I had some time off scheduled last week and with other plans being cancelled, wound up spending my vacation close to home.
I decided to use some of that time to prepare a ‘starter’ for a bread recipe I had been wanting to try.
It took five days and more than five pounds of wheat flour to ‘get there’ as I mixed flour and water one morning, discarded most of it the next, and then mixed in more flour and water the day after that and the day after that. As long as it’s tended now, that starter should last for some time, allowing me to bake a couple of loaves at a time to enjoy and to give away. It is a fun hobby, to be sure, and one that encourages me to give away from the too much that is baked week after week. And yes, as I kept pouring in more and more flour from the five pound bag over those slower days, I was struck by how much it took to arrive at a place where the baking could finally happen. And yet, it was nothing compared to what is alluded to in the account of Abraham and Sarah and their guests today.
For this is so. Probably Sarah had by then carried with her from the time she was a young woman, the ‘starter’ which had been passed down to her from generations before. There would have been no such thing as yeast in a jar or a packet then — the only rising agent they would have had was that which grew naturally around them.
And this is so.
Indeed, even before the most well known part of this story is told, this is a story of profound abundance.
For Sarah is not asked to make a couple of cakes to feed their guests. No, rather, she is told to take ‘three measures of choice flour’ — three measures being more than a bushel basket full — enough to produce 52 loaves which we would recognize today — and perhaps even more ‘cakes’ which are asked for now.
They are not spoken of here, but I imagine she would have needed a whole lot of help in her ‘kitchen’ to turn that choice flour into something edible. Indeed, more than this, in a time and place where there would have been no way to keep those cakes fresh, they would probably have given a whole lot of that abundance away.
Oh, this is a story of abundance from the start.
And yet, more than this, it is not a story constrained by the sort of ‘abundance’ which had been known and experienced ever before. At least not by the likes of Abraham and Sarah. For while just the thought of carrying and measuring, mixing and kneading a bushel basket full of flour into something edible, seems a stretch for the imagination, it at least is grounded in the lived experience of the one carrying and measuring, mixing and kneading and baking. Sarah would have known what to expect next — even with the sorts of variations which can affect the outcome of such baking — things like the weather, the strength and resilience of the kneader, the temperature of the coals.
- Not so with what those holy visitors, the Lord, had to offer now.
- Not so with this announcement for which this now aged couple had been waiting and were long past hoping would be fulfilled.
- Not so with this gift — with this promised child — which defied any before known expectation or understanding of how things work in the world.
Indeed, there is abundance all over this story. Both the expected kind and the unimaginably unexpected, too.
And surely this is where we find ourselves landing today, don’t we?
This is where we, too, are invited to step into new ways of receiving and embracing the great, incomprehensible abundance which God has in store for us as well.
Yes, you and I who too much find ourselves bound by how things have always been, unable to see that God intends, God always intends, and where God always brings newness where it is least expected, even to places we thought simply impossible.
- Indeed, I have often thought the truly precious gift of the promise to Abraham and Sarah was that it came to people long accustomed to expecting so little, to ones, by now, so far past hoping for that which was still theirs to receive.
- Oh, I have often thought of the powerful wonder of this for individuals and yes, congregations, who perhaps have long since given up hope for any kind of abundance beyond what they, what we have known before. So much so that like Sarah, in the verses following what we receive today, we laugh out loud in our disbelief.
But oh, what would such a promise kept mean for us now:
- In a world too much divided, where wholeness, understanding, reconciliation seems so far from possible…
- In a time when individual rights seem to win out over the collective good, time and time again and vulnerable ones are left to suffer…
- In places where precious life, too much, is lost senselessly, violently and otherwise, and we are left to grieve, not yet able to begin to imagine a time of gladness again…
- In an era when the narrative of faith and hope and love which has held us for so long no longer seems to resound in a world where other voices drown out the one voice which promises any life that matters.
What might this mean for us now when we are accustomed to things always going a certain way, but are limited in our imaginations to only (albeit in itself) the profound abundance of what three measures of flour can do!
So it is I offer now those ways and places where I am yearning for the sort of promise those three visitors offered Abraham and Sarah so long ago. One that assures that God is not done doing new things, life giving, life altering things for the sake of God’s Beloved:
- Surely, for me, I am wondering about this in the wake of a recent, really unexpected death and the grief which has not yet been fully experienced for it is still so new. Oh, I have been here before, yes, but not in precisely this way. And yes, having been here before, I know with certainty that the journey changes and it changes you, but one does find healing. I wonder this time, though, how God will do new things, even with the broken-hearted.
- In a community where real struggles are too much hidden, or perhaps are lived out in ways and places we have long since quit looking for them: in friends and strangers both. Where our sense of helplessness has calcified into hopelessness and we are paralyzed to be and do what we can to alleviate the pain borne of hunger or violence experienced by those we live alongside. For instance, I see this especially among school age children and those in our schools who are called to teach, but who find themselves unable to do anything as they once did and are more than weary in the trying. What new thing might God be about to do — that which we cannot yet imagine now — among and in behalf of the younger ones who live where we do?
- And yes, in a time when at least where I live and serve, we are still discerning what it means to be the church in a world which so wants to be, but is not yet post-pandemic. When some have returned wanting things to be as they were, and some have not found their way back at all and may never. What promise might be ours when we cannot yet imagine a new ‘way’ of being and doing, even as we sense that something entirely different is being called up in and out of us. What might God already be doing that we do not yet have the capacity to see and understand?
- These are just some of mine. What would you add?
Indeed, without a doubt Sarah and Abraham had long settled for what had always been, unable to yet see what God had in store.
How might their experience speak to you and those you serve in the places you find yourselves even now?