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Enthusiastic Hospitality

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

June 18, 2023

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Genesis 18:1–15 (ESV)

1 And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

If I were to give rankings on my favorite books of scripture, Genesis would be near the top. I love the stories within this book. I mention them often in the messages I give. If you were to look back over my sermons, you would probably find some mention of our first parents in the vast majority. I speak often about these stories, because they are packed full of meaning.

I say this not because I think we need to read the book of Genesis as a historical/scientific book, but as a theological book of ethical origins. Some argue that we must believe in a literal 6-day creation to have authentic faith, I do not believe that this is necessary. I say this because none of us were present during the days of creation, and if we are to literally believe the stories, no human was there until day six. A day can mean anything from a literal twenty-four-hour period to an era of history. When I read Genesis, I allow it to be whatever it needs to be, and for me it speaks of origins. It speaks of the Hebrew peoples’ understanding of where we came from and how we got here. How we got here, not just the origin of matter, but also our present condition.

A couple of years ago at the retreat our Meeting has at Camp Quaker Haven, I spoke about our stories. We each have a story. We have personal stories, and these personal stories are connected to a deeper family story. These family stories are connected to national and cultural stories. If we wanted to, we could track our story all the way back to some epic beginning worthy of a blockbuster movie. And yet most of us would probably say that there is nothing special about your story. I beg to differ. In the movie “A Wrinkle in Time” based on the book of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, Mrs. Which says to Meg, “Do you realize how many events, choices, that had to occur since the birth of the universe leading up to the making of you? Just exactly the way you are.” Meg answered, “I guess I never really thought that.” To which Mrs. Which responds, “Maybe now is the time to start thinking about it.”

We each have a story, and a couple of years ago at that retreat I encouraged us to think about that story. Some of us may know the deeper history of our ethnic story, while others may not. For most Americans, our heritage is so blended we really cannot speak to that story. Our stories take a different form, maybe our religious cultural identity. We are all here in this Meeting for Worship, so we have a common spiritual heritage. A heritage that connects us across national and ethnic lines across generations to the very beginning of time as we know it. Genesis is our origin story.

“Do you realize how many events, choices, that had to occur since the birth of the universe leading up to the making of you? Just exactly the way you are?” Genesis speaks to this. It gives us an answer to where suffering comes from. It provides a story to explain why we, when presented with choices, so often choose poorly. And it gives us something to hope for. After God created the universe and everything within it, he took man, male and female, and place them in the Garden. The garden is an ancient Near-East expression of a place divine entities would live. It is a place with an endless supply of water and food in abundance. The garden is heaven. It is the place God dwells. And God wanted us to dwell with Him. The Hebrew people did not dwell in a garden, far from it. Some of us within this meeting have had the privilege to have visited Israel, the land from which these stories originated. There are places within that land that are fertile, but much of that region is arid desert. People in the desert long for the oasis where water is abundant, as people from the north long for a place where the days are warm. How did we end up in this desert or land of suffering? Our first parents made a choice.

Our first parents could have lived forever in the presence of their creator, but they made a choice that took them down a different path. We often label this the original sin. This is not necessarily wrong. I think the point of the story is that we are often given choices and crossroads in life. We are given an option of good and evil. In a moment we must make a choice. We can weigh the options, even justify them in our mind, but at times the choices we make have consequences we do not fully understand.

Eve looked at the fruit, and the hope that it would give knowledge was intriguing. She did not consider what the full consequences were, I could have knowledge equal to God. We could be equal to God. She was considering herself and her husband, but she did not consider the balance of all creation around her. And she ate and gave some to Adam. They ate and their eyes were opened, and they saw that they were naked and vulnerable.

This origin story speaks volumes, but the vulnerability I think is key. There is fear in vulnerability. There is selfish concern and lack of trust. We must find something to protect us and we must hide, because if we do not our very existence is threatened.

