Over the past few months, we haven’t had any persons outside the family visit our home other than our housemate Darlene Zerbe and a few workmen. Perhaps you’ve practiced the same care about relationships in this time of pandemic! We keep our distance, shout at neighbors over the fence, and some of us have virtual dinners or cocktail parties and our children and grandchildren have virtual playdates on Zoom or Portal. Others of us have our meals and groceries and adult beverages delivered, “contactless” as it is touted.
After my fiftieth high school reunion was cancelled, we began planning summer online parties to get the class together. But it’s not the same thing as being with friends in the backyard, grilling steaks, burgers, and hot dogs, singing hymns in church, or dancing to the oldies and sharing stories face to face about the class of 1970.
In today’s reading, Abraham and Sarah have some very strange visitors. They appear to be angelic, indeed some believe they were the Holy Trinity. Despite the unexpected visitors, Abraham rolls out the red carpet, mixes some cocktails, brings out some bread, olives, and goat cheese, and prepares the fatted calf for grilling. Delighted by Abraham’s hospitality, one of the strangers notes that they will return next year at which time Abraham and Sarah will be rejoicing with their first-born child.
Sarah can’t believe it. After decades of grieving her infertility and now well past menopause, this is too good to be true, and so she bursts into laughter. And, yet, next year, a child is born, an answer to prayer, and the end of Sarah’s pain.
Hospitality in world of limits. A new possibility emerges all because Abraham and Sarah welcomed three strangers.
When we open our hearts, our lives are transformed, and God gives us more than we have asked or imagined. In providing food to hungry strangers, Abraham and Sarah open the door to a miraculous new birth.
I can identify with Abraham and Sarah, and I suspect you can too. Many of us are living with a world of limits during this time of pandemic. Yet even now we can respond to God, bless strangers, and receive spiritual blessings in return.
Today’s scriptures tell us that God’s grace comes to us in our limits – whether personal, biological, spiritual, moral, residential, or experiential. Paul gives us an equally amazing promise. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God’s love is not dependent on our achievements. Like a parent gazing lovingly at their newborn child, God fills us with love before we can do anything to earn it. We are loved simply because we exist, and there’s nothing we can do to forfeit that love.
In his message to the church at Rome, Paul isn’t encouraging sinful behavior. He is affirming that when we recognize that God loves us despite our imperfection, and when we take responsibility for our lives, we go beyond the binary world of saved and unsaved, we discover that we are one with humanity, and we reach out in hospitality to others.
There are times in which we can’t imagine how much we are loved. We can’t believe someone loves us as much as they do despite our imperfections. We can’t believe in the amazing love of God, which embraces us even after we’ve fallen from grace.
Like Sarah – and like Paul’s Roman readers – we are limited in insight, patience, emotions, and sometimes behavior, but our limitations can never get in the way of God’s love for us. In our current limitations, we are loved, and more than that God is constantly presenting us with possibilities even as we are sheltering in place and worshipping at home.
Abraham and Sarah experienced a miraculous birth because they prepared a meal for strangers. Despite sheltering in place, we can serve God, we can provide meals to strangers. Our personal lives can radiate across the universe, our household can shape the lives of persons we’ll never meet.
This time of pandemic is not lost time. It is the only time we have. It is the time of our lives. Sickness and pandemic do not release us from our moral lives, or from generosity. In fact, we need to claim a different kind of morality and spirituality in this time.
We can be welcoming in this time….we can pray…we can reach out…we can embrace the world in safe and holy ways….and we can like Sarah give birth to new possibilities. Welcome the unexpected an stranger, support a person in need, by whatever means fit in this time. God is with us, inspiring us and inviting us to move forward when we least expect it.