I have been known to be critical of some things in my beloved Episcopal Church. Yes, Virginia, it is true that one can love something and wish it to be better. I’ve lamented our adoption of Moral Therapeutic Deism. I’ve pondered our fear of the name Jesus. I’ve asked a lot of questions about our commitment to evangelism given our slogan “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” It seems we welcome those who a) can read English, b) can read music, c) can navigate our labyrinthine Prayer Book (and, often, buildings), and d) seek us out in the first place.
Given the ubiquity of The Episcopal Church Welcomes You signage, my disdain for it as an ideal often stays forefront in my mind, and influences the way I engage in the Scriptures. This was true this morning as I read the story of Abraham and Sarah and the three visitors. The first thing I noticed is that this story is about Abraham and Saran, not Abram and Sarai. This means that God has already established the covenant with Abraham. In fact, God and Abraham have already interacted on a few different occasions. Beginning in Genesis 12, the story of the deepening relationship between God and Abraham and Sarah teaches us an important lesson about true welcome – hospitality is an active noun.
By the time we get to the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and God already know each other. Relationships require work. One cannot simply sit inside their tent with the flaps closed and expect relationships to grow. Abraham is out and about, scanning the horizon, looking for guests to welcome, for friends to greet, for relationships to foster. A sign on the corner that says the Episcopal Church Welcomes You that points to a set of closed red doors on what appears to be a building that hasn’t been occupied in years is not an evangelism tool. It cannot be a marker of hospitality. As inheritors of the Abrahamic faith, we are called to be out in our communities acting as signs of the Kingdom, meeting our neighbors, who are know to us because we’ve been out there for a long time, meeting them where they are and inviting them into the feast that has been prepared for them from the beginning.
What makes the Oaks of Mamre story so powerful is that Abraham can recognize God in the three strangers because they are in relationship with one another. This is why at Christ Church, we’ve made a commitment to getting out into our neighborhood and learning more about it. Whether it is through meeting our neighbors experiencing homelessness face-to-face, engaging in neighborhood prayer walks, volunteering in our community, serving on local non-profit boards, or some other means, we are making the commitment to be the signs of Christ’s love and light here in Bowling Green such that, when someone new shows up on Sunday morning, maybe we can meet them with a hospitality that is a little more active because there is a relationship already established and a trust already built.