine Worship is to receive.
There’s an old saying that has to do with traveling salesmen, “you can’t sell from an empty wagon.” Also in the Church, you can’t give away what you haven’t received. While it may well be more blessed to give than receive, it’s also true that if you keep on giving and giving without receiving and receiving, you’re going to have those days when you come up empty. Your cup is going to feel like it’s empty instead of overflowing.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are learning one more time this week that the Son of Man came first of all not to be served, but to serve. Not to be wined and dined, but to seek and to save the lost. With that lesson in mind, they are learning one more time that it is more blessed to listen than it is to talk. More blessed to console than it is to be consoled. More blessed to understand other people’s opinions than to be understood. And with that in mind they go looking for people to love. They go look for people to forgive. They go looking for people to give them another perspective on this world’s troubles. They go looking for folks who are hurting and broken and messed up and full of rage. And in their quiet moments, they hear Jesus whispering into their ears, When I needed somebody to listen, you (listened)
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther