The Power of an Invitation – Rev. Boone Clayton

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”

And he said, “Right here in the tent.”

Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”

Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating. So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.

The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah lied and said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was frightened.

But he said, “No, you laughed.”

  • If Abraham and Sarah were a Netflix series (and knowing how virtually anything can be a Netflix series, surely it’s only a matter of time), this passage would be around episode 7. How we tell the story matters. How much of the lead up to Sarah’ laughter is important? If this event happened in Chapter 12, there might have been a different response, but behind Sarah’s laughter is years of disappointment, struggle, and frustration. We can assume that by now she has come to the long, hard destination of resignation, only for that to be disrupted again.
  • Let’s take a quick look at that story and what happens in episodes 1-6:
    • it really starts at the end of chapter 11
    • Abraham and Sarah are 75 and 65 years old when the Genesis story shifts its focus to them
    • Chapter 12 – God calls Abram to go. “All the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.” Abram and Sarai go to Egypt, where Abram is less than honorable.
    • Chapter 13 – Abram and Lot separate
    • Chapter 14 – Abram rescues Lot.
    • Chapter 15 – God promises Abram children and the land of Canaan
    • Chapter 16 – Abram and Haggar have son Ishmael. Relationship between Sarai and Haggar is immediately stressed.
    • Chapter 17 – Abram’s name changed to Abraham
      • 17:5 Abram’s name will be Abraham for he will be the father of many nations.
      • Abram = Exalted ancestor; Abraham = Ancestor of a multitude
      • 17:17-18 “Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He said to himself, Can a 100-year old man become a father, or Sarah, a 90-year old woman, have a child? To God Abraham said, “If only you would accept Ishmael!”
    • So the focus on this story is often on Sarah’s laughter, but we see that Abraham has already laughed at this — and then Sarah doesn’t even laugh out loud, just to herself. When we look past the laughter, past the parts of the story that are more cinematic and Netflix-worthy, what do we see?
    • We see an invitation and we see hospitality, and such hospitality there is! Abraham says he’s just going to get a bit of water and bread and then he returns with an absolute feast. He does everything but offer them a hot beverage. Surely my grandmother must have taken her hospitality cues from this passage because she would offer you everything under the sun the moment you walked into her house.
      • The writer of Genesis might give us the impression – living in the 21st century as we are – that all of this food preparation happens in a flash, as if these three strangers have pulled into the drive-thru at Chick-Fil-A… wait, no it’s Sunday, so let’s go with Dairy Queen. But this must have taken a good amount of time to prepare. The Hebrew word for measure (as in “three measures of flour”) is ‘seah’, and one seah is seven and a half quarts! So three seahs would be almost six gallons of flour; plus the calf; plus the butter and milk. This really is a feast.
      • On the hospitality front, I think we are in good shape. As a church, we receive and welcome people well. When we have visitors and guests, we are mindful to make them welcome without overwhelming. We open the doors of our church – literally and figuratively – to a wide variety of groups that use our space. Some of them are church people and some of them aren’t, but all are welcome.
    • Invitation is really the crux here today, and the theme of invitation in scripture is familiar to us – think of Jesus being welcomed to walk with the disciples on the Emmaus road on the afternoon of that first Easter, and of course we think of Jesus inviting those humble fishermen to follow him and become fishers of people.
      • Abraham’s invitation has an urgency to it
      • And then he follows that up with further action — he doesn’t show off with passivity or words, but rather he shows what he is about through his actions (and the actions of his household – Sarah and the servants)
      • As a church, and as disciples of God in Jesus Christ, we could learn a thing or two from Abraham and Co. here.
    • I am of the conviction that we must always be considering and re-considering exactly how it is that people end up coming to church at all, let alone this particular church.
      • it’s no longer assumed that a person or a family will join a church as soon as they move to a new area or come of age
      • I cannot tell you how many people I speak with – here at Denbigh United and elsewhere – who come to church for the first time because someone invited I would venture to guess that it is now the plurality if not the majority of new attendees.
      • We assume that the people in our lives that aren’t at this church or another one are not in a church by choice. That’s certainly true for some people who have no interest whatsoever. But there are far more who simply haven’t been nudged or encouraged or invited.
    • So, as the pandemic that has raged on for 15 months continues to ease, as our families and our church and our society begin to emerge from the hibernation cave that was social distancing and social isolation, I encourage you to invite someone to join us here in this particular corner of the body of Christ.
      • There are numerous ways to do this, and it’s often largely based on each of our personal strengths and personalities so I will not try to list all o the ways this can be done or who exactly you should invite. But ponder it, pray about it, and then take the opportunities to reach out to someone – opportunities that God through the Holy Spirit presents to each one of us each and every day.
    • I want to close with an analogy that might seem a little strange on the surface, but bear with me. I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic movies, TV shows, and books. By post-apocalyptic, I mean anything that imagines what life might be like after a catastrophic or cataclysmic global event. So whether it’s zombies or aliens or nuclear winter or something else, if 90+% of the world’s population is gone and a story follows the survivors, I’m game. I was able to go to a late-night showing of A Quiet Place 2 at the theaters on Monday night and it. was. awesome.
    • But in spending time with Abraham and Sarah this week and pondering their inviting and hospitable spirits, I realized something that the post-apocalyptic genre always reminds us of and repeatedly drives home: We are made for community and we seek it out in the ways that are presented to us. When there are loners out in any post-apocalyptic landscape, they do not last long if they do not find a community to be with. Now subtract the zombies or aliens or terminator robots from the equation and this is pretty similar to our spiritual lives and our spiritual health as humans. We are made for community; and when people are alone in the spiritual landscape and don’t know how to stop being alone, we are called by God to invite them into God’s fold and join the shepherd’s flock.
    • So present this community to someone this week. I know it will be uncomfortable and a little awkward if it’s not something you’re used to… The truth is that somehow it’s a little uncomfortable and awkward just to invite you to invite someone else (how ridiculous is that?). But the power of the invitation is there, if we only have the courage to trust that God is involved every step of the way.
    • In case you need to be reminded, after 15 months of pandemic, what makes the Denbigh United community of seekers and disciples so great, here are a collection of pictures of life in the church from the last year or so. These pictures are just a scattering of what happens when we live together in community with God, but they are a powerful reminder of what is possible if we trust in God with every fiber of our being – if we trust in the power of an invitation.