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Jun 18, 2017

Not Inward, Outward

Passage: Genesis 18:1-15

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Summer 2017

Category: The Church's Mission


Bring about transformation in the world by being open to others


These are notes. I did not use these notes while I was preaching, so the audio doesn't follow this text.

Last week, I explained the Trinity to our youngest members and I concluded with a message that I hope everyone heard. What did I hope everyone would do? Listen to another person’s story because knowing more about others is helping us know more about God.  

In today’s Genesis lesson, we hear about Abraham and Sarah meeting some wandering strangers. The first thing to know is that Abraham and Sarah are wanderers. They pitched their tent with their herd where it was best, they would stay for a while a then they would move elsewhere. The life of a nomad. It was a difficult life. So, when strangers wander passed, it would be easy to scare them away or ignore them completely. But, Abraham invites them in for rest. Sarah prepared bread for them and Abraham went out to pick a calf to be prepared for a dinner. And then both Abraham and Sarah listened to their story.  And they even laughed at what they had to say.  By listening, they learned something, from strangers, about the amazing power of God.

This is a story that was passed through the generations around a campfire, so it is hard to know it as non-fiction, but it possesses a deep truth about our interconnectedness. It reminds us that if we listen, we can hear God’s message coming to us from all we encounter.

There was a time in my life when I thought I had everything figured out. I really thought my parents were behind the times and wasting their time and in many cases mine, too. There would be the wedding of the third cousin twice removed and my parents thought it best for me to go along. It was a cousin and a branch of the family that I had never met and I could point to the many other things that I would rather be doing with my time.

I would whine about unfair expectations, and that it was ruining my very existence and that what I was missing was never going to happen again. It was my one chance and it was being ruined by having to attend this boring event.

Now, I had this point in my life, did anyone else have this experience? 

You might have replayed this with your children or even your spouse. As I was reflecting on that feeling, I couldn’t remember any of the things that I was forced to miss.

It is in those moments that we start turning inward and thinking more about ourselves than we do about the communities in which we live and move and have our being. As we mature, we turn back toward those groups that inform our identity and call forth the version of ourselves that we like best.[1] But, with the advent of social media and individualized realities that allow us to escape from engagement with the communities in which we live, it is so much easier to point fingers and turn off engaging with those who aren’t like us, the strangers who give us the greatest nuance in our lives.  

That is, until an event nearby shocks us from our complacent nature. I have heard from some in this community that the shooting this past Wednesday morning in Alexandria was such an event. For one, it was nearby. I used to live in that neighborhood. But it is also an event that some of us have been involved with at some point in our lives.

We are stuck in a moment, a historical moment, which feels like the ones we experienced in our teenage years those times when we couldn’t believe that we had to waste our valuable time with those people. 

Abraham and Sarah met these strangers outside of their tent. It would have been easier to let them walk by, but they offered them hospitality. They listened and heard them. There was even laughter at the prediction that they would have a child.

In times like this, it is good to invite those who are different from us, who think differently from us, into our lives. There will always be people who engage the world differently than we do. The challenge is to know them as valuable people and not as the enemy. That is why it was good to see the Congressional baseball game played on Thursday night. We need more events like that with our leaders seeing each other as real people and we need to engage in difficult conversations with our peers. We are happy to point fingers and blame and to think knowing the strangers in our lives is a waste but that is not what Christians are called to do and be.

Stretching out of our comfort zone is risky and dangerous. Jesus called his disciples to leave the comfort and safety of their homes and their fellowship and instead to go into a world needing transformation. He warned them that they would be like sheep in the midst of wolves.  

So, I am going to reiterate the challenge I offered last week. Get to know your neighbors not only to better know God, but so that you can transform the world. Knowing that even those who see things differently are valuable in the eyes of God. That opens a whole new way of being, one that builds bridges in a divided world.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.


[1] See Brooks, David, How to Leave a Mark on People. From the New York Times, April 18, 2017.