Sarah and Abraham have been on a long journey. They’ve left their home in the land of Ur, they’ve left their home in Haran, because God said “I will make of you a great nation”.
They’ve left most of their family behind, said goodbye to brothers and sisters and cousins, because God said “I will make of you a great nation”.
But, you see, in order to become a great nation, you need to have children. There’s no democratically elected nationhood happening in the ancient world—to be a nation, to be a people with a leader, that leader must have children.
It’s easy to see what the problem is, right? No children means no nation. And even though Abraham and Sarah have made it through famine, Egypt, tons of family drama… there’s still no son.
God keeps saying over and over again “I will make of you a great nation”, and that “your descendents with be numerous”. But does God keep God’s promises? Will God keep this promise?
It’s easy to read what happens just after this lesson ends, you know that bit where Sarah laughs as she overhears all of this, and she’s chastised for doing so, like “what, you don’t believe God?”. It’s easy to reduce this to disbelief
But would we really believe God after all of this? Promises of nationhood, repeated over and over again. This might just be another promise, no follow-through.
Scholar Valerie Bridgeman makes a compelling case that instead of asking why they didn’t believe God’s promise, the question really is “why should they believe God this time?”.
Why should they believe God this time?
We might be able to ask the same question about our Gospel lesson—the famous Mary and Martha story. In a world of wandering prophets and oppression, why is Jesus any different from the last one? There’s plenty of prophets and and rebels in Judea. Why should Martha believe that Jesus is the one, this time?
Yes, sure, they’re described as friends of Jesus, but maybe Jesus is one of those friends who has ten new ideas per minute, “hey guys, I have a great new business idea, listen to this one! This will be the one that wins big!”. We’ve all known, or maybe we’ve been someone like this—lots of energy, lots of ideas, and the idea doesn’t always translate to action. Maybe Jesus isn’t really any different.
Why should they believe God this time?
I wonder if you’ve ever thought this. Why should I believe God this time? Why should I believe this promise in scripture this time? Or perhaps a more familiar question: does God actually hear these prayers? Why doesn’t God do something? Why should I believe that God will do something this time?
I know I’ve thought all of those questions before. Many times.
It’s hard to see the death and pain and oppression in this world and not wonder why we should believe a promise of hope and mercy this time.
It’s hard to get the diagnosis, to sit with a suffering loved one, and not wonder why we should believe a promise of relief and healing this time.
It’s hard to pray with our feet and feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and aid the refugee in the face of unrelenting need and divisive political policies, and not wonder why we should believe a promise of care and new creation.
Why should we believe God this time?
And I will admit that I’m not standing here with the right answer, or even an answer to this question.
But what I do know is that we are not the first people to ask this question.
And if we look at the stories of Abraham and Sarah, and Mary and Martha, people who might logically ask why they should believe God this time, they both do one thing, regardless of their skepticism.
They offer hospitality. A place for the three men to sit, bread, milk, curds, the fatted calf. Abraham literally ran out to invite the them in, like “come, come, just have a little bread”, and instead of an appetizer, he prepares a three course meal. “Come. Eat. You are welcome here.”
Mary and Martha offer the hospitality of their home. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, his disciple, listening to an honored guest. Martha prepares food, which as Jesus points out, distracts her from his teachings, but this work is also the work of hospitality.
Mary and Martha, Abraham and Sarah, offer hospitality to Jesus, to the Lord, from the ordinary space of their daily lives.
They don’t know that any particular transformation will take place.
They don’t know if this will be the moment when everything will change.
Should they believe God this time? Perhaps not, but nonetheless, they make space for the presence of God in their lives, and by doing this, they allow for the possiblity of transformation.
Hospitality allows for the possibilty of transformation.
Hopeful hospitality says that maybe, this will be the time. Perhaps it will be this time, and this space.
I don’t think they knew that it would be the moment of change in their lives. Sarah didn’t think that she’d have a child after all this time. Mary didn’t wake up that morning planning to take up the role of pupil, a role very much for men in that culture.
Friends, we don’t know when we can stop asking the question. We don’t know if this moment, this Sunday in church, this Eucharist will be the moment of transformation. We don’t know if this prayer will be followed by good news.
But perhaps we might find our hope in hospitality. Hope in the practice of opening the ordinary moments in our lives to the possiblity, to the probablity that there will be grace and transformation in this time. In hospitality, the tradjectory of the world and our daily lives collides with God’s presence and promise.
And one day, we will find ourselves like Sarah and Abraham and Mary and Martha, face to face with the promise fulfilled—the promise of a new creation, the redeeming love of the cross that cannot help but fold the world in an embrace.
And we will find ourselves, saying as the poet Wendell Berry writes, “here, as we have never been before… our place Holy, although we knew it not”.
Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-10a, Luke 10:38-42