Hope and Hospitality

On Father’s Day, it seems appropriate to look a story about a father. Actually, it’s a story about one of the most famous fathers: father Abraham…you know the jingle if you ever endured Sunday School as a child. But, as we’ll see, the point of the story isn’t really about being a dad. It’s about faith, and what it looks like when life hasn’t gone the way we want it to. 
The story is in Genesis 18:1-15. It’s long, so hang in there. 
The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 2 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. 3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”
They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”
6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” 7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”
And he said, “Right here in the tent.”
10 Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”
Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.
13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”
15 Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened.
But he said, “No, you laughed.”

If you fast forward to chapter 21, you find Sarah does indeed, in her old age, have a baby. Crazy stuff. 
To get the weight and point of the story though, we need to back up. Reading it outside of its context makes it feel like a nice, quick miracle. But that’s not really what it was. If you go back, you find that Abraham was promised this kid a lonnnnnnnnng time ago. And the kid was supposed to bless the entire world. Abraham believes God and then waits. And waits. And waits. To the point that he and Sarah are way too old to have a baby. By the time we get to our story, life hasn’t gone the way it was supposed to. It seems like God didn’t show up as scheduled. 
We get the same message when we see who would’ve been hearing this story. This story was probably told around campfires and at dinner tables for generations. Eventually, it was written down, probably while Israel, the people reading it, were under the control of an oppressive foreign government. God had promised them some things too. Land. Freedom. Prosperity. All for the good of others. But God wasn’t showing up for them either. They would’ve read this story, and felt the weight of Abraham and Sarah’s pain. They knew what it was like to have life slowly grind the hope out of you. 
That’s what this story is about: what faith looks like when God isn’t showing up, and hasn’t for a long time. 
Paul looks at Abraham’s faith in this story and sees something interesting: resurrection. Check out Romans 4:17, So Abraham is our father in the eyes of God in whom he had faith, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence. 
Just before this, Paul spends a whole chapter raving about Abraham’s faith. He holds him up as the model for faith, particularly for the type of faith that leads to resurrection, to experiencing “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence.” If Paul sees this type of faith in Abraham, then we should take a closer look at his faith, because I’m guessing, at one time or another, you’ve felt like God didn’t show up. 
Normally we talk about faith in terms of unwavering trust- believing that God will show up, even when God hasn’t for a long time. But if Abraham is our prime example of faith, then that can’t be what faith is. Just take a look at his track record when it comes to trusting God. 
Somewhere along the line, he and Sarah get impatient with God, have him sleep with one of their young servants (an abuse of power), and have a child with her. It’s also pretty clear that they become cynical along the way. Sarah just straight up laughs at these messengers when they say she’s going to have a baby. And then, even after our story, Abraham accidentally almost lets Sarah marry another man. If this is the example of unwavering faith, then I think you and I are doing alright. More importantly, I think the story is trying to lead us to a different understanding of faith. 
What did Abraham and Sarah do that was so great? Well, you have to keep reading Genesis 18 to get a better picture. Right after the three messengers in our story leave Abraham and Sarah, they go to a place you might have heard of: Sodom and Gomorrah. When they get there, the men of the town gang up and try to rape them. Often, when people read this story, they see Sodom and Gomorrah’s problem as same-sex relationships. But that’s not at all what the story is about. In fact, Ezekiel just tells us directly what their problem was. 
Ezekiel 16:49-50 This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn’t help the poor and the needy.  They became haughty and did detestable things in front of me, and I turned away from them as soon as I saw it.
Sodom’s problem wasn’t that they engaged in same-sex relationships. It’s that they were selfish, hoarded their resources, and refused to give to those who needed it. And you see this in Genesis 18. Instead of welcoming these three messengers, they try to rape them – the ultimate sign of control and hostility. The same-sex relationship isn’t the point. Their selfishness and lack of hospitality is. 
Now contrast this with Abraham’s reaction to these three men. As soon as he sees them walk by, he bows to them (a common sign of respect), welcomes them in, washes their feet, and sets a feast out for them (killing a calf for them was an extravagant gesture). 
Now, he didn’t know them from Adam, and life hadn’t panned out the way it was supposed to. Abraham and Sarah had every excuse to become bitter and hostile in their old age, to let these men pass by without a word. But they didn’t. Even when God wasn’t showing up, they opened their lives and home to strangers, and they met God in it. That, according to this story, is what faith is.
We’re meant to look at this story side by side with Sodom and Gomorrah and see how drastically different these three men are treated, and then follow Abraham’s example of radical faith and hospitality. 
Faith isn’t some sort of perfect trust or unwavering hope in God. Abraham and Sarah wavered all over the place. Instead, faith is continuing to be open to and welcome those we encounter in our journeys, even when life hasn’t turned out the way we think it should. Faith is choosing to offer the same inclusive love that God offers, even if we haven’t seen God for a while. 
And, on the other side of it, we just might experience resurrection. Not because God is rewarding us for good behavior, but because we’re aligning ourselves with the divine flow of love and hospitality that’s always at work in the world. We’re wading into a river that’s deeper and stronger than us. And it flows toward resurrection. 
So if life hasn’t turned out the way you hoped, it’s ok to doubt and question God, but as you do, stay open, welcoming and loving to those you encounter, and just like Abraham, you may eventually run into “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that don’t exist into existence.”