THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR INSENSITIVITY
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
13 JUNE 1993
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
There is a very interesting story within the story of the prophecy of the birth of Abraham and Sarah's son, Isaac.
This “inner story” involves our understanding that there is no excuse for insensitivity.
First, let’s look at Genesis 18:1-15.
1. Now the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] by the oak of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.
2. And when he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth,
3. and said, "My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.
4. "Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree;
5. and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said."
This is an old Middle Eastern custom: that you offer hospitality to strangers.
The writer to the Hebrews picks up on this thought, when he says in 13:2,
2. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Whether or not Abraham suspected that these three were not mere men, we do not know for sure; but in his zeal to show hospitality, he goes a little overboard, which in itself might not be so bad; but Abraham does it at the expense of others, too.
And remember that all that was offered or accepted was bread and water.
6. So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it, and make bread cakes."
Abraham didn't ask Sarah; he ordered her to prepare the bread from scratch. This is the first act of insensitivity.
Such an act could make Sarah wish that no strangers would come in the future, for her husband, by his action, could have taken away her joy of giving; and thus, Sarah might not want to follow the wishes of the Lord by being hospitable to strangers.
7. Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf, and gave it to the servant; and he hurried to prepare it.
8. And he took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.
We don't have to worry about the order given to the servant as being insensitive, for he was being paid to do such work; but even with him, it would have been nice to say, "Please!"
We might consider it insensitive to the calf who was killed; but in those days, in the Hebrew tradition, the calf would probably have been "humanely" killed, unlike today.
But the calf would still have had the horror of facing his own death, as any of us would under such circumstances, no matter how humanely slaughtered. Thus, there really isn't any truly humane method of slaughter.
The real insensitivity was to the calf's mother, something that very few people ever consider, but that God noticed.
Three times, after this occurrence, God gave a commandment that such insensitivity should no longer take place.
Note what we are told in Exodus 23:19.
19. "You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God. You are not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother.
Up to that time, many people would milk the mother, then kill the calf or kid and boil it in the milk as a form of stew. This is insensitivity – real insensitivity. This is what God wished to stop.
And similarly in Exodus 34:26, God says,
26. "You shall bring the very first of the first fruits of your soil into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk."
And again in Deuteronomy 14:21:
21. "You shall not eat anything which dies of itself. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk.
Even to this very day, the Jewish Kosher laws prohibit the eating of meat and milk as part of the same meal.
Thus the Lord has prevented this kind of insensitivity among those who follow His will.
But the insensitivity still remains toward the mother who mourns for the loss of her calf.
But there is still another potential insensitivity occurring in the killing of the calf for these strangers.
Do you remember what happened to the feelings of the brother of the prodigal son, when their father had the fattened calf killed?
In Luke 15:25-32, note the conversations with this brother when he comes home:
25. "Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26. "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be.
27. "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.'
28. "But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him.
Maybe this older son is jealous; but more than likely he is just hurt, because of his father's insensitivity towards his feelings. Note what he says to his father:
29. "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends;
30. but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him.'
Can you feel what this devoted son is feeling? Can you understand the reason why he feels as he does; why he feels jealous?
31. "And he [the father] said to him, 'My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32. 'But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.' "
All this is true, but it doesn't address the feelings of the older son.
It isn't the father's wealth that the older son is interested in; it's his father's love and sensitivity.
If the father had just waited until the elder son came home, and they got together as a family and talked, perhaps there could have been a joyful time for everyone.
This same insensitivity could have affected someone in Abraham's camp, as it did this son.
The good that Abraham was trying to do also created some harm in the process.
And the three men ate what was put before them, so as not to be insensitive to Abraham's feelings.
But when we know ahead of time about someone's feelings, or should have known, and we go ahead and do something to hurt their feelings, that is being insensitive, even if we have good intentions about something else.
But most of this insensitivity stems from the fact that people kill and eat other living beings, and with the exception of Abraham's order to Sarah, all the other acts of insensitivity are are animal related.
If they ate only plant foods as God intended them to do from the beginning, these cases of insensitivity would not have occurred.
The taking of any life requires a hardening of the heart, and as the heart get harder, people become less sensitive to the feelings of others, and in everything they do.
All things must work together for good for those who love the Lord, but we need to remember that not everything in these stories is being done in the love of the Lord; they are being done for selfish and prideful reasons.
Now returning to our Genesis passage, 18:9, we should take note that at this time Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 88 years old, and they had no children of their own; and in those days such a condition was considered a reproach.
But the Lord our God was sensitive to their feelings.
9. Then they said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "Behold, in the tent."
10. And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.
11. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing.
12. And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"
13. And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying,
'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?'
14. "Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son."
15. Sarah denied it however, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. And He said, "No, but you did laugh."
And it did come about that Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah a year later, just as the Lord had said.
Maybe none of us can perform such a miracle, but we can and should reach out with our sensitivity to help mend a problem in someone's life.
But in the process of doing such a good deed, we must be careful not to hurt someone else's feelings, by neglecting them, or by doing something for a stranger that you have not done for a loved one.
And, remember that we are not to be insensitive to the animals who live in this world with us.
There is no excuse for being insensitive, even if we think our motives are good.
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