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     Sunday sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Sept. 2, 2018 | 15th Sunday after Pentecost

    The Oaks of Mamre
    Genesis 18:1–8

     T HE OAKS AT MAMRE (mom-ray) play a recurring role in the Abraham story. Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron. It was there he built an altar and pleaded with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Abraham bought a cave near these oaks and buried his wife, Sarah. Years later, Abraham and many of his descendants will be buried there as well. But those events happen after our story for today. In this story Abraham and Sarah welcome strangers under the oaks at Mamre. A story where Abraham and Sarah actually entertain God.

     † † † 

    THIS EVENT IS SIGNIFICANT in Christian art and architecture. Depictions of this encounter are found in Christian sites throughout the ancient world. Catacombs are underground cemeteries, something like a cave with niches along the walls to hold bodies. It’s in these catacombs that some of the earliest Christian art can be found, including stories from the Old Testament.

    Here is a wall painting from the 3rd or 4th Century of today’s Bible story. By the 6th Century, catacomb wall paintings transitioned into mosaics on church walls.

    This one is in Ravenna, Italy Basilica of San Vitale. There’s a lot going on in this mosaic but the central focus is our reading today. On the left are Abraham and Sarah bringing out the slaughtered calf. At center are the three visitors standing under the Mamre oak. They are at a table. On the table are loaves of bread. This mosaic is a visual symbol of the Lord’s Supper. From the beginning of Christianity, the Church has seen a connection between this event and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

    Here is a mosaic from the 12th Century. Abraham carries bread with cloth-covered hands in the same manner that an Orthodox priest carries the Eucharist.

     † † † 

    What’s the connection between this story and the meal we share. A few things.

    The oaks of Mamre is a place of:

    HOSPITALITY — Abraham goes out of his way to be hospitable. The visitors arrive in the “heat of the day.” Abraham abandons his plans so that he can show the proper hospitality — shaded rest and water to cool the feet — to those travelers. He also offers a morsel of bread.

    Abraham is unaware he is speaking with the Creator and His angels (Hebrews 13:1–2). (Of course, we know this because we are told), ”Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” We read in Hebrews (13:2) referencing this event.

    Abraham makes the guests not only feel welcome, but special. Communion is God’s gift to us. Christ as the host welcomes us to the table. We are treated with great love and importance. We are welcome and special. The gifts of God for the people of God. Each of us has a seat at the table, a place in God’s purpose for the world.

    NOURISHMENT — While the strangers wash and rest in the shade of the great oak trees, Abraham promises to bring them a snack. Then he hurries to the tent and blurts out to Sarah, “Quickly take our finest flour, knead it, and make cakes.” To add to this generous of hot cakes, Abraham runs to his herd and selects a tender young calf and gives it to his servant, who hurries to prepare it. He then takes curds and milk and the calf, sets them before the strangers. This is not morsels of food but a banquet.

    In communion, Jesus makes himself the food that nourishes and sustains us. When we receive Communion, we’re not just We nourish our souls with the body of Christ that sustains our spiritual lives. The bread and cup strengthen us to live as faithful Christians in a hostile world. The feast connects to the source of all holiness and spiritual strength, Jesus Christ.

    GOOD NEWS — The messengers bring good news to Sarah. After a life of barrenness comes the miracle of bearing a child at her old age.

    For us the Lord’s Supper brings us the Good News of Jesus and his love. His life and his death, for us. His resurrection, for us. His power and his grace, for us. God’s love poured out through the body and blood of Christ. That costly demonstration of love for us giving us new birth, new life.

    HOPE — The impossible is made possible. Communion is a sacrament of hope. This sacred symbol is a sign of God’s coming reign. It is a sign of the promised transformation of all things. It looks toward a future in hope and with confidence. The victorious death and resurrection of Christ make a difference and will bring all creation to perfect fulfillment.

     † † † 

    ONE MORE THING: In Genesis 18, some passages refer to three men and some passages refer to two angels and the Lord. This painting (15th Century) distinguishes the “Lord” among the three visitors as a Christ figure. This shifting back and forth between the three and the Lord has caused some traditional Christian interpreters to see the Trinity. In this icon, the members of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, are here feasting with Abraham and Sarah.

    The feast that Abraham shares with God under the oaks of Mamre is the feast that God has prepared for his people from before the foundation of the world. This meal is a foretaste of the feasting or celebrating or dancing that God intends human beings to share now as we participate in God’s own Trinitarian life.

    “Come, Lord Jesus, and let this food to us be blessed.”

    Keith Cardwell     

    Genesis 18:1–8
    Holy Bible, New International Version

    The Three Visitors
    18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

    3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way — now that you have come to your servant.”

    “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

    6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[b] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

    7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

    — This is the Word of the LORD.  


    a Genesis 18:3  Or eyes, Lord
    b.  Genesis 18:6  That is, probably about 36 pounds or about 16 kilograms

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