St. John's, Centreville
June 18, 2017
Proper 6 A
Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Matt. 9:35 - 10:23
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"And Sarah laughed!" I love the story of Abraham and Sarah. Three strangers appear at their tent, seemingly out of nowhere. Abraham provides them with hospitality - meat and bread and water - and invites them to sit in the shade of a tree in the heat of the day and rest from their journey. Hospitality was an important social obligation and God's people were to welcome strangers and treat them well.
Now Abraham and Sarah were up there in years, we might say - maybe not 100 but definitely well past their child bearing years. Sarah had not been able to give Abraham any children and descendants were very important. Abraham had one son with Sarah's slave Hagar, which Sarah had consented to so they would have at least one descendant.
God had told Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the number of stars in the sky. But how could that be if he and Sarah could not have children?
So while the three strangers are eating what Abraham and Sarah have provided for them, one of them announces that they will return again "in due season" and Sarah will have a son. Now Sarah overhears this and she laughs. Why would she and Abraham have a child now that they are old? Now laughter in this case was thought to mean a lack of faith, which is why the strangers rebuked her. The stranger remarks, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?" Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
Sarah does bear a child, as God has promised, and she says, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." God has brought her joy and laughter and a child to raise in her old age.
God often brings us such joy and laughter, but often our eyes are not open to see it. So often we only call on God only when we need something, when we are in crisis, when we are having difficulties. How wonderful it would be if we realized that God laughs with us in our joys, that God does have a good sense of humor. We can have joy in God as God has joy in us.
Years ago, composer Carey Landry wrote a cute song for children called "Does God Ever Laugh?" He wrote about the waddle of a duck, an elephant's trunk, a giraffe's neck - things that would make God laugh. There is such joy in the beauty of this world around us as well as in the beauty that is in each one of us. There are even funny bits of scripture, but even those we read with the usual solemnity with which we often read the Bible. Other parts of scripture encourage us to seek God in times other than those when we are in need. God shares our joy and laughter with us, just as he shares our pain and sorrows.
The three strangers in the Old Testament reading represented God speaking to Abraham that Sarah would bear a son, even in her old age. We never know when we might entertain angels and be unaware of it.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus is sending out the disciples to preach and to heal. He tells them not to take anything with them but to rely on the hospitality of the people they meet. He tells them that some will welcome them and listen to them, and others will not. If people do not want to listen and provide for them, then they are to leave that village and shake the dust off their feet. Those who do not welcome them are not open to seeing God in strangers, entertaining angels unaware.
"Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a lonely shoemaker names Martin, who was promised in a dream that Christ would come visit him in his shop. The next day, Martin rose early, got his shop ready, prepared a meal - and waited.
"But the only one who showed up all morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest. Martin gave him a room he had prepared for Christ. Then, in the afternoon, the only one who showed up in the shop was an old lady with a heavy load of wood. She was hungry and asked for food. He gave her the meal he had prepared for his Divine visitor. As evening came, a lost boy wandered by. Martin took him home, afraid all the while that he would miss Christ.
"That night, in his prayers, he asked the Lord, "Where were you? I waited all day for you." The Lord answered Martin, "Three times I came to your friendly door. Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was a beggar with bruised feet. I was the woman who was hungry. I was the homeless child on the street." (Synthesis, June 18, Year A) Entertaining angels unaware.
We never know when we will encounter the risen Christ - on the bus, at the store, at work. Ministering to those in need is like ministering to Christ. Living the gospel and spreading the gospel is following the commands of Jesus.
The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, Jesus says. Jesus needs more of us to spread the gospel of love and forgiveness, to shine as an example for others to follow. Sometimes it is not an easy job. We may be rejected or ridiculed or not taken seriously.
So how do we talk to others about our faith, about God and God's love for us? One way is by telling our own faith story - how God has acted in and through our lives, what God means to us, how God has worked through other people, the joy we find in worshipping God and being in God's presence. That's how we can bring others to Christ - not in long-winded speeches and theological debates, not by pointing fingers in their face, not by accusations and guilt - but by honestly sharing your unique story with another who desperately needs to hear it. We also share God's love by helping and serving others, as Martin did.
We are not to be just consumers of God's love but providers of God's love. As baptized Christians, we are called to be God's agents in this world, to spread the gospel, to do the work that each one of us is called to do.
Jesus commissions each of us to go out into the world and spread the gospel. At the end of the post communion prayer, we say, "Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart." At the end of the service we are sent forth with these or similar words: "Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the spirit."
May we go forth from this place with joy and laughter and peace to spread the gospel to a hungry and a hurting world. Amen.