It’s a funny story isn’t it? Three strangers arriving at Abraham’s place being greeted like Kings, sharing bread and then telling these two elderly people that they were going to have a baby.
And I’d read it before, but as I re-read it this time the thing that struck me most was that this story of shared bread is a story about hospitality and friendship and promises.
Not the friendship between Abraham and his wife Sarah, but the friendship of God because this, many years before Jesus would break bread with his disciples is a story of God himself coming to lunch.
I don’t know about you, but when I host people I like lots of notice; I want the flat to be clean, I want to have indulged in my inner Mary Berry and cooked something special and be ready to greet my guests in a way that I’m sure Mary would be proud of.
What’s interesting here as well, is that offering hospitality isn’t that unusual because sharing bread with strangers was the best way to ensure they wouldn’t become enemies or be a threat. I don’t know the last time I made someone a cake in order to prevent them from turning into an enemy!
And I can’t imagine I’d be particularly thrilled about is having to throw an extravagant lunch to three complete strangers who rocked up at my tent door in the heat of the day when I’d usually be taking a nap. The text makes a point of telling us it’s at the hottest part of the day to show that this was an inconvenient time for visitors – but this doesn’t stop Abraham sharing hospitality.
It demonstrates hospitality at its best. Max Lucado writes, “Long before the church had pulpits and baptistries, she had kitchens and dinner tables.”
Abraham and Sarah don’t just give their visitors scraps and leftovers this is fresh bread, fresh meat, curds and milk – and at this point – we don’t even know if Abraham and Sarah know who they’re entertaining; for all they knew these men were just hungry travellers, but it was imbedded into their culture to offer help to strangers – to invite them in and make sure they had enough to continue their journey.
We read this story like we might watch a TV show where we know something that the characters don’t know. We know that this is God visiting – but Abraham and Sarah don’t seem to know yet – God initially seems to be hiding from them – and I think we are meant to remember here Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden of Eden. We’re meant to read this story with the knowledge of the stories that we know so well because this is God walking with Abraham in a way He hasn’t since He walked with Adam and Eve in Eden.
When Adam and Eve eat the fruit forbidden to them- they hide from God.
When God hides from Abraham – Abraham is welcoming.
And what strikes me as most astonishing here – is how ready Abraham is to share his bread and his home – when He and Sarah had been called away from their home to follow God – they only had a tent now because God had called them away from home – and now here they are showing incredible hospitality from their temporary home.
In the New Testament the writer of Hebrews 13:2 reflects on this passage to make his point about hospitality:
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
We are made to live in community and we are made to share our lives and our bread – with one another.
Phil and I were at New Wine for the day a few weeks back and I church I visited two years ago to speak showed us amazing hospitality by having a BBQ and letting us share it with them – they’d only met me once before, they’d never met Phil – but they were willing to welcome us into their tent. They showed hospitality to virtual strangers – obviously we weren’t angels in disguise – but we so appreciated being fed in the slightly drizzly field when we didn’t really know anyone else there.
Hospitality builds community like nothing else – because there is something about sharing food together that shares something far deeper. It’s perhaps why so many first dates involve food! Phil I went to Starbucks followed by Nando’s! There’s a vulnerability when we eat together and share together.
And as these men eat the bread and meat that had been prepared for them by Abraham – God reveals Himself intimately.
“Where is Sarah?” they ask.
If Abraham and Sarah hadn’t known who these men were before – they know now. As these strangers share Abraham’s bread – they are revealed – some scholars have even thought that it stipulates three men to reflect the triune God.
It’s a foreshadowing I think of Jesus breaking bread with two exhausted travellers on the Emmaus Road and revealing Himself.
Abraham and Sarah are known by God – and so are we. This episode is about hospitality – but it’s also about friendship.
Eugene Peterson writes:
“Like the sacramental use of bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”
Our hospitality of others needs not just to be lip service to the idea – but something that turns strangers into friends.
The friendship God wants to share with us though isn’t about protection – it’s about love. It’s not a faffy fluffy friendship – but a sacrificial, heart rendering, fierce friendship that leaves us forever changed.
I was quite ill for a while last year and I had to cancel a work trip I’d been scheduled to do; when I rang my boss to tell her this extraordinary thing happened. My boss could tell I was struggling but she lives in Lewes, so she called me friend in Luton to see if there was anyone local who could pop by, there was and after a little while my best friend had dropped everything and turned up at my doorstep explaining this marvellous chain of people that cared and wanted to help me. From that they cooked a few meals for Phil and I to ease the load and let me camp out at their house so I wasn’t lonely whilst he was at work. It was incredibly humbling and such a wonderful example of the best friendship can be.
It’s easy to think that this kind of friendship with God didn’t exist in the Old Testament – but this passage shows us something of God’s dream for humanity. We weren’t created to be puppets for God – but to enter into a relationship with God. It’s why He sent Jesus; so that man would no longer be blocked from the holiest of holies by sin – but invited in as friends of God.
And God keeps his promises to His friends. You can trust in God’s promises to you – even when it feels as if there no possibility of fulfilment.
Abraham and Sarah were old when they were visited by these three men – Sarah was estimated to be around 90 – well over childbearing age – and yet God kept His promise to them – even though she laughed at it and Abraham had laughed at it in the chapter before.
Just like God kept His promise to Moses when He stood beside Jesus thousands of years after His death in the Promised Land.
It might be hard to hear about God’s promises this morning; but I encourage you to hold on to Him and to the people He has put around you because sometimes God doesn’t keep his promises in the way we expect Him to – the way we want Him to.
I expect Moses thought he’d see the promised land before his death – not after it.
I expect Abraham and Sarah thought the child they’d been promised would have happened years before they were in their 90s! But God doesn’t always promise what we want Him to – He promises us Himself first – His presence.
God keeps His promises because He is not only our God but our friend and He calls us to make strangers friends through our hospitality – through sharing our bread as Abraham shared his.