Pentecost 9C—Genesis 18:1–10


Sometimes when you come to a text, like our Old Testament reading, it’s difficult to see the forest through the trees.  Texts are not always what they appear.  What I mean by that is this: our own preconceptions get in the way of the text, or maybe our own familiarity with it gets in the way.  We remember the big points, but not necessarily the point.  We just tend to go: “Yeah, yeah…heard this before.”  “I know how this one goes.”  So it goes with our text from Genesis.  It’s familiar.  The LORD comes to Abraham and Abraham serves him.  It’s the majority of the text so we tend to fixate on that, but should we?  Rather,


(1. The LORD came not to be served but to serve)

The LORD shows up.  “The LORD appeared to him at the oaks of Mamre.”  What sort of visit would this be?  When the LORD was amidst the trees of Eden, that was not a good meeting.  Would this be different?  Condemnation?  Well, Abraham isn’t hiding anywhere, so that’s a good start: “He was sitting at the entrance of the tent during the heat of the day.  And lifting up his eyes, he saw, and behold three men standing by him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to greet them, and bowed himself to the earth.”  The LORD, with two angels in tow, arrives and appears to Abraham.

What’s Abraham’s response to the LORD’s appearing?  He lists off all this stuff he wants to do.  The response of the visitors?  They say, “Do as you have said.”  Well, that’s our translation into English, but that doesn’t quit capture it.  It’s more: “You may do as you have said.”  Not the glaring word of support that we might expect.  The LORD permits Abraham to serve Him and the two angels.  But the LORD has always come “not to be served but to serve.”  And so when Abraham does his thing, the LORD gets down to business.  He does what He came to do all along.  He speaks His promise.  He doesn’t even acknowledge the work done by Abraham.  “And they said, ‘Where is Sarah, your wife?’  And he said, ‘Here, in the tent.’  And He said, ‘I shall surely return to you according the time of life, and behold, Sarah wife shall have a son.’”  That’s the LORD’s way.  He comes, and He speaks.  Our eyes should be lifted up to that, as Abraham’s, and not to Abraham.

(2. We should hasten and wait for the LORD to serve)

How do I know this?  How do I know we should just focus on the smaller portion of the text?  Well, we see it in Abraham’s speech and in how Moses records this account.  We should, like Abraham, hasten and wait for the LORD to the serve.  But we see, then, that Abraham does it one way, and we tend to do it in another way.

First, Abraham entreats the LORD’s grace and favor: “If I have found favor”—that is, grace— “in Your sight, let me do all this for y’all.”  It’s all rooted, for Abraham, in the LORD’s grace, mercy, and favor.  We get that.  We too know the same thing.  All things we do are rooted in God’s mercy for Christ’s sake.

Second, look at what Moses actually says about what Abraham does: “Abraham went quickly and said to Sarah, ‘Quick!’”; “Abraham ran;” “he hastened.”  Why all this haste?  Is it that He doesn’t want to keep the LORD waiting?  Probably not.  The LORD came to him, as the LORD had done a few other times, Abraham hurries, and “he stood by them under the tree as they ate.”  Abraham hurries about his work.  He’s diligent in his work.  He then waits for what the LORD has to say to Him.

We tend to get the focus backwards.  It’s easy to do.  We tend to say, “We have the LORD’s favor, now what?”  We tend to go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know all that stuff.”  We tend to focus on what we need to be doing in order to serve the LORD, instead of wanting to be served by Him.  We think that’s only the starting point—the being served by Him.  For Abraham it’s the starting and ending point.  Abraham bowed down at the start and then waited at the end.  Abraham does what’s expected of Him by culture for the treating of guests, and then waits to receive.

(3. The LORD’s promises are the real focus.)

We should fix our eyes on the LORD and His promises and not on our own work.  That’s the real focus.  The LORD is there at Mamre to visit Abraham to give the final promise of a son.  “I shall surely return to you according the time of life, and behold, Sarah wife shall have a son.”  The long-awaited heir is about to come—9 months away!  But the promise of Isaac is only one step in the process.  There still needs to be “through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”  That’s the major promise to Abraham, and this one from our text today starts the ball rolling on that one.  The LORD’s promise of Isaac is one step in His promise of Jesus.

The promise to Adam and Eve and to the whole world is now starting to be fulfilled in Abraham.  That’s the true promise given to our father Abraham.  Jesus.  Jesus who would come and fix His eyes solely on His Father.  He would do the works which we do only grudgingly and imperfectly.  He came to serve.  To serve you.  Serve you by saving you.  Save you by “giving His life as a ransom for many”, for you.  His getting the right focus counts for you.  His dying on the cross counts for you.  His “it is finished” is yours.  Jesus’ cross, the “it is finished” it the true fulfillment of the promises from the Old Testament, the true “amen” to all God’s promises.  Promises made not only to Abraham, but to you too.  The focus is on the Lord’s promises and His action because we mess it all up.  We shift the focus.  So He promises in Jesus to set the focus right.  To call us and to give us what the LORD Himself is doing.  His promises to you are not just abstract, but His promises are rooted in Jesus, as they were for Abraham.  The foundation and fulfillment of all God’s promises is the cross of Jesus: His death and resurrection for you and the whole world.  He washes you in death and resurrection and in it is the promise “you shall be saved.”  He feeds you with His body and blood of that cross with the promise “your sins are forgiven” by eating and drinking it.

WE, LIKE ABRAHAM, NEED LOOK TO THE LORD AND HIS PROMISES RATHER THAN OUR OWN WORK.  Because our work is all skewed.  We shift focus from what the LORD is doing for us, onto what we do for Him.  This is why the LORD operates by promise.  He comes not to be served, but to serve.  It’s what happened at the oaks of Mamre.  We go about our business, and get out of the way so the LORD gives us His promises.  And he, Jesus, gives us those promises again and again.  Promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The real focus is those promises of Jesus, and Jesus giving them to you.


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