Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Genesis 18:1–10a (10b–14)* Genesis 18:1-10 And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of 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.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then 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. 9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
Genesis 18:10-14 And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
“Wined and dined.” It’s such an appealing concept . . . and it’s delightful when it’s happening to you. A salesman hosts potential clients for a golf outing at the club everybody would love to join. Open bar at the Nineteenth Hole. A company wants your services, and the interview includes dinner at a restaurant you’d rather not pay for yourself. A five-star high school quarterback visits NIU and gets the full red-carpet treatment—minus, we hope, the amenities that underage prospects ought not yet sample. Dined but not wined.
It’s all good, but let’s not be naive. Your host isn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He’s not even really doing it for you. He’s puttin’ on the dog, rollin’ out the best, because he wants something. This is his way of getting you to do something for him. And often it works. It’s all fair. You know what he’s doing and why.
Not so good, on the other hand, when we try to play that game with God, when we think doing something for him, serving him up our best, is the way to get him to do something for us. Not good at all. And totally unnecessary. We don’t serve God to get him to serve us. Being good servants isn’t the way to buy his services. No need. It is true, we do serve the Lord in ways that he calls us to do, but in faith we remember who is actually serving whom, who is actually doing the infinitely greater serving. Rather than our serving God to get him to serve us,
The Greater Servant’s Service to Us
Leads to Our Service.
We often point to things we do in service to the Lord as the basis for his serving us. How many time do we think that if I just start going to church more often, God will make me well. Or we promise to put more in the offering if God would just get us through the current crisis with our kids. Or we think God is actually trying to get us to do something and that is why he has given us such-and-such problem to deal with.
Abraham could have done that too on the occasion in our text (vv 1–5). Abraham realizes that one of his visitors is the Lord himself, the preincarnate Christ, and he immediately rolls out the red carpet. He falls prostrate before the “men.” He shows gracious ancient-world hospitality by offering water for their feet and inviting them to rest in the shade. Then, he offers a “morsel,” but it is truly a feast fit for royalty (vv 6–8). A huge meal!
These heavenly beings actually eat the food set before them. Is that to say Abraham now has them right where he wants them, that he’s got them buttered up? Now Abraham could ask for what he wanted and the Lord would surely give it to him because of Abraham’s hospitality to him. Such dining (and probably wining too, along with the milk) could have been just that—setting up the Lord to do something for Abraham. In the very next verses (the Old Testament Reading for next week), Abraham is in fact going to ask the Lord for a huge favor: to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of his nephew Lot—if there are only 50 . . . 45 . . . 40 . . . 30 . . . 20 . . . okay, 10 righteous.
In Washington, we call it lobbying: “I do for you; you do for me.” Think of the ways we try to do that with God. When the shells are exploding all around: “I promise to go to church every Sunday, Lord, if you’ll just get me home safely.” “If I operate my business on Christian principles, you’ll take care of the rest, eh, Lord?” “If I pray hard enough, my husband will get well, right, Lord?” “The Lord certainly wouldn’t have let me live all these years if I hadn’t been regular in worship.” “I know I don’t get to heaven by my works, Lord, but they oughta be worth something, right?”
But the fact is, God doesn’t need our wining and dining. In fact, our service to him is almost surely not as good as we think. Everything we do—even for him—is corrupted by sin. In fact, doing anything to get a payback is already sin. And while we pat ourselves on the back for all the good things we have done, what we think is wonderful service often isn’t so wise after all.
On Everybody Loves Raymond, during the second season, there’s an episode that illustrates how often our best intentions really are of no service at all. Frank and Marie are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Ray and Robert go to work to plan a party for them. Their “grand” menu includes sour-cream-and-onion and barbecue chips (but no dip because the chips are already flavored), a six-foot hero sandwich, and ice cream.
Now the guest list: Ray and Robert start listing their own friends, they just need a few—one person for each foot of the hero sandwich.
Debra, watching all this planning from the side, finally has had enough and comes over with a “Stop! Stop! Stop!” She places in front of them a list of Frank and Marie’s friends and gives them a real menu for a party.
The Lord and his angels certainly didn’t come to visit Abraham because they needed someone to set dinner before them, to plan a party for them (Gen 18:1–8). And even Abraham’s tender calf and huge “morsel” of bread were nothing compared to what the Lord has stepped into our world and provided. The Lord’s plans are never about what we can put on for him! The Lord has planned an eternal party for us through the Son who came as a descendant of Abraham. The menu is his grace, mercy, and peace!
Rather, the Lord Jesus is always serving us—simply because he is the Greater Servant. The preincarnate Christ comes not to be served, but to serve. The fact is before Abraham hosted the Lord, the Lord had already done something for him. The Lord serves us first. Our service to him is merely our response to what he has already done for us. Abraham had just been given the covenant of circumcision (17:1–14). God had told him his wife, Sarai, would have a son, Isaac, and she would hereafter be Sarah, meaning “princess” (17:15–16).
Now the Lord, the preincarnate Christ, comes again to serve—by confirming how imminent is the fulfillment of that message (vv 9–14). Sarah will have a baby this time next year! It seems laughable! After all, what the Lord has in mind here is beyond human comprehension. It’s as preposterous as, say, a virgin conceiving and giving birth!
Here is the miracle of the Gospel. The preincarnate Christ announces to Sarah that she will have a son through whom this preincarnate Christ will become incarnate. This Greater Servant will serve us by living the perfect life that was required of us and fulfilling all the demands of the law on our behalf. He will serve us by going to the cross to secure for us forgiveness—including forgiveness for our sorry efforts to manipulate God. He will serve us as Savior by coming out of the tomb alive, securing for us a heavenly wining and dining fit for a king.
The food Abraham prepared and served would satisfy only for a while; soon, human guests would have had to eat again. The banquet food and wine the Lord provides satisfies for eternity. For eternity, Christ is at the table with us as one who serves (Lk 22:27). He is the Greater Servant! This is what Holy Communion is all about.
Having received his service at his Table every Lord’s Day, we serve the Lord because he continues to serve us in his Word and Sacrament. For Abraham: The Lord first serving Abraham with the word of the covenant of circumcision is what led Abraham to put on the dog for the Lord. The Lord serving Abraham with the word of a son made him bold to plead for Sodom.
For us: the Lord serves us with the word of Baptism, “You are my child.” Then we now we can pray to him for loved ones who are sick or in need. The Lord serves us with the word of Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” Then we can encourage those who are afraid, because we have a certain forever! The Lord serves us with his word from the pulpit, “Christ died for you.” Then we can worship for no other reason than thanks and joy. The Lord serves us with the word of Holy Communion, “Given and shed for you.” Then we can give without getting anything in return, because he’s already given us everything. Through the faith given to us in the Lord’s Word, we respond.
Usually when we think about being wined and dined, it’s because someone wants something from us. So isn’t this amazing: the Lord, who needs nothing from us, wines and dines us every Sunday morning and even for eternity at the heavenly banquet—just because he wants to serve us, give to us, bless us. What a privilege for us. Now, then, it is a privilege to be his vessel, to share his grace with those he places around us. Through our serving others, we are sharing with the world that he is the Greater Servant. Amen.