St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Pentecost 3, June 18

I have been thinking about folks who live in tents for the last 9 plus years. The tents in Abraham’s time would have been made from animal skins. I suspect they hold up to weather better than our polyester and nylon versions. If you were wealthy, like Abraham, you could have them made to almost any size-you could walk upright in them, no problem, and have separate areas partitioned off. Of course, the climate is much dryer in Palestine than it is here-it would be rare for your tent to get soaked in the rain and not be able to dry out.

I was also struck by the comment made in Forward Day By Day about today’s readings: that a “front porch” would be nice to have so one could interact with ones neighbors. I have a large deck that is basically at my front door and my neighbors do occasionally interact with me there. We tend more to stand out in our yards or driveways and talk to one another. And, when I leave for work, I try to remember to wave to Dolly as I pass because I know she can see me drive by from her spot where she watches the morning news. I am so rarely home with energy to interact with my neighbors that I tend to not see them very often. And, I don’t run out to greet them like Abraham did with these total strangers. I do get comments like, “We can’t tell if you are home or not.” Which has some underlying messages: You come home and put your car in the garage and we don’t always see that so your empty driveway says you’re not at home. Or, we worry that something bad will happen to you and we won’t know to get you help. Or, we know you are busy and don’t want to bother you. I do see my neighbors at the community center here in Monte when I go to pick up meals and they always greet me when they see me. And, if I knock at their door, they always invite me inside.

It gives me pause, “Am I a good neighbor to my literal neighbors?” Yes, I would run to get them help. Yes, I watch when the aid units come and I ask if everyone is doing alright after they leave. The aid units are frequently in our neighborhood. But, no, I’m not the best neighbor.

So, here is Abraham, concerned for the travelers approaching his tent. And, I think of how big of an encampment Abraham and his retinue would have had. At this time, Lot and his people have left Abraham and Sarah so the size of his encampment would be smaller than it had been. Yet, it must have been much like a tent city-only with livestock. At our encampments in this area, you will see dogs and cats but no sheep, goats, donkeys or cattle. And, that’s probably a good thing! Think of the complaints that would bring about! So, Abraham, when he moved from place to place, would not have been able to hide-his troop would have been extremely noticeable as a place to receive sustenance for a weary traveler. Anyone walking nearby would have heard the animals and their noises, the sounds of people cooking meals, washing clothing, making things they needed, and voices, lots of voices! And, the people in Abraham’s camp would also be on the lookout for strangers. It is better to provide hospitality to strangers than it is to perhaps make an enemy.

And, this story of the message provided to Sarah and Abraham (because we know she was listening to the conversation from inside the tent) is, well, interesting. In Sojourners, Natalie Wigg-Stevenson tells her story of infertility and reminds us to be mindful of those who struggle to conceive and also, those who choose not to have children. What I found interesting in her comments was how Sarah’s and Natalie’s laughter weren’t “the joy of humor. They were the sounds a body makes when it lets go of all the pain it didn’t realize it was holding. [the sounds a body makes when it lets of all the pain it didn’t realize it was holding]… How [this story] lands with each of us will have everything to do with how much and whether our bodies have been able to let go of pain. … not everybody gets to laugh.”

Sarah had long ago given up hope of having a biological child-Abraham had a steward they had adopted as an heir, Abraham had brought Lot, his nephew, along to inherit and they had Ishmael from Hagar. They had tried to cover the ability to pass a legacy along. And, these strangers, these men who had likely just left their message with Lot in Sodom-were telling them now they would have the promised child they had wanted for so long. And, Sarah, laughed-perhaps an ironic, disbelieving laugh or maybe that release of pain her body so desperately needed.

I have been reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. and he has done extensive research over decades of how our bodies store traumatic memory. I haven’t read in his book anything about laughter being a release AND I do recognize many of the activities we do at Camp Victory that help our campers learn to occupy their bodies while being aware of how they move and that they can integrate trauma into their lives without letting that trauma overcome them. That incarnation is a full-body experience. It makes me aware that I spend lots of time in my head and not tuned into my body or how I physically feel. So, Sarah laughed. The pain she had held in her body for decades would soon turn into laughter held in her arms. Isaac which means, “he will laugh”.

In our camps, if a woman who lives there has a baby, she either is provided with housing or more often, the child is removed from her care. And, often, no one in the family knows where the child is, if the child is in a good place, or if the child is still even alive. Sarah could laugh because she had all the resources she needed to care for this child. And, it reminds me that the people we encounter aren’t just in one or two categories: those who long for a child and are unable to have one, those who choose to adopt, those who don’t want a child at all, those who have children and weren’t allowed to raise them, those whose children have died and those of us who wanted a child and easily were able to have them.

God called Abraham out into a new land, away from the city and he became a nomad. He was not someone to pity for he was wealthy and perhaps it was easy for him to answer this call from God to go to a new place and live there in the hope that his descendants would occupy the land and live prosperous lives. Who are our nomads in today’s world? Or, are all Americans nomads-some of us wealthy and cared for and some of us not? Where are our encampments? How do we care for the strangers AND the neighbors we encounter?