Entertaining Angels

A knock on the door.

How do you feel?

Annoyed at the interruption?  Or glad of the company?

Are they kept on the doorstep until you can get rid of them?  Or does the kettle go on and the biscuits come out?

I guess that might depend on who it is that’s knocking.

What about at church?

A stranger comes.  They don’t know how we do things.  We don’t know them.

Are they welcomed?  Or tolerated? Or even rejected?

Do we move along our row, so they can join us?  Introduce ourselves?  Or stick to our own clique and wait for someone else to talk to them?

Genesis 18:1-10

The Lord Promises Abraham a Son

18 One hot summer afternoon Abraham was sitting by the entrance to his tent near the sacred trees of Mamre, when the Lord appeared to him. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. He quickly ran to meet them, bowed with his face to the ground, and said, “Please come to my home where I can serve you. I’ll have some water brought, so you can wash your feet, then you can rest under the tree. Let me get you some food to give you strength before you leave. I would be honored to serve you.”

“Thank you very much,” they answered. “We accept your offer.”

Abraham quickly went to his tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get a large sack of flour and make some bread.” After saying this, he rushed off to his herd of cattle and picked out one of the best calves, which his servant quickly prepared. He then served his guests some yogurt and milk together with the meat.

While they were eating, he stood near them under the trees, and they asked, “Where is your wife Sarah?”

“She is right there in the tent,” Abraham answered.

10 One of the guests was the Lord, and he said, “I’ll come back about this time next year, and when I do, Sarah will already have a son.”

Well we’ve all experienced a few hot afternoons recently!

On this one, God appeared to Abraham.  He came as three men.  Ordinary looking men.  No wings, no halos, nothing to suggest that they might be God.  No reason to treat them as anyone special.

So we can only assume that this is how Abraham responded to everyone who came by his house.  Common manners.  Water to cool and cleanse their feet, and food and nourishment for the journey.  And Abraham went way beyond just a quick snack.  He serves one of his best calves.  And all without knowing who it was he was serving.  He doesn’t serve the best because he knows he is serving God.  He serves the best thinking he is serving some ordinary people.  People like you and I.  People like the people of our town and community who pass by.

Radical hospitality is a bit of a buzz phrase at the moment.  To welcome and nourish the stranger.  Whoever they are.  I don’t suppose Abraham was sat around that afternoon just waiting for visitors to pass by, it may even have been inconvenient.  But welcome and feed them he did.

In our church, we collect breakfast items for breakfast for the homeless in our town.  Other churches operate food banks.  This is all part of radical hospitality.  All part of welcoming and feeding the stranger.

But radical hospitality is not just about giving food or money – sometimes that can be easy…  It’s about welcoming people – all kinds of people – whoever knocks on our door.  However much they challenge us, however they make us feel uncomfortable, whether they fit our norms or not.  Welcoming people who may not be welcome elsewhere, welcoming the people of our community – because someone first welcomed us.

And who knows – we may well be entertaining angels.

Thank you Lord
that you always welcome me
wherever I have been,
whatever I have done.

I pray
that I may welcome others
all who need refreshment,
that they may be nourished
and fed

This prayer from today’s page in the Methodist Prayer Handbook seems to fit very well:

With open arms and dancing feet you greet
those with no voice,
those who can’t walk,
those whose thoughts fall apart.
By your side there is a place for those
lost in the shadows of decency.
Help me, welcoming God,
to greet the ignored and unwanted.
Help me see
in those who live swathed in the shadows,
images of you.
Help me be a dancing partner for those you have called friend
and welcomed to the wedding feast. Amen.

Malcolm Peacock, former Isle of Man District Chair

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