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The Call to Hospitality

by The Rev Beth Knowlton on June 14, 2023

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
—from Genesis 18:1-15

This famous icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev is also known as “the hospitality of Abraham.” It is taken from the encounter we read in Genesis this Sunday. Three strangers appear, Abraham offers them hospitality during their journey, and Abraham and Sarah end up having a transformative experience. Abraham is told that his wife will bear a child; Sarah, overhearing the promise, laughs. Given their age, she doesn’t think that very likely. It seems a fair response to me!

What I love most about this story is the way in which the encounter begins by offering hospitality. It is another way of being present that invites us to be attentive to the unexpected encounters that can shift our whole experience of a day. If I’m on my phone as I quickly make my way through the H-E-B grabbing groceries, I have precluded any chance of this kind of encounter. If instead I leave my phone in my purse, walk a bit slower, and greet others, there is more space for encounter.

When we imagine hospitality, we often think of it being only an action. But I suspect the actions require an attitude and attentiveness beforehand. We must notice a need before we can meet it. The beauty of God’s efficiency is that what starts out as an act of service on our part actually transforms us in the process. The encounter with another who bears God’s image makes it relational from the start. The spark of God in us recognizes the spark of God in another and, next thing you know, we are in a Trinitarian dance without ever having to define the doctrine (thank goodness!).

The beauty of an icon is that we are invited to place ourselves in the scene. We can pray as if we are on the other side of the table looking at the three visitors. What promise might you hear from them that would make you laugh in disbelief? Are there things you long for that you fear are beyond your grasp or God’s power to accomplish?

As you think about that, get specific with yourself. What are you genuinely longing for that seems almost too good to be true? Carry that with you into the day-to-day encounters that present themselves. You might be surprised by how many angels you encounter along the way.

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