The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 18-19

18 09 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 18-19.

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

"Abraham and the Three Angels," by Marc Chagall

Reading these chapters, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, thousands of years later: “When you do it unto the least of these, you have done it into me.”

Also, Paul’s teaching to the Hebrews: “Some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

When the three men appear near Mamre at the beginning of Chapter 18, there is no indication that Abraham recognizes them immediately as angels (or even God Himself). And yet, he practices radical hospitality, preparing a feast for them with his best calf and an abundance of the finest bread. Then, in Sodom, Lot’s hospitality is ultimately what saves him and his daughters. When he invites the angels into his home, he does not immediately know that they have come to foretell the city’s destruction; he simply accepts them as his guests and protects them at all costs (even giving up his virginal daughters to the angry mob???)

We can learn from these example, practicing such hospitality to all who come across our paths, as well. I am particularly inspired by the importance that the New Monastic movement places on hospitality (i.e. the Rule of the Northumbria Community includes a vow of availability to the people around them; the Potter Street Community and other similar communities have procedures in place to welcome anyone who happens upon their house). It is much harder, I think, to practice such hospitality and openness as individuals. I’m reminded of an interesting article published last fall at Jesus Manifesto, which I read as a challenge to today’s church to rethink the way we do hospitality, especially in light of the current economic crisis.

Leaving aside the overall implications of Abraham’s dialogue with the Lord (which in itself is an amazing passage) I want to look for a moment at the word that keeps coming up over and over again: righteous. Abraham keeps pleading on behalf of the righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and God seems to be in agreement that the righteousness of 10 people would make up for the wickedness of everyone else. So what’s so great about righteousness?

I often tend to equate righteousness with legalism (i.e. the Pharisees, who obeyed the very letter of the law, were considered righteous). Righteousness is about doing right. Right?

Not necessarily. The Old and New Testaments agree that true righteousness is about faith:

“Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
– Genesis 15:6

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”
– Romans 3:21-22a

As a final note, I would like to say that reading these two chapters brought back great memories of Amity’s youth, and one in particular who always said that her favorite Bible story was about “Lot’s wife who turned into salt. That’s so cool!”

(originally posted 12/24/08 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)

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Finding a Church, Part 3: Sometimes all it takes…

22 08 2009

I spent the majority of   Thursday in the stock room of the store, hanging and sizing T-shirts, sweatshirts, and athletic shorts.  While I was back there, deliveries arrived from various companies, and the representative would often come inside and chat with the managers for a few minutes before heading back onto their delivery route again.

One, a middle-aged paper saleslady, lingered a little longer than most.  From the clothing racks, I could hear her discussing everything from healthcare reform to her church’s mission trips to Africa.  When I approached, she was discussing the book Unchristian, and I piped in and told her I had enjoyed that book last year.

She turned her attention to me, and upon finding out that I was new to town, added, “I don’t know if you have found a church home yet, but my husband and I have been going to XYZ Church for the past 5 years, and we really like it.”  She proceeded to tell me all about her church’s different ministries and why it felt like home to her.  I thanked her and told her that we might check it out sometime.

See that?  See how easy that was?  I tend to get nervous about inviting people to church, for fear of offending them or intruding upon their already-established spirituality.  But being the newcomer to town, I appreciated her invitation so much!  And even if I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have been offended.

Of course it’s not appropriate to walk around and harass random strangers into going to church with you.  But this invitation was natural.  I think, more often than not, we are in danger of missing obvious opportunities to represent God in the world than we are of being too aggressive.

The paper saleslady’s church is a well-known megachurch in the area, and I’m not entirely sure that we would find our home in a place so large.  But even in megachurches (and perhaps, especially in megachurches) a personal invitation can go an awfully long way.  I told her we might check it out, and you know what?  We just might.

Godvertiser’s post from a few weeks ago talks about first-time visitors and how we as a church can do better about extending hospitality to visitors.  One key thought from this article: “Another critical point to understand is that all this is not a mandate for the pastor or staff alone.  It must be lived out by everyone who attends your church regularly.  Just as everyone knows where the bathrooms are, they need to understand how to greet visitors and enfold the one-time visitors to your church.”

The work of evangelizing and inviting and welcoming is a duty for all of us.  Both inside and outside of church, we need to do a better job of looking out for people’s spiritual needs, jumping on opportunities, helping those who look a little lost, speaking well and explaining our churches to visitors.

Because sometimes, all it takes is something small.