The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost August 1, 2010
538, 400, 439, 783 [TLH alt. 648]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
It seems at times that the concept of “service” is really becoming lost in our society. When I step up to the customer service counter at a grocery store or a department store, I don’t always feel that the other person is too interested in helping me—but instead more interested in collecting a paycheck and going home as soon as possible.
Even those whose career it is to serve others can be more interested in serving themselves. Why do young people today want to become doctors? Is it because of a deep desire within them to make society a better place? Is it out of concern for those who are sick and ailing? In some cases, it is, but in many cases school and career are only seen as a pathway to personal riches.
Our God, on the other hand, is a God who serves His people. Look, for example, at why the Lord came to Abraham by the great trees of Mamre. When He appeared there in the form of a man along with two angels, it was not to get something from Abraham, but to give something to him. He appeared at Abraham’s tent not to be served, but to serve with a gracious promise. He came to tell Abraham that He would give him the son he always wanted. More than that, God would be serving the whole world by later sending Jesus through Abraham’s descendants.
We can see the theme of service woven throughout this lesson. There are, in fact, six ASPECTS OF SERVICE that we will examine briefly: I. Attention, II. Humility, III. Politeness, IV. Willingness, V. Rest, and VI. Banquet. We will see in each case how Abraham served others, how we might serve those around us, and we will be reminded of ways that our God has served us through His Son Jesus.
For eight verses of Genesis 18, Abraham’s service to his guests is written down in great detail. The first thing he did when he saw the three visitors arriving on the road was to hurry out from the entrance of his tent to meet them on the way. He gave prompt attention to his guests, running to them before they even came to knock at his door.
This is part of service. Serving others means being aware and attentive to their needs—hurrying out to help someone else. We admit that we’re not always very quick when it comes to giving our attention to others. We can get so wrapped up in our own little worries and concerns that we might not even see someone walking toward us who needs our assistance. The good servant runs to the rescue.
Thankfully, this is what our God has done for us. When evil first invaded this earth He did not waste any time. He gave prompt attention to the human race, pronouncing a curse on the Devil and telling Adam and Eve that a boy would be born who would set right all that sin would ruin. God the Father immediately set in motion the sending of His own Son to deliver us all. Like a good servant, He was quick to action.
The second aspect of service we see in Abraham is that of humility. We are told that he bowed low to the ground when he met his guests. By this he indicated that he was there to give of himself. He would turn to their needs and forsake his own for a time. His own convenience would not come first, but he would give his visitors the highest position in his house.
We can understand this, can’t we? When we have guests at our house we want them to know that they are “guests of honor.” We don’t act as though we are special and they are nothing, instead we treat them as though we are less important and they are more important.
When Christ came, He too humbled Himself. In fact, He humbled Himself more than we can imagine! He was the Son of God and yet He chose to live among sinful human beings. He allowed Himself to be humiliated and tormented even though He was actually above them all. He endured the weight of our own sins on His shoulders. Even though He had committed none of them, He was treated as though He had committed all of them. He appeared meek and lowly even though He was greater than all kings. Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (cf. Philippians 2:8).
Abraham’s service to the three men also included a healthy dose of politeness. When he spoke to his guests he referred to each of them as “my lord” and he called himself “your servant”.
Sometimes when others say things that we don’t like or do things to us that we don’t like, the hardest thing in the world for us might be to act politely toward them. But being polite is a big part of being a good servant. We try to talk politely to others—not making them feel upset or angry with our words. We seek to be polite with our actions—not being coarse or rude, but being kind and gentle to all. We rightly teach our children “please” and “thank you” at an early age for as the Proverb says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
Our Lord Jesus treats us with the utmost care and politeness—especially considering the way we treat Him. Our sinful nature lashes out at Him with words of frustration, doubt, and anger, and yet Jesus does not respond to us in kind. Instead of answering us rudely saying, “You stupid, foolish brutes” (which we are), we are called “children of God.” From the cross where He hung dying, He looks on us in love saying, “Father, forgive them.” How polite and kind our Lord Jesus is to us!
Throughout this section of Scripture we really get a sense of Abraham’s willingness to serve. He asks his guests to “favor” him by allowing him to serve them. It is he who would be happy if these men would decide to stop at his place for a little while to find rest before continuing on their journey.
Willingness is a big part of being a servant. In fact, a servant who does not have an attitude of willingness probably has no business being a servant. We are to view others with a willing desire to help and be a friend. We are to attend to the needs of others without grumbling or complaining about how much inconvenience it causes us or how much we would rather be doing something else. Love does not stop to consider whether or not now is a good time to be willing, it reaches out the hand under any circumstances, in all situations.
Nobody has ever been a more willing servant toward us than Jesus. What does Isaiah say? “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Willingly, Jesus walked to the cross in order to pay the price for all our unwillingness. In order to cover our sins with His own death, He bowed His head—not with irritation over the trouble we were putting Him through, but bowing it because He so loved the world and wanted to save it.
Out where Abraham lived the climate was hot and dry. Travelers on the dusty road would be in need of refreshment. “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.” [v. 4]
A good servant carries out his duties in such a way that others can rest and relax. There is no doubt that rest and refreshment is something all of us need. Don’t we enjoy vacations and time away from the “daily grind”? Don’t we enjoy putting our feet up in an air-conditioned room after a hot afternoon mowing the lawn? Our bodies need rest after work. So the servant works in order to give others the rest they need.
Here, Abraham provided rest and refreshment by washing the feet of his guests and giving them a place under the shade of his trees. Our Lord Jesus Christ refreshes us with water too: the water of Baptism in which He washes away our sins and puts His own name on us, making us members of His spiritual family. He further gives us rest in His Word—where He gives peace to our souls through the forgiveness of sins and through the promises that He will care for all of our needs. Finally, He will give us rest in Heaven where our labors will no longer be burdened by sin and its effects. “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28).
Its hard to miss the busy meal preparations that were underway the moment Abraham received his visitors. Almost immediately he told them, “Let me get you something to eat.” Then he hurried to the tent and told his wife to get some fine flour and bake some bread. Then he ran to his herd and selected a choice, tender calf and told his servant to prepare it. Although these men were strangers, Abraham set about preparing a lavish and expensive meal for them. He did not simply say, “Here is some water and a few leftovers.” Instead, he placed a real banquet in front of them!
Jesus our Lord has prepared a banquet for us too. Heaven is like a great meal. It will be filled with all sorts of good things and we will be able to enjoy them to our heart’s content for all eternity. There at the banquet will be Christ our Savior and all those who have trusted in Him. Abraham’s food will pale in comparison to the gifts Jesus will give to us in the new creation—the home of righteousness, and like the true servant that He is, He has made all things ready.
While his visitors ate, we are told that Abraham stood near them under a tree. After serving them he watched to see if there was anything else he could do. Isn’t this what our Savior does? Jesus serves us with His forgiveness and love, but then He doesn’t leave—He stands right at our sides ready to lend His aid and support again and again—a servant to the last! It is true what is said about Him: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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