31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 15, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
There are lots of caricatures of people of faith that circulate in our world. Muslim, Jew, Christian – we are often all painted with the same wrong brush – as bad people, as judgmental, rigid people, as people who hate and exclude others.
And I can see where the Christian caricature comes from. Christian voices that get media time are rarely Christian voices I agree with or that Jesus would agree with. Christian characters in movies and on TV are often evil and hypocritical people and rarely a representation of the Christians I know – open-minded, compassionate people who generously share with others out of true love of God.
And most of society is only seeing these caricatures, having no real understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a person of faith. There was a time though when the United States of America shared and taught about Christian values in every part of our public and community life. Our laws were shaped to nurture Sabbath keeping. Our schools, homes, and civic organizations taught generosity and honesty, kindness and compassion for the stranger, prayer and dependence on God.
People bemoan the passing of Christiandom, which is what we call this time when all of society taught Christian values. Sometimes, I hear people wish for the good old days when everyone was kind, respectful, upstanding. Spoiler alert – there has never been a time in the history of humankind when everyone was kind, respectful, and upstanding.
I, too, miss those days when churches were full-ish every Sunday. I would have loved to live in pre-1820 Connecticut when Congregational churches received state tax money.
And at the same time, Christiandom was not all that beneficial for Christians and the church of Jesus Christ because we became lax in teaching Christians how people of faith behave, what people of faith look like, how people of faith live.
This fall, the Bible stories of the narrative lectionary highlight different Biblical people of faith, and I see this as an opportunity to delve into what it looks like to be a person of faith, how we are called to behave as people of faith. Because if we are going to faithfully follow the God of love we know through Jesus Christ, then we need to see people of faith, hear about people of faith, have faithful role models.
And if you are looking for additional opportunities to nurture your Christian faith, I suggest Men’s Fellowship, Monday Morning Bible study, or the new Project First Love gathering.
This morning, we are going to look at Abraham and Sarah, at the role model these two people, the mother and father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, offer to us.
First, Abraham. Abraham who has been called by God to leave his home and travel to a promised land. Abraham who has been promised by God that he will be the father of many. In our Bible passage this morning, Abraham shows us what extravagant hospitality looks like.
Abraham, at the hottest time of the day, runs from the shade of his tent to greet three men, three strangers and offer them welcome with his words and his actions: water to wash their feet, shade to rest in, bread and meat to nourish them before they head on their way again.
The generous hospitality Abraham offered to these three men is likely the same hospitality Abraham received as he traveled to the Promised Land and again when Abraham was an alien living in Egypt and Gerar. In the same way that Abraham was welcomed while still a stranger, a foreigner, an alien, Abraham welcomes these three men. And from Abraham’s example, we likely get this line from Hebrews in the New Testament: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, highlight for us the importance of extravagant hospitality, of welcoming the stranger, and yet, I do not often hear Christian voices on TV or at the border expressing that. Instead we hear “send them back”.
Jesus would not say “send them back” because he, like Abraham, was once a refugee in Egypt, and it was only because of the welcome of the Egyptians, that infant Jesus was sheltered until King Herod died and with him the threat upon Jesus’ life.
In the model of Abraham, our ancestor in faith, we, as people of faith, are called to extravagantly welcome others – to welcome the stranger, to welcome the strange, to welcome the refugee, immigrant, and alien, to welcome them as our fellow human being.
Sarah, too, participates in this gracious welcome of the three men; however the rest of the story does not portray her in such a great light. Actually in the whole story of Abraham and God’s promise of many, Sarah is often portrayed as unfaithful.
First, she tries to help Abraham fulfill God’s promise by giving Abraham her servant to have a child with, and for her creativity and helpfulness, she is branded as weak, as one who depends upon herself and not on God. And now in this passage, Sarah laughs. Sarah laughs at the thought that she and this old man she is married to, should have pleasure “ednah” Eden.
I’ve often assumed that Sarah laughed at the biology of it all. She was past the age of being able to have a child. I would have laughed, too. Now though, I wonder if they were also past the point of being able to come together in unity as a couple. If there was too much betrayal, too much water under the bridge for there to be any Eden, any joy between them.
Because even though Abraham was warmly welcomed in Egypt, he initially feared he would not be. To save himself, Abraham told a white lie, the half truth that Sarah was his sister and not his wife, and Abraham let Pharaoh “take” Sarah into his house.
I say half-truth because Abraham and Sarah were half siblings, which we learn in Genesis chapter 20 when Abraham pulls this trick again while he is an alien living in Gerar. For his own safety, Abraham lets the king “take” Sarah, until God again reveals Abraham’s lie.
How does a marriage, a covenantal bond, be restored after one partner gives their partner away as if they were an object? How does a marriage survive after one partner has a child with another?
Yes, it was Sarah’s idea; however the Bible tells us that Abraham complained heartily to God so it is likely that he complained just as much to Sarah. If you know Abraham and Sarah’s story, you know that Sarah regretted this offer of her servant because the woman, Hagar, began to look upon Sarah with contempt, to which Abraham’s response was ‘she’s your servant; you deal with her.’
How does a marriage, a covenantal bond, be restored after all of this? How do they find Eden: peace, unity, joy? Was this why Sarah laughed?
No matter why Sarah laughed, at the impossibility of a menopausal woman having a child, at the impossibility of a broken relationship being restored, God blesses her with a child anyway. And God takes the opportunity to teach us all “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” or in other translations “Is anything too hard for God?”
God does not punish Sarah for her doubt. God does not take God’s self, God’s presence away because of Sarah’s disbelief. Even though she laughs, God still blesses Sarah.
And there is our lesson as people of faith. We don’t have to be perfect. Abraham wasn’t perfect. Sarah wasn’t perfect. He told some half lies that were real whoppers. She laughed in the face of God’s promise, and still God blessed them both. Still, God blesses us.
So when we practice extravagant hospitality, when we fail to practice extravagant hospitality, when we choose self-preservation over honesty, when we react instead of patiently waiting for God’s way, when we doubt and think that change, change in our lives, change in our relationships, change in our world is too hard for God, even then God is with us. God is blessing us.
And that glimmer of trust, that sliver of confidence that God is always with us, that nothing is too wonderful for God, is what makes us people of faith.