THIS MESSY LIFE: CHILDHOOD - PART 1
Just Getting Started
Sunday, September 15, 2019
He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.
A pastor once shared with me that he found his particular rural community unsafe for door to door evangelism. Unlike suburban or urban neighborhoods where people gather regularly in public spaces, out in their yards or on the streets, people in this community kept to themselves, hidden among acres upon acres of farmland that separated them from one another. He recalled several incidents when he pulled into someone’s long gravel or dirt driveways, and assuming the gate was actually open, drove up to the house only to be met with the click of a shotgun.
From locked gates to “no trespassing” and “beware of dog” signs to the blatant motion of a double barrel directing him to turn around, the message was clear. “Private property. Keep out.” In other words, “You are not welcome here.”
They did not know he was a pastor, but it did not matter. In fairness, I have personally experienced similar “welcomes” in urban areas as well. Our first time in Brooklyn, NY we could tell everyone on the block was closely watching our unfamiliar car with Kentucky tags as we parked in front of our friend’s building. When we called, she told us she was down the road at the store but also warned us to stay in the car for a minute until she got back. Once she arrived and the neighbors saw her welcome us, they knew we were OK. Now we belonged. Walking around that neighborhood the rest of the week, we never once felt unsafe.
Though God has spoken to Abraham on several occasions, the story of God’s people essentially begins with a group of three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, where Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. These strangers found Abraham, along with all the men of his household in a weakened state as they recovered from their circumcisions taken as a mark of their covenant with God. They were vulnerable and there is no early evidence as to the intentions of these three men.
Yet Abraham does something that would be unheard of in our modern culture of isolation and self-protective natures. He completely ignores his physical pain and the vulnerable state of his family and runs out to greet these strangers. He does not ask why they are there or question their motives. He does not call for help. He does not fear for his own safety. Instead, he invites them into his home as honored guests.
The writer goes out of his way to show the elaborate measures Abraham took to show hospitality to these strangers, and in this case, it turns out the strangers just happened to be the incarnate presence of the Triune God. At some point, Abraham clearly recognizes this truth, but there is no certain evidence that he knew this when they stood at a distance. The narrator, in hindsight, tells us that it was indeed the Lord who appeared to Abraham, but Abraham himself simply greets them as human beings. “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant.” Servant here is likely not a recognition of their divinity, but rather a submissive posture taken by one who desires to serve them by showing hospitality, as was the custom of his day. Nevertheless, Abraham’s hospitality extends far beyond what mere custom demands.
Throughout this fall season, we will journey with the people of God called “Israel” from this surprising beginning in the promise of a son and we will grow with them as they learn what it means to be God’s children, as they rebel in their adolescence, and as they mature by examining their lives as adults. We too must follow such a pattern of growth in our own life as God’s beloved children.
It all begins with one question: “How will we welcome the presence of the Lord, whether we recognize it or not?”
The Lord has a way of showing up when we least expect it, often when we are vulnerable, and often through strangers. If we are too busy or self-absorbed, it is quite possible our journey of faith may never really begin at all.