Finding Delight at the Intersection of Hospitality and Prayer
Text: Genesis 18
Proposition: In the midst of hospitality and prayer God meets our unbelief with a discovery of the wonderful.
Introduction: There’s a peculiar story in front of us this morning that touches on two seemingly separate themes. They are like an intersection in a city, like Bloor and Young or Portage and Main or Broadway and Womacks. These two themes are something that you’ve experienced, something that God experiences, something that are more than what they appear to be. I came across an article this week that was entitled ‘Miss Nancy Minds Your Manners’, it was about a couple who were in their seventies who had this great big house in the southern states. They ran a summer camp for kids that combined sports and an education in manners. Good manners are what we seek to teach our children. In fact manners, says Miss Nancy, are how we tell people that they are important to us. Manners fit into the theme of Hospitality, one part of that intersection that is more than what it appears to be. The second part is Prayer, we don’t often put these two together, hospitality and prayer, yet this morning they form an intersection at the corner of which sits delight. Turn with me to Genesis 18.
I. Hospitality Uses Grace to Confer Honor.
Have you ever visited someone’s home and from the moment you walk in the door they demonstrate what you are pretty sure is the gift of hospitality. They may have a way of making you feel more relaxed, more at home than even when you are in your own home. The manners that make hospitality work aren’t stiff and pretentious but rather comforting, they offer a sense of being protected, in short they confer honor upon us that warms the soul. In Genesis 18 there is a mission, a task at hand that Abraham is unaware of. The task is two-fold, to bless Sarah and to curse Sodom. Yet as this begins there is this exceptional experience of hospitality, it’s detailed for us as Abraham sees these three men a ways off. Abraham was sitting in the door of his tent, likely it was about two in the afternoon in the very heat of the day. Perhaps he recognizes one of the three strangers, for he has met this stranger several times now. It is another appearance of the LORD, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Perhaps, and this is just a guess, but Jesus looked the same each time He appeared to Abraham that it would be clear that He who promised before now comes again to follow through. In the heat of the day Abraham gets up and runs to greet the three travelers, he bows to the ground before them, he invites them in to his care. He offers to wash their feet, to find shade, to have some food, to be refreshed in heart. Hospitality even has the idea of then helping the person leave, even going a short distance with them as if to say you hate to see them go, but as you go I will walk with you. Can you hear the call of hospitality in the expressions familiar to us? Greeting, receiving, sitting, feeding, refreshing, seeing off. Hospitality uses grace to confer honor, in this case Abraham honors Christ, in your case you honor those about you, even the Holy Spirit in you. Hospitality is the setting in which Abraham and his wife sit with the Lord and the two angels with Him. Though Sarah is behind the flap of the tent door, she is well able to hear all that ensues, and the Lord wants her to know that He knows she is listening. I like the wording here, the same phrasing is used twice, “I will return to you according to the time of life…”. He tells Abraham, but particularly Sarah, that He will return and that is when things will be really happen. I think the phrase “according to the time of life” refers to the moment of conception with Sarah and Abraham. If you look at Genesis 21:1 it describes this moment in terms of both the conception and birth of Isaac. Look also at Hebrews 11:11. Sarah is so thrown by this it that it takes us by surprise because we have come to believe that she and Abraham had heard this before, several time times in fact. Was it that Sarah had thought this was some sort of metaphor, her having a son at 90? The literal truth of it made her laugh to herself in unbelief. Look at what happens next, the Lord asks why Sarah laughed in disbelief at bearing a son in her old age. The conversation goes right over Abrahams head and is directed at Sarah in the tent. Then the Lord says in verse 14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The word ‘hard’ has the minor inference of difficult but mostly it infers ‘amazing, wonderful, marvelous’. It was too marvelous for Sarah and now God has exposed her unbelief right in front of everyone. So she answers out loud, from inside the tent, “I did not laugh.” The Lord responds right back to her, “No, but you did laugh.” This humorous story was likely retold by Abraham and Sarah again and again, they couldn’t forget it because God had them name their son Isaac, Isaac means, ‘laughter’. The whole setting for this amazing birth announcement, conception announcement, was the hospitality shown by Abraham and Sarah. When hospitality by grace confers honor on others they not only experience the fact that you care, their thoughts are known by God, their unbelief is confronted by God, their understanding of a marvelous God increases, there is within them even a conceiving of laughter that comes from grace. Practice hospitality, know there is more going on that what appears to be as show your lover for God through offering your care for others.
II. Prayer Uses Heart to Glorify God.
Have you ever been walking with a couple of friends when all of a sudden they start talking about you as if you weren’t standing right there with them. The effect of such a moment is that you listen even more carefully. I think that is what happens here as Abraham and the Lord along with the two angels walk from the camp. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” The inference is that God won’t hide this understanding from him. In front of Abraham God declares the truth of the future He sees for Abraham, even to the point him being a blessing to all the nations of the earth. This can only refer to the Messiah that would one day come through the line of Abraham. Jesus in front of Abraham predicts His own birth through Abraham! Is anything too wonderful for God! In front of Abraham God declares what He longs to see happen in Abrahams life, that Abraham would lead his children to keep the way of the Lord, that the children would learn righteousness and justice from Abraham, that by this respect of the children for their father and mother they would learn respect for God and the Lord would bring the promises that come from that. For righteousness and justice God has pursued Abraham. Now God in a sense tests Abraham to see if it is sinking in. He tells Abraham two things, that the outcry against Sodom is great and that their sin is very grave or heavy or insensible. Was it the demonic that cried out accusation, was it the spilled blood that like Abel’s cried out, was it creation itself that cried out over the way it was being violated in insensible ways? Whatever the source the cry was heard. When we explore chapter 19 we’ll get a glimpse of what caused that cry. The consequence is clear to Abraham, he knows Lot and his family are in Sodom, he knows this is not an idle threat but a forecast of a fast closing tsunami upon Sodom. The angels leave and start moving towards Sodom. Look at verse 23, “And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked.?’” Two things to note: 1. Abraham drew near. That is he draws close to the Lord, though he knows the wages of sin are death, he draws near to intercede. 2. God’s justice, it is not only inherent in His character it is seen in what He does. Abraham declares the justice of God will not be blind. From verse 24 to 32 Abraham asks God for mercy to be shown to the whole of Sodom if there is but a tiny pocket of righteous people in their midst. From fifty people all the way down to ten people, Abraham asks God to spare the city on behalf of a tiny pocket of righteous men and women. God’s final answer, look at verse 32, “I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.” Some conclusions:
1. Prayer is when we draw close to God speaking to Him the truth that we know.
2. Prayer exercises the righteousness we stand in by interceding for others.
3. Prayer proclaims the justice of God even when people we love are in it’s way.
4. Prayer pleads and pleads again and in so doing stirs God’s mercy.
5. Prayer recognizes the significance of a few righteous saving a city.
6. Prayer uses the heart to glorify God, He knows my very thoughts, speak truthfully to Him regarding all of Who He is and all He intends to do.
7. At the intersection of Hospitality and Prayer we will find Delight.