I love the story of Sarah and Abraham’s holy visitors: Abraham is so delighted to see these guests that he throws off all sense of dignity and runs to meet them, Sarah hides as is befitting of the social gender restrictions of the time, but listens in. The warmth of Abraham’s welcome is matched with his generosity, bringing water to wash the travellers feet and providing lavish refreshments for them. The visitors reward the ancient couple with a blessing and a promise: Sarah will indeed bear Abraham a son. Sarah is so shocked by this outrageous promise that she bursts out laughing. Read it here.
If we read on we discover that the guests are right, and 9 months on a son is born, and named Isaac, meaning laughter.
But what has this passage to do with the gospel passage that has been set for this Sunday – the first one of ‘Ordinary Time’? Perhaps it is a reminder that nothing is ‘ordinary’ once we live our lives for Jesus; once we are willing to drop our dignity as Abraham did and rush to meet with God offering him the best that we have; being hospitable to holiness. Perhaps it is about allowing ourselves to be immersed in the life that God has given us, whatever that may be. For Sarah a life of waiting and hoping (and getting things wrong along the way) until the blessing arrives, of being willing to trust and hope against all the odds. For Abraham, the willingness to keep on pouring out lavish hospitality, to be generous to the Lord, whether his prayers had been answered or not.
In the gospel passage Jesus looks upon the ‘lost sheep with compassion and sorrow – he knows that they need to be shepherded, but that he cannot physically tend to them all. He calls to the disciples to pray that other shepherds, will be sent to help these lost ones (only he uses terms of agriculture not husbandry). In this year’s call to prayer, the Archbishop of Canterbury commented that in praying for others we are changed. And so it is with the disciples. Read it here.
First they are challenged to ask God for workers, but as they do, find themselves responding to that prayer themselves, so they become the ones to shepherd those lost and wondering sheep: they are sent out to bring healing, teaching, hope and a true understanding of the love that God has for them. The disciples are to become bringers of Good News.
This is history in the making, this is the first expansion of the kingdom. Except that it isn’t: the disciples are not sent to the heathen, but to those who already belong, those who have already bear the mark of the covenant. And this isn’t simply history, because we are still being called to be disciples, we are still called to become shepherds and to reach out to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised. We are still called to proclaim the Good News, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and even cast out demons. Which is all pretty daunting. What is even more daunting is that we are called to do so to those in our own communities – not to go and be missionaries in Africa, but to be speakers of the Gospel in Hampshire.
And Paul tells us why:
In becoming Christians we become bearers of hope. In accepting Jesus into our hearts through his Holy Spirit, we gain a peace that enables us to endure whatever the world throws at us; and through endurance we grow to reflect the character of Christ: hope. Read it here.
We are in dark times in our country: times of fear and anger, times when darkness seems to be winning. And yet there is a resounding response of ‘love not hate’. As Jesus died on the cross forgiving his executioners as he did so, we too receive the gift of forgiveness, but also the gift of being able to forgive others. Instead of holding on to the hate, instead of cowering in the darkness, we can be the light bearers, the bearers of hope. And I am excited by this. I am horrified at the bombings, and the attacks and the fires, and the negative political campaigns, but I am excited at the beacons of light shining at this time. I am excited by the Archbishop’s call to prayer. I am excited by the response of hundreds of thousands of people praying in large ways and small ways: the quiet muttering of prayers as knotted wrist bands are fingered, the loud exclamations of praise from the gatherings in the cathedrals. I am also excited by the generosity of those who turn up with food and water, with blankets and clothing, those who open up their homes and businesses, those who turn up for shifts they are not scheduled to fill. I am excited by the hope spoken through pop stars urging us to love not hate, and those previously apathetic towards democracy signing up and casting their votes by the busloads.
These are both fearful and exciting times and we are called to be a part of them, here. I wonder how Paul felt the first time he spoke out for Jesus amongst people who knew him only as someone to be scared of? I wonder how daunted the disciples felt when they were first sent out as lead shepherds and not just helping hands? I wonder how Sarah felt when she discovered that she was pregnant at such an old age? I don’t think ‘daunted’ quite covers it! And we will feel daunted too.
But this is what it means to follow Jesus: to feel the fear and do it anyway, to borrow the surfers’ mantra. To face the challenge and meet it. To be hospitable to holiness. To step into the unknown and to find the peace of God present with us.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- What it the most daunting thing you have been challenged to do?
- What helped you to meet the challenge, or what determined you to turn it down?
- What does it mean for you to be ‘sent out’ into your own community?
- What challenges is Jesus presenting you with at this time?
- How can we help each other to meet those challenges?
- How can we become hospitable to holiness?
Something to pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, meet with us now through your Spirit, reminding us of your living presence and risen power.
In a world where so much questions faith, denies love and threatens hope, may your resurrection life flow within us, convincing us of your eternal purpose: the blessings you hold in store – imperishable, unfading, kept in heaven – and may that assurance sustain us now and always.