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. (Genesis 18:2)
My oldest son has been staying with us since May 4th, although by staying with us I mean he is staying in the church’s Youth Center next door. The night he arrived after driving across country, he pulled up in front and got out of the car with his old man dog, Baxter, and I stood at a safe distance even though I wanted to run to meet him. My impulses of love and hospitality felt garbled as we put safety above embracing.
I expect it’s a story we will keep telling for the rest of our lives.
Since my son finished a two week quarantine, his comings and goings are part of our family routine, as if he were just going to the next room instead of next door. We haven’t spent more than a few days together at a time since he graduated from college in 2008, so it’s both a gift and an anomaly to have his voice, in person, as part of an ongoing conversation that ranges from whether to play Catan or Code Names, to presidential politics and the pandemic, to protests against the police and How to Be an Antiracist. I’m mindful that it’s easier to have these conversations among people whose beliefs are mostly in alignment. The stories we tell ourselves rise from the same foundation, allowing us to grapple with the hard parts (reform? defund? abolish?) in a space of mutual trust.
Then we pick up our phones and see what the rest of the world is saying. A coworker of my daughter’s complains that masks will restrict her freedom. My Black friends and colleagues remind me rightly that my repentance and prayers are not the same thing as acts of reparation. And of course some news sources highlight looting while others focus their reporting on police brutality. We must choose which arguments to enter, which exhortations to embrace, and which version of truth to receive.
In both Genesis and the longer selection from Matthew, this week’s lectionary texts point us to who and what we welcome. Abraham runs to greet the three strangers, but Sarah is dubious about the news they bring. Jesus warns his disciples that some people will reject the message they bring:
If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. (Matthew 10:13-14)
While most of the sermons I have preached on this gospel text have emphasized sending the listeners out to share the good news, it might be worth considering ourselves in the place of the ones receiving the word.
- What stories are we telling ourselves?
- What are we afraid to hear?
- What are the beliefs we hold so deeply that we don’t even notice we have them?
- How are we closing the door on God’s messengers?
- Do we really believe that things can change?
Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?
Keep listening, even when the messengers tell you something that is hard to hear. I promise that I will, too.