Be careful to entertain strangers

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, a bowl, a cup, knife and fork, a small vase of flowers, or a cross may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme.

Opening Prayer (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.35)

Discipling God,
we are made in your image and called to follow your Son, Jesus.
Along with our brothers and sisters around the world,
we are here to offer this time of worship,
to acknowledge your love for us, revealed in Jesus.
In these strange days, our gatherings are very different.
We are apart and yet united by our love for you.
Even today many people seeking to find you amid this global pandemic
and the fears and anxieties it holds for each one of us.
We are discovering new ways to engage with people
and we are grateful for the wonder of technology
that allows us to reach out to people in our communities and beyond.
Help us move forward determined to be
more like the people you created us to be,
using our gifts and talents for the work of your kingdom,
here and now.
Lord Jesus, you have shown us the way to live,
the way to behave, help us to want to be more like you.
In Jesus’ name we pray.

Reading: Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He 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. 3He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

9They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

Reflecting on the Word: “Be careful to entertain strangers”

The story from Genesis this week is a well-known one. It tells of how Abraham, a nomadic tent-dweller, offered generous hospitality to three visitors who came to them where they were camped by the oaks of Mamre. It was common in this semi- nomadic lifestyle for people to seek hospitality from strangers when journeying from one place to another, especially as commercial food and lodging places such as inns were very scarce. In fact, it was actually a strict social obligation to welcome strangers, as a number of biblical texts make clear. There were strict rules around what counted as good hospitality, and by following these, one maintained his own honour and the honour of his household by receiving and offering protection to strangers who sought one out.

So when three strangers turn up at Abraham’s tent, Abraham follows the tradition of this ancient hospitality code to the letter. The strangers are welcomed and treated extremely well, and Abraham follows the four parts of the hospitality code: invitation, acquaintance, provisions, and departure. In return, he would have expected news of the outside world and conversation.

Hospitality and generosity can be under-appreciated in Christian churches, despite the Bible picturing God and the kingdom of heaven as a generous giver with an abundant banquet (Isa. 55:1-2; Luke 14:15-24). Hospitality is important in the bible as it fostered good relationships and kept things peaceful and civil as strangers shared food and conversation.

This type of generous hospitality and the resulting relationships should be an important part of being the church today. When we gather around a table together or enjoy various activities with each other and with those unknown to us, we can grow in understanding of each other and get to know and appreciate each other better. This can lead to unexpected friendships, better relationships and more effective networks of communication across our congregations and our communities.

Reflecting on the passage: what can we learn from this story?

Think of times when you were hospitable to a relative stranger. It might have been a friend of a friend, or someone introduced into your church group.  Think about how the situation came about and in what ways you offered hospitality. What was the outcome of this encounter? What changed?

In what ways could we encourage each other to be generous and hospitable, both as individual Christians and as a church?

Hebrews 13:2 states that “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

In modern times we have become increasingly wary of strangers. We rarely now would invite someone to our home without knowing something of them. We do however, have people turn up at our church door during the times it gathers together. In what ways could we apply the words of Hebrews to how we welcome visitors to our church?

Prayer for ourselves and others (adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)

God of compassion,
in a world in which we sometimes struggle,
we bring our prayers for other people
and our prayers for ourselves as individuals and as a community of faith,
endeavouring to live out our commitment as your disciples.
We pray for all those who feel the weight of oppression and persecution
in their lives individually and as a community;
may they know a sense of belonging.
May we speak up to confront injustice wherever and however we find it.
We pray for all those who are grieving a loss of someone special to them,
and who sense so deeply the division and isolation that loss can bring;
may they know your comforting presence.
May we open our hearts in whatever way we can to be a supportive friend.

We pray for all those who worry and who face a struggle
in the next months and years with less income and greater costs,
with job insecurity and fewer opportunities;
may they know your steadfast companionship.
May we be generous in our solidarity.
We pray for all those whose labour is not recognised or appreciated,
and those who feel they have been excluded
from the riches and opportunities that have blessed others;
may they demand recognition.
May we stand with all those whom others seek to make scapegoats.
We pray for all those in positions of leadership
with difficult decisions to make and responsibilities to heed;
may they be guided by a spirit of duty to all,
and with a clarity of thought that will help them navigate competing demands.
May we be supportive and questioning, generous and honest.
Hear our prayers, Lord God, offered in your name. Amen.



As God the Father loves us,
so we should love others:
As God the Son shows grace and abundance to us,
so we should show his generosity and hospitality to others:
as God the Holy Spirit spreads life and fire through our bones,
so we should share the stories that spread life to others.
Bless us as we enter our communities this week
inspired by God’s abundance and
with grace to share and love to give.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

More from Rev Elizabeth Raine