“Welcoming God’s Messenger”

Pentecost 2

June 18, 2017


Text:  Genesis 18:1-15

    In a way, today feels a bit anticlimactic.  My retirement reception here has already been held.  My retirement has already been recognized by the Iowa Annual Conference.  Barring something unexpected, there really is not much of anything left for me to do here except finish this worship service, turn in my keys, turn in my final mileage voucher, and take my last few things home.  So as I was thinking about my final sermon at Woodward United Methodist Church, I found myself wondering if I really have anything left to say.

    Then I looked at today’s Scriptures, and discovered that I do.  That came in reflecting on our lesson from Genesis.

    We find Abraham and Sarah living in the land of Canaan.  Years before, God had promised Abraham that he would have a son to be his heir and make of him a great nation.  But the years passed, and Sarah never became pregnant.  Eventually she went through menopause, and thus was past her childbearing years.  It appeared the promise was not going to be fulfilled.  

They became so desperate to see this promise fulfilled that Sarah gave her Egyptian slave Hagar to Abraham, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Ishmael.  They thought that solved the problem.  

Not so fast.  God told Abraham that Ishmael was not the promised heir.  God told Abraham that Sarah was going to conceive and bear and son, and that he was to be named Isaac.  Abraham laughed because he could see no way they were going to have a baby at their age.

Soon thereafter, Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent one day when three strangers came near.  Abraham saw them, ran out to meet and greet them, and invited them to come wash their feet, have a drink of water, and have a meal.  They accepted the invitation, and had to stay quite a while.  After all, Sarah had to bake bread, and Abraham’s servant had to butcher and cook a calf for the guests to eat.  We are told they hurried, but you can’t exactly hurry some aspects of food preparation, so the strangers were surely there for a while as the meal was being made ready.

As they were eating, the strangers asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”  

“In the tent,” Abraham replied.

One of the visitors then said, “I’ll be back in about a year.  Then Sarah will give birth to a son!”

Sarah overheard this and started laughing to herself, “Me give birth?  At my age?”  But one of the strangers replied, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?  When I return to you in about year, Sarah will have a son.”

And so it happened.  Abraham had welcomed and shown hospitality to these strangers, and they turned out to be messengers sent from God.

You are receiving a new pastor.  Like the three men who visited Abraham and Sarah, she is coming to you as a stranger.  Most of you have never met her before, and even the Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee has only met with her once.  In addition, she comes from a different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural background and a different set of life experiences than one typically finds in this community.  But she is being sent to you as a messenger from God.  Be like Abraham and welcome her as such.  Make every effort to show her the respect and hospitality she deserves as your pastor.  Work with her, encourage her, and support her as she seeks to do God’s work and share God’s love in this community.  She well may challenge you and encourage you to try some things you have never tried before, some of which may stretch your life and your comfort zone.  Now I find that when my comfort zone is stretched, I often try to resist the stretching.  I encourage you not to resist, but instead let God use her to stretch your faith and your Christian life toward what God wants.  After all, it was quite a stretch for Abraham and Sarah to believe they could have a baby in their old age.  But they trusted God, and God proved capable of doing what is humanly impossible.  If this church is to become what God intends it to be, we need to trust God to lead us, follow that leading, cooperate in what God is doing, and take seriously those whom God sends to us as messengers.

Welcome your new pastor as God’s messenger.  And know that you and she are in my prayers as you move forward together for the sake of accomplishing God’s mission in this community and in the world.  Amen.

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