Genesis continues and so does this fear and vulnerability. It gets to the point where God looks out at his creation and finds that the entire human race is corrupt and evil. We are not fully told what this means in scripture. Instead, we are given this weird statement about the Nephilim were on the earth and the sons of God finding the daughters of men attractive and they take them as wives and giving birth to mighty men of renown. In the Book of Enoch, if you have not heard of Enoch, it is an ancient Jewish apocryphal book, but in this book, we are told that the sons of God are spiritual beings that gave humanity secret forbidden knowledge. Knowledge of war, magic, and adornment. The humans desired this knowledge because it gave them power over others, and they felt less vulnerable, but it had consequences. God flooded the earth to preserve creation.

If we were to consider the story, we could make a case that humanity’s quest for technological advancement threatened the ecology of the world. It is almost as if there has been a constant struggle between humankind and the environment since the dawn of civilization. But the story continues to the tower of Babel, in this story the people wanted to make a name for themselves and build a tower to the heavens so that they could be like the gods. Again, God had to intervein for our own protection. He confused the languages and divided the nations among the sons of God, but God chose one people as his inheritance, Israel.

This is where our story today emerges. Prior to this humanity has cycled through life with God and corruption so vile we threatened the continuation of life, to the point God had to reset the course of history. But God continues to want a relationship with humanity. He called one man, Abraham to be the one through whom He would reveal himself to the nations. One man. Not a tribe, not a nation, but one family.

This goes back to that quote from Mrs. Which. All of history from the beginning of the universe to now. It all builds on one choice in a moment. God called Abraham and he set off to go to a land that God would show him. One man and one woman would become the parents of a great nation, and the light to many nations. Yet, the people God chose could not have children.

Abraham and his wife, Sarah, wandered around this arid region for years. They believed in a promise, yet they had nothing to show for it up to this point. They wandered. He was by ancient standards a wealthy man. He had flocks and servants, but he did not have an heir. He traveled and lived believing that the God that called him would eventually fulfill what he had promised. And one day he sat at the door of his tent resting and something amazing occurred.

“He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.” This does not really sound all that amazing. Yet for Abraham it seemingly changed the course of history. Abraham looked at these men, we are not told how they ended up in front of him or how long Abraham observed them. Maybe they just appeared out of nowhere, or maybe Abraham watched them approach for several miles. All we know is his reaction to their coming. He saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.”

I do not want to move too quickly from this because it is important. Abraham ran to meet the travelers. Abraham is not a young man; we are told that he is a hundred years old. I do not know about you but at that age I do not think I would run anywhere. And in his culture, it was not dignified to run. Abraham saw the individual in the distance and he knew deep within him that this was important, so he ran. There was an urgency welling within him that he could not let these men just pass by without entertaining them and allowing them to rest. He ran to greet them; he ran to invite them to his tent. He ran.

When he greeted them, he said, “O Lord.” We might be tempted to think that he was just being generous, but the term used is adonani. This is a title used for individuals of great status. Abraham greeted these travelers as if they were royalty. He greeted them in this way even before they spoke and offered them refreshment.

In many ancient cultures of this area hospitality was important and continues to be important even today. Abraham offered them water, he offered to wash their feet, and to allow them to rest in his own tent while he brought some bread. He offered them a meal but what he prepared was something beyond our understanding.

As they take their seats, Abraham goes to Sarah his wife and urges her to quickly prepare the bread. “Quick!” He says, “Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it and make cakes.” This is about a half a bushel of flour. We probably do not get an idea of what this really means. One bushel of wheat makes approximately ninety loaves of bread. He is telling his wife to quickly make the equivalent of thirty-six loaves of bread, twelve loaves for each of their guests.

He then, “ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly.” A tender and good calf means that this was fat calf. One that was being set aside as the next one for slaughter. The average size of a fattened calf today would yield approximately four hundred twenty-eight pounds of meat. Which would be enough meat to feed eight hundred fifty-six people. Abraham is preparing a feast.

I want us to really get a grasp of what he is offering these three individuals. Today the hanging carcass of beef is worth approximately $4.90 per pound, so this animal would be worth around $2097. The average cost of a loaf of bread is $2.50, so thirty-six loaves would cost around $90, bringing the total to around $2187.

