Genesis 18:1-8, Luke 9:1-8       “Hospitality”   (servanthood)


            I was once as a young man taking a ferry from the island of Alonissos to the island of Skopelos in Greece. It was a very short journey, only about two hours, but somehow in that short length of time, I became quite ill. I was supposed to travel from Skopelos on that same ferry boat to Skia and eventually to the mainland where I would catch a train back up to Germany in the town of Voulos. I knew, however, that I was too sick to make the journey. So, I got off the ferry in Skopelos and looked for a place to stay. I was completely alone, and I had no reservations anywhere. And, I was so sick to my stomach and weak that I could hardly walk.

            Just the same I dragged myself up to the first hotel I saw on the dock and asked if they had any space for me. They told me that they were all booked up. I walked to the next hotel, and then the next. I was so exhausted, but I knew I could not survive being on the street or in a taverna all night long. I needed to rest and recover. I barely dragged myself back to the first hotel at the dock. By this time I must have looked terrible because the lady had real concern in her eyes when she saw me. I asked her if I could just stay in the lobby on the couch there if nothing else. She said something to me in Greek that I did not understand. Next I saw that there was a man standing next to her. I assumed I was about to be thrown out of the hotel.

            The woman took my hand and the man picked up my pack and we went to the elevator. I was still not sure what was happening. In a moment, I found myself on the roof of the hotel where the family actually made their home. The children were moving out of their room and were being led to the common living area/kitchen. I was ushered into the children’s room and told to lie down on one of the beds. I remember nearly collapsing at that point. I quickly fell asleep. By the time I woke up again, the sun was setting. The lady was bringing me some lovely soup and Greek style bread. The kids were at the door looking at me and smiling. My heart was melting for this wonderful family who took in a stranger in need. I thanked so many times! I ate the soup and bread and fell asleep again. I was thankful that my stomach did not reject anything.

            It was morning when I woke up again. Once again I was treated to soup and bread. That may have been all they had. I told them that I wanted to try to catch that day’s ferry to Skia. They wanted me to stay on. My heart melted even more. I was sure the kids wanted their room back. I tried to pay them for the room they had given me, but they refused. How could I ever pay that kindness back? They were the angels sent by God in my time of need. I really do not know what happened to them. I wrote them a letter of thanks, but they never wrote back. In those days there was no online social media, etc. 


            Back to the scriptures for today. Three strangers show up at Abraham’s tent. The question must be, why does he go out of his way to treat these strangers so well? He just does not offer to water their animals or to give them a drink themselves. Abraham takes the best flour, and Sarah makes bread for them. Abraham seeks out his finest calf and has it prepared as a feast. Why does he do that?

            I think that there may be multiple answers to that question: The first may be that Abraham himself was a sojourner who was called by God to leave his hometown of Ur, to cross a great expanse, and to come settle in Israel. In that time, he must have relied on the hospitality of strangers to make that journey. There were no hotels or motels in that time. He did not have reservations at a place to stay. There was no way to make a reservation anyway. How would anyone hold his credit card until services rendered? Ha ha. It was a different time. In those times, dependence on others was critical.

            In those days, hospitality was the system. It was the credit card and internet reservation. Biblical scholars call this the “ancient Hebrew hospitality code.” You were morally responsible for the guests who might come into your care. Showing that you were able to feed others, made you into a benefactor, a patron, or as was the case with Abraham, a great patriarch of a nation. It was an opportunity to share the blessings of the Lord with others.

            Before we move on, I have always been struck by the fact that the Hawaiian word for hospitality, “Ho’okipa,” has that “ho’o” prefix to it that makes it something great, regal, or even godly. So, in Hawaii you welcome the stranger because it is a regal and godly thing to do. Sometimes we forget that when we see sooooo many tourists coming to the island.

            Lastly, and this is certainly the case with Abraham, it was believed that God will have sent that person to you for a specific reason. Would you send away a messenger from God? Abraham believes these three men are sent by God. Note that being sent by God in the Bible, even if you do not have wings and halos, means that you are an angel. “Angel” simply means one who is sent by God. That means you can be totally living human being and at the same time be an angel to someone else who needs the message from God that you are carrying with you.

            We did not read that far, but the blessing that these three angels have for Abraham and Sarah is that they are about to have a son together, Isaac, who will carry on the bloodline of the nation that will come out from Abraham. Throughout the bible, and in the hospitality code, strangers always seem to have specific blessings from God. So, here on Kauai we have to always think that tourists are blessings.


            Keeping all that in mind, we come to the text from the Gospel of Luke. I must admit that this is one of my favorite parts of the bible. This is the time when Jesus graduates his disciples to apostleship. They have been with him for three years. They are now being given the dynamic power of God from Jesus to share out to others. They also are given the power to cast out evil  and heal in Christ’s name. They only hitch in this is that they must go out into the world with only the clothes on their back–not even a change of underwear! They must become dependent in faith on the grace of others.

            In the text, we have a very strange line that reads “stay until you leave.” What else would we do? Of course, you stay until you leave. Here on Kauai when we ask “Where you stay?” that does not really ask for an address of a hotel or what. We are asking how do you fit into the community where you are? Who is your ohana? This is the same thing that is being said in the Greek. When Jesus says to “stay” with those strangers, he is saying to have yourself accepted into that family. Do the work of living and caring for others in that place–until the very moment when you leave. In doing that, you will heal and cast out evil, and most importantly as Jesus states, “You will share the good news of the Kingdom of God.” In this way, you will be a blessing to others.


            What happens then if for some inexplicable reason the ancient hospitality code fails and you are asked to leave that place before being accepted, before being able to minister to that family? Jesus says to dust the dirt off your feet and move on. What did Abraham also do for his three guests? He washed their feet. What did Jesus also do for his disciples at the last supper? He washed his disciples’ feet. Then, he admonished them when they refused to let him do that. He said “unless you do likewise, you shall have no part in me.” This is from John 13:1-17.

            I tell you this story again, because I know that I have preached it before in this church, but we have new people, and it is so befitting. When my wife and I were missionaries in Thailand, we hosted many chapel services in the schools. The last friday chapel service before we came back to the States, I did the unthinkable for Thai people. You see, the foot is considerable the dirtiest part of the body in Thailand. To touch another person’s foot is considered utterly filthy and obscene. So, I read that very scripture from John 13 about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I had some of my best younger students come up to the chancel so that I could wash their feet in public view of all the teachers, administrators and parents who were there. I have to say that the young students got what it was that I was doing. However, the adults were aghast and greatly insulted. Had I learned nothing about Thai culture in the time that I was there? Fortunately, I had saved this bible lesson for the last week that we were in Thailand. That was the plan. It was the final blessing I would give to the students. In the kingdom of God, the teacher washes the students’ feet. This is a great, regal, godly act that bespeaks the ultimate hospitality and servanthood.


            Now, I just need to close this message today with the very words of Jesus from Matthew 25:40-5

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’