Ethan Goss (’13)
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 26, 2012
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little 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.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 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.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Ready? Close your eyes. No really, go ahead and do it. Now conjure up the most memorable, awe-inspiring experience you’ve encountered. Is it a sunset from the peak of the hill you just surmounted? Or that time you met your idol, or significant other? Maybe it’s the first conversation you had abroad where you actually used that second language correctly. Whatever it is, take a moment to remember that time when you felt truly full of awe at the Creation. It’s exactly those times when we feel the most connected to the divine, isn’t it? When we are confronted by those spectacular moments that forever leave their mark on us, we often feel as if we’ve truly touched the divine.
We see this all the time in some of the more fantastical biblical tales. The pillar of fire and cloud, the parting of the Red Sea, the Resurrection of Christ, and many other moments where God appears most present are often really incredible spectacles. They demonstrate God’s power, God’s reach, God’s illimitable presence… they are truly awe-inspiring moments.
And maybe it’s because of these moments that finding God in the mundane of everyday life can be just so damn hard.
I know that the Gospel conveys a message of a God who came down to Earth to enter into relationship with us, who became a human and died a human death, but I can’t help but feel so separated from this figure, no matter how human he may be. I try to see God in the people all around me; the guy who brings in the mail at work, or the cashier at Giant… but, I mean, my mailman never turned water into wine, and the cashier never made a blind man see.
Today’s passage from Genesis shows Abraham welcoming in YHWH and two angels disguised as normal travelers. Abraham shows them incredible hospitality before he ever knows that they are divine, and in doing so “entertains angels unaware,” to invoke the oft-quoted phrase from the book of Hebrews. It’s a powerful example of seeing the divine everywhere, and of treating everything with recognition of that inborn sacredness.
But, frankly, I’m not Abraham (in case you were wondering.) And neither are you.
We don’t do this all the time, do we? We don’t engage others, and the world as a whole, with the sense of the divine that they deserve. And that’s understandable. We’re normal, flawed humans. We aren’t Abraham, because he’s, well, kind of special. He and God have an in, I think you could say. So it’s not surprising to find him and God engage in this sort of hospitality.
So where do the rest of us fit into this story? I think we tend to be Sarah. We have a tendency to be critical, sarcastic, and short with others. We are more interested in analyzing this world, often with a harsh gaze, than entertaining the possibilities of what is beyond. For Sarah, it is not until the stranger’s identity is shoved into her face that she really recognizes the extent to which she is surrounded by the divine. Her full attention is certainly available then… in a curious incident, she even tries to convince the omniscient, and at the time physically present, God that she didn’t just laugh at him. You see, there’s a difference between cooking up bread from your best flour for the stranger and treating them, as the text says, as if they were your lord. Actions and intent are not always related the way we would like them to be.
As a lot of you know, I was the service coordinator for the Other Six Days program. Social justice and service was an area of my life that I hadn’t explored nearly enough in my pre-college days, and so I jumped into the program freshman year. I loved the work we did in this community, and was able to spearhead the last event of the Spring 2010 semester. The next year Elise and I replaced Wallie and Kurt (names that I’m amazed some of you don’t know) as the group’s coordinators.
I really, really wanted to make sure that my time there made an impact. I especially tried to create a strong relationship between our community and Metro House, the men’s homeless shelter at Metropolitan UMC across the street. It’s made me so happy to see that we really have made a strong presence there, and for those of you who haven’t volunteered there, I suggest you do it next semester; it’s really a great experience.
It was my experience there that made me so passionate about connecting our community to theirs. But when I look back at my experience there, I can’t help but wonder if I truly met those men as children of God, or if I simply brought out my best flour to make them bread. I engaged with them, spending time talking, watching movies, exploring their past and their future. I feel a real connection to all of them, and the time I spent talking about Confucius with Gary or Crime and Punishment with Caesar are vivid personal examples of real Christian fellowship. But when I walked in those doors, was I just meeting four great guys or four children of God?
I’m reminded of a time when I felt I had to “skip out” of a time slot I’d signed up to volunteer for. It was a hard time for me and I needed a Friday evening of recharging myself. Luckily, Emily Kvalheim was free and could take my spot for me, so I was able to just stay at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of mental health days, maybe to an unhealthy extreme even, so that’s not the problem I have. The problem is that my time alone was meant to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation, and sometimes we need to be away from people to do that. What we need, though, is to be present with the divine. I spent my time alone reading from a prayer journal of mine a spiritual practice that replaced my volunteer time. But why was Metro House for me not a time of spiritual rejuvenation?
If I was resting in Abraham’s tent on that hot summer day, entertaining guests was probably not the first thing I’d want to do. But that was Abraham’s first reaction. Immediately upon seeing these strangers he welcomed them in. Abraham in this story is not special because he has a covenant with God; he is special because of his insight and his hospitality. To this day the chuppah, the covering used in a Jewish wedding, is open on all four sides to symbolize the hospitality of Abraham. He is set apart not by his already established sacred relationship with God, but by how he treats every part of God’s creation as sacred. Abraham treats every human, no matter how foreign to him, no matter how mundane an acquaintance, as if he were a great friend and trusted lord.
We see the same in Christ Jesus. While the Son of God may have turned water into wine, it is easy to forget that he did it at a wedding party of all places. While he may have healed the blind, he did it with mud he made from the earth at his feet. In the very dirt of the Earth the human God shows us that the divine is present. Christ didn’t need to send out power from his fingertips; he healed with a word or a touch, just as I learned I could be healed by my brothers at Metro House. I realized that spiritual healing could come out of something as mundane and normal as a conversation over a lasagna dinner.
By treating the everyday as the sacred, Abraham encountered God where he least expected it. By living our lives in the knowledge that every moment is a blessing and a sacred gift, no matter how dull or routine it might be, we can live each day knowing that we too may be entertaining angels unaware.