First Mennonite Church
February 14, 2021
A Guest with an Extraordinary Gift
Text: Genesis 18:1-15
This story, like all the biblical stories, lays great significance in every detail it utilizes. The location, not only geographically, but, specifically, the place where Abraham and Sarah find themselves within their life’s journey is of great significance. The story also reflects the attitude of the elderly couple with respect of themselves and their guests. The story subtly reveals what had been the couple’s dreams and longing and what they thought was possible, but maybe even more so, of what was not possible anymore at the time of this visitation.
The location: “near the great oaks of Mamre,” has great significance in the life, not only of Abraham and Sarah, but of his descendants as well. In chapter 13, we find that it was there by the oaks of Mamre that Abraham built his first altar to the Lord. As we see in today’s passage, it was there where Abraham and Sarah were given a definite timeline when the child of the promise would be born. It was near the oaks of Mamre where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Lea, and Jacob were buried (Gen. 49:30-31).
The timing of this encounter between Abraham and the divine guests was shortly after Abraham and all the male persons in his household had been circumcised, as part of the covenantal sign between the house of Abraham and the Lord. Thus, for every male person, including Abraham, the time of the divine visitation was a time of physical healing. As for Abraham, he just turned 99 and Sarah, 89 when they were confirmed the birth of their child, the following year.
Hosting the Divine
It was a very hot day and there was not much Abraham could do outdoors, anyways. Abraham was under his tent when he raised his sight he saw three men near his tent. What an inopportune moment to have guest. All sore and pretty much about to take his nap, possibly, Abraham could have ignored these men and let them venture out for better luck somewhere else. “Not here; not now; not me! Give this old man a break!” Could have been Abraham’s attitude. However, that was not the case. Abraham’s credentials as a remarkable host were put on display. He ran toward the unexpected visitors (remember he had just been circumcised) and he bowed down before them and pleaded with them to allow him to host them. Abraham served his guest the best his household could produce, a gourmet dinner.
Did Abraham know those men were heavenly guests and that Yahweh was one of them? No; I guess he did not. It only became evident to Abraham that the Lord was one of them, after his guests had eaten. In verses 10 and 13, Abraham came to realize that one of his unexpected guests was the Lord himself. He knew Abraham’s wife by name and asked for her whereabouts. Then the Lord reiterated the promise of a child and gave specific timing about its birth. But as for Sarah, who thought had remained invisible to the visitors, responded with a skeptical laugh. She thought to herself, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” But she was caught in her reaction, “Why do you laugh?” the Lord asked. Although she tried to deny that she had laughed, the Lord rejected her claim. Therefore, the Lord asked, “Is there anything too wonderful for the Lord?” The Hebrew word pala’ translated “wonderful” can alsobe translated “extraordinary” “marvelous” or “too difficult.” Is there something God cannot do? That was the question posed to Abraham and Sarah.
I would like for us to glean from two major themes found in this passage. I titled my sermon today “A Guest with an Extraordinary Gift.” Most often when we are invited for dinner at someone’s home, we take something along, a bouquet of flowers, some kind of dessert, and some might even, a bottle of wine, or something with which to express our appreciation for the invitation. We all strive our best to be good guests and, of course, good hosts. But our story is about uninvited guests. And that is where we might begin having problems. We prefer to know if someone is planning to visit us, especially if it is around dinner time. We treat life as a private matter and meal time a family sacred time. So, here is the issue: God always comes to us and more likely than not, unexpectedly, at least that is how we often feel when we become aware of his presence. Maybe, it is only when God comes to us unexpectedly that he can meet with us. Perhaps, if we were to know when God would show up at our door, we might be too scared and go somewhere else before he arrives.
There is a common family mealtime prayer that goes, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.” Children like this mealtime prayer for its brevity. But there is something more profound in this prayer. The Lord does sit around our tables when we are dining. He listens to each and all our conversations. He is there when we discuss items we would not in other places or with other people. He knows when we acknowledge him or when we become oblivious of his presence.
It is around our table, like it happens around yours, where we have given some of the most heartfelt advices to our children. It is the table where a few times our differences in opinions are revealed leaving us a little surprises and even frustrated at time. It is around our table where we also get restored not only physically, but in our hearts too.
At home, we have a rule regarding which languages to use when we are around the table. When Josue is away, the rule is that we only speak Spanish, but when Josue is present, we all must use American Sign Language (ASL), so he would know what is happening around the table. Last year during the summer break, all of us in the family were having dinner when suddenly Lilian noticed Josue wasn’t eating. He had head bowed down. So, she asked him if he was fine. He then brought to our attention that sometimes he had felt left out of the conversation during mealtime. It was heartbreaking for all of us to know we had failed to do what we said we would do when he is at home. We had to apologize profusely and reassure him that we would do our best to make him know what we are talking about when we are around the table.
Families experience healing around the table, even more so when we acknowledge that God is present. We need to be aware of his invisible and somewhat unexpected presences, sometimes.
How do you acknowledge the Lord’s presence around your table? He is the invisible and often than not, the uninvited guest who shows up. In what ways have you experienced his healing and unifying presence around your table?
The other item I want for us to look at is the Lord’s question to Abraham and Sarah, “Is there anything to extraordinary for the Lord?” Sarah expressed hers and Abraham’s life-long yearning of being parents, someday. But as the years and decades went passing by, their most cherished dream crumbled under the weight of their age as they grew older. There is something we can have in common with Sarah, skepticism about God’s promises, even when we say God is faithful. It was not the first time that God had spoken the promise to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah had been hearing from the Lord that they will have a child of their own. But skepticism and doubt were reasonable things for them to have as they grew older. They knew so well that their childbearing years were long passed.
My dear sisters and brothers, what dreams do you have? What are some of God’s promises you are holding onto, but see that time is running out for them to ever happen? What are God’s promises that you are claiming in prayer, but of which you are losing hope they will be ever answered? Maybe you have a particular request before God for your children or grandchildren, but are still not seeing anything close to an answer to your prayer. Maybe you are asking God for a resolution of some kind to a problem, but again the situation does not seem to be getting anywhere better. Maybe you have been asking God for something for yourself for a long time and still have not received an answer to it.
Let me encourage you to keep waiting in the Lord. There is nothing too difficult for the Lord. From the first time God made the promise to Abraham and Sarah to the day the promised was fulfilled, 25 long years passed.
Let us have patience and trust that if our prayer is based on God’s promises, he will make it happen. There might be occasions when we might feel letting go a skeptical chuckle or a sarcastic laugh about waiting in the Lord. But, let us not lose heart.
Let me close with the words of Psalm 37, verses three to seven:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
The Lord is an ever present guest and he will always bring along for you, your home, and your life an extraordinary gift. Amen!