Summary: Principles to learn from Abraham. Eagerness to show hospitality; Abraham chose to offer hospitality; Hospitality with no strings attached; Disruptive hospitality; Hospitality that honours the guest.
Today we are looking at a story of hospitality shown to some strangers.
This is a story that comes from a different world: a different place and a different time. About 4000 years ago in what we know as the west bank today. We would find it a far less ‘busy’ world than the one we live in. The day would begin at sunrise and finish at sunset. There would be far fewer things pressing in on us and demanding our immediate attention: imagine a world without phones, or TV, or electricity or even books. And there would be far fewer encounters with strangers.
So we need to beware of taking this story and transplanting it into the C21st.
But there are several principles that we can draw from this story about hospitality.
1. Abraham is eager to show hospitality
Notice how the theme of speed runs through the passage
V2: when Abraham sees the three men standing there, he hurried to meet them
V6: Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah
V7: Abraham ran to the herd, and the servant hurried to prepare the calf
Now it may have been because Abraham had been sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day and he had nothing else to do. He was bored.
But I suspect the reason that Abraham was so eager was because he was delighted to be able to show hospitality to another.
We don’t know what Sarah or the servant thought – they had to do the cooking and may not have been so enthusiastic. To be fair to Abraham he did go out into the field to get the calf and he did do a bit of the serving. But we don’t live in the sort of society that Abraham lived in, and today you find yourself in Abraham’s situation, could I suggest that it might be diplomatic to ask Sarah if she is OK about it! If you are married this sort of hospitality has to be a joint thing.
But we are not focussing on Abraham’s way of operating, but his eagerness to offer hospitality.
I am aware that there are some people who love to offer hospitality. They are really good at it. And others of us struggle.
But actually this is something that we are all called to do. I had always thought that hospitality was one of the gifts that is mentioned in those lists of spiritual gifts. But it isn’t. Rather it seems that the whole church, every member, is encouraged to show hospitality.
Romans 12.13: ‘Practise hospitality’
- Hospitality to the stranger, as in Abraham’s case: Hebrews 13.2 ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’
- Hospitality to your Christian brother or sister: 1 Peter 4.9 ‘Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’
And I do appreciate that some of us are not in a position to open our homes or put on a meal for someone, but we can invite them out for a meal, or take something round to them, or meet up for a coffee or a drink in town.
Some of the very earliest commentators make use of the connection between the word Mamre and vision. Origen writes, ‘Mamre in our language is translated ‘vision’ or ‘sharpness of sight.’
So could I urge you to be eager to offer hospitality. Be on the lookout for the stranger, for the person in need, to whom you can offer hospitality.
2. It was Abraham’s choice to offer hospitality
I notice that the three men say nothing. They don’t come to Abraham and ask him to provide a meal for them. They don’t ask him for money. They simply are there. They give to Abraham the freedom to invite them or to ignore them.
When I was at university there were 3 or 4 characters who would do the cycle of universities to sponge off students who were part of the Christian Union. They would approach them, and ask for help. And if they didn’t get help, they would quote verses at us and make us feel guilty for not helping them.
It is the same game that I saw people play in Holloway. They came to the church to ask for, or more accurately, demand help. ‘You are Christians. You should help me’.
And we occasionally get people here who come into church trying it on, to see whether they can get money out of us.
Jesus does say, ‘Give to those who ask of you’ (Matt 5.42), but I note that it is in the context where believers are being forced to do something. And given that hospitality is a matter of opening our home and heart to another, it is not hospitality if it is done out of guilt or fear. We can only give hospitality if we give with absolute freedom.