‘[Abraham] brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before [the three strangers]. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.’ Genesis 18:8
Brothers and sisters, I want us to begin by thinking about one of Charles Dickens’ best-known characters, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol' is a marvellous story about an ungenerous and inhospitable man who became generous and hospitable. At the beginning of the story Scrooge is a penny-pincher, who won’t pay for enough coal to heat his office, won’t give to the poor, won't go to his nephew's party—let alone host his own party—even at Christmas. However, by the end of the book—because of the revelations of Christmas past, present, and future—Scrooge is transformed into the most generous, and the most hospitable man London ever knew. Not only does he give to the poor, not only does he provide the best food and drink for Bob Cratchit and his family, not only does he attend his nephew’s party, but he goes on to be a wonderful, hospitable and generous host himself. The story ends with these words: ‘Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew […] and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well’. What a transformation. As we once again dive into the story of Abraham’s life, we find Abraham to be a man just like Scrooge at the end of the story; a man who was generous and hospitable because—like Scrooge—Abraham had been transformed by a revelation from a God who is both generous and hospitable Himself.
Genesis 18, verse 2: ‘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 favour in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.’ Abraham doesn't know who these strangers are, all Abraham knows is that there are some strangers in need of hospitality, and as a follower of God he desired to serve them. Abraham is no penny-pincher—Abraham is not like Scrooge at the beginning of ‘A Christmas Carol’—he doesn’t do hospitality on the cheap, no, he goes all out for these strangers. This sort of behaviour is absolutely remarkable, even in a culture—which at the time—prized hospitality, and as the readers we’re meant to be left asking ‘why?’. Why would an old man —a chief amongst his people, a man who was expected to be served not serve— go to all this trouble for a few passing visitors he did not know. Well, because God has revealed Himself again and again to Abraham, and in the process given Abraham promise after promise of gift after gift. God has been more than generous to Abraham, God has been more than hospitable, and this has rubbed off. Abraham now believes, now trusts, this generous and hospitable God, and so becomes generous and hospitable himself. A generous people reflect a generous God. Over the past 18 months we have been unable to provide hospitality—in fact for much of that time it has been illegal—but like Abraham, our Father in the Faith, we are called to be generous and hospitable because we know and trust the same generous and hospitable God. Let the Scriptures this morning, then, challenge and encourage us to find again that spirit of generosity and hospitality. Beginning by being hospitable to God, and following that, by being hospitable and generous to the people around us
How can we be hospitable to God? By making room for Him in our day. By making space to read His word, and to speak to Him in prayer. By saying grace as we begin a meal; by thanking Him in the evening before we sleep for being with us during the day; and asking Him to be with us each morning as we rise from sleep. If we practice these simple forms of hospitality to God, we will find that we are transformed—as Abraham was—into a generous and hospitable people. Having taken these small, and yet important, steps to welcome God into our day, we are then called to turn outwards and to find ways to be generous to strangers and welcome them into our homes. I think it would be great if, now that we’re starting to get back to normal, as a church family we start inviting people over for meals. I know this can be scary, but we follow a God who is generous to us, who is hospitable to us, and who calls on us to be like Him. I suspect the reason why we don’t is that too often we are more like Sarah in this story (v10f) than Abraham; we simply struggle to believe God’s promise, that He will be generous and hospitable to us. Sarah scoffs and laughs, and in so doing draws the question, verse 14: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ Sarah’s laugh is understandable from one angle. She knows enough science to realise that it is impossible—scientifically—for a 90 year old woman to become pregnant. And indeed, so does God… but that’s the point! It isn’t possible scientifically, it is only possible if God does something miraculous. However, as those who have read Genesis from the beginning, we know that God created the world out of nothing. Is it really a stretch to believe that God can turn a barren womb into a fertile one, just as he promised? At the heart of the Christian faith the same question is posed about the resurrection: ’Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’—Yes these things are too hard for the Lord—well then truthfully God is not God, and He is not able to keep His promises to Sarah, to Abraham, or to us. But if the answer is ‘No’—No, nothing is too hard for the Lord—then we admit that God is God, and what He promises He will deliver for Sarah, for Abraham and, yes, for us. Having answered God’s question we should then begin to copy Abraham, as he welcomes God into his midst, is transformed by God into a generous and hospitable person, and then, like Abraham, we should turn out towards the world and go out to love and serve the world. Let us be marked by a radical generosity, and a radical hospitality, which causes us to open up our homes, open our lives, and open up our hearts to the stranger, invite them in, and find, in our generosity, that we entertain angels without knowing it. Amen.(from Fr. Mike).