But this is not all that Abraham gathers. After he gets the beef cooking, he gathers curds and milk. We do not know exactly what the curds would be, it might be cheese or yogurt. Since this is an arid climate and milk is difficult to store, I would assume it would be something like cheese curds today, which you can get for $7.99 a pound from amazon.  Now if we were to consider the same rate of generosity as the bread with this. The serving size of cheese curds is around two ounces, and a serving size of bread is one slice or one ounce. There are sixteen servings of bread in one loaf, so Abraham has 576 servings of bread being prepared. This would be seventy-two pounds of cheese with a value of around $576. Bringing the total cost of the meal to around $2762. But he also served milk. Milk cost $4.99 per gallon according to my quick google search, I have been driving to and from church camp and have not looked at the price at the store. There are sixteen servings of milk per gallon so continuing the rate at which he is preparing this feast he would require thirty-six gallons of milk valued at $180. This brings the total value of this feast for three guests to just under $3000.

I want us to just stop and think about this. Abraham saw three individuals in the distance, and this was his first thought. He ran to them and invited them to recline in his tent and he immediately prepared a $3000 feast at a moment’s notice. This one meal is around one month’s wage for me. It is more like a wedding feast than a simple meal.

Abraham had enthusiastic hospitality.

I thought about this as I was driving to camp this week. I wondered if this is how I lived. No, I do not blow through a month’s wages on one meal at the spur of a moment, but what does this mean?

If we go back to the origin story. Adam was vulnerable and he hid. The world was vulnerable so they sought forbidden knowledge that gave them power so that they could feel safe. The people wanted to make a name for themselves, and they built a tower. In each case choices were made, paths were taken, decisions were made. Each time the decisions that were made were based on one thing, me. My knowledge, my power, my name. This self-serving origin story is one that is of the world. It is the story that God dispersed to nations, the nations that God turned away from for one man that he called his own.

This one-man trusted God. He trusted him enough to leave everything he had ever known for the hope of something better. This one man was given the hope of becoming the light to the nations, the restoration of all that was lost. This one man lived a long life, and he had not seen the fulfillment of the promise. And yet he still hoped. Then at one hundred years old, still waiting for this promised child that would give rise to the nation, he remained hopeful. He could have become bitter and angry. He could have fallen into self-pity, but he did not. After years of disappointment when he saw three travelers in the distance, he ran to great them and threw a party fit for a king or God himself.

 Abraham focused on others, while the nations of the world focused on self. In the verses following what we read today we would see a different reception to these travelers. They go to a place called Sodom. We hear a great deal about this place in the church today. But I want us to consider them in contrast to Abraham. One of the men that was traveling that day is what we know as a theophany. A pre incarnational manifestation of Jesus, or what the Old Testament would call the Angel of the Lord. The other two were servants of God, or what we would call Angels. In Hebrew scripture all spiritual beings are call Elohim or gods, but there is only one God most high, Yahweh. All these other Elohim are lessor or created beings of various status and allegiance. In the story of Noah some of these beings might have been the sons of God that were spoken of, the ones that gave forbidden knowledge in the story of Enoch. Sodom looked upon these beings as something that could give them power or status.

Abraham enthusiastically provided hospitality and served the guests, while Sodom saw them as beings that could fulfill their own desires. Abraham was selfless where Sodom was selfish. Abraham willingly gave a feast worth a month’s wages while Sodom raped, destroyed and devoured.

““Do you realize how many events, choices, that had to occur since the birth of the universe leading up to the making of you? Just exactly the way you are?” We all have a story to tell. A story filled with adventure and life altering choices. Stories filled with peril and heroism, of glory and defeat. What is your story? Is it a story of enthusiastic hospitality or grave selfishness? Is it filled with hope or despair?

Meg told Mrs. Which, “I guess I never really thought that.” To which Mrs. Which responds, “Maybe now is the time to start thinking about it.”

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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