“WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT”
GENESIS 14: 17-24
JULY 20, 2008
A number of years ago Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, served as the week-long chaplain at Chautaqua, the famous old New York state conference ground near Jamestown. While he was there, Dr. Menninger celebrated his 87th birthday, and on the occasion of his birthday, he read a column. He said, “I am not the author of this, but it expresses my philosophy.” It reads,
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered: love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives: do good anyway.
If you’re successful, you win false friends and make true enemies: try to succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow: be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will get you nowhere: They make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
People favor underdogs, but they follow top dogs: fight for some underdogs anyway.
What you spend days building may be destroyed overnight: do it anyway.
People really need help but they attack you if you try to help them: try anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you get kicked in the mouth: give the world the best you have anyway.
That’s pretty good advice from one of our pioneer psychiatrists and it was the philosophy Abraham practiced when it came to his undeserving nephew Lot. Even though Lot did not deserve it, Abraham risked his life for him anyway, rescued him from slavery anyway, and saved him from possible death.
Do you have any relatives who drive you nuts? Do you have any relatives who try your patience? Do you have any relatives whom you suspect got into your family through a mix-up at the hospital nursery? Lot was one of those guys. When Lot’s father died, Abraham took him in, kept a roof over his head, gave him three square meals a day, and even took him along to the Promised Land, and then when they got to the Promised Land, Abraham gave Lot first dibs on the land, and instead of saying, “No, Uncle Abe, you choose first,” Lot took the best land for himself – the most fertile land – and he pitched his tent near Sodom, which tells you something about Lot’s judgment. Some relatives of ours are a lot like Lot. They have a way of finding trouble and making messes wherever they go.
We didn’t read these verses this morning, but our chapter begins with Lot being hauled off as a prisoner of war. You see, the wealth of the plain of Jordan had not only attracted Lot, it also attracted foreign invaders. A coalition of four eastern kings had previously conquered the area, and after thirteen years of foreign domination, Lot’s neighbors decided to rise up against their conquerors and fight for freedom. The eastern kings launched a fierce attack and squelched the uprising. Lot, with his knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets hauled off by the enemy forces, and Abraham goes off after him. Listen to the story. Genesis 14 beginning in verse 14.
When Abram heard that his nephew had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (For those of you who have been to Israel, that’s from the southern part of the Dead Sea up to Dan, about a 120 mile jaunt.) He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them, and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his nephew Lot with his goods, and the women and the people.
As a quick aside, the fact that Abraham had 318 trained men in his entourage gives us a hint regarding the size of his patriarchal establishment. If those men were married, (as would have been likely), and had only one child on the average, Abraham would have led and ruled a community of a thousand or more. Such a company would have given him considerable power and prestige.
Well, having defeated the four kings, Abraham heads back home with Lot and all the treasure he had captured and he is greeted by two important and grateful people – the King of Sodom – where Lot lived and the King of Salem, and of the two kings, the most important for us this morning is the King of Salem, a man named Melchizedek. I say that for two reasons.
First, Melchizedek becomes a prototype of Jesus Christ. Take out your Bible and turn with me to Psalm 110, verse 4,
Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In other words, there were two types of priests – a Levite priest – one who was born into the priesthood, as a Bush or a Kennedy might be born into public office, and with those born into office you get good priests and bad priests, just at you get good Kennedy’s and not-so-good Kennedy’s and good Bush’s and not-so-good Bushes. But then there was another type of priest, not a Levite priest, but a perfect priest of the order of Melchizedek.
Turn with me to the Book of Hebrews, chapter 7, verse 1, on page 1092 of your pew Bible. Listen to the author of Hebrews describe Melchizedek.
This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days or end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
So of the two kings who come to thank Abraham, Melchizedek is the more important of the two, for he becomes the prototype of the ultimate king and priest, Jesus Christ.
But the other reason Melchizedek is so important, has to do with what his appearance teaches us about God. Now, look at the sermon title for this morning, “When You Least Expect It.” I wonder what you thought when you saw this sermon title? When you least expect it, what happens? Some of you may answer, when you least expect it, “Disaster hits!” A lot of us here this morning live by Murphy’s Law – “If anything can possibly go wrong, it will.” When we least expect it – the bottom falls out, the roof caves in, catastrophe strikes.
But, what the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek tells us is that when we least expect it, God has something good for us. God certainly had something good for Abraham in this fourteenth chapter. God surprised him with a Christ-like priest who came out of nowhere, blessed him, and is never seen or heard from again.
That sort of serendipity still happens. When we least expect it, God often sends a mysterious figure to bless us. I think of the woman named Maude who, during the Christmas holidays, attended the funeral of a dear friend. She was sad about the death, but the funeral even made her feel worse because Christ and resurrection hope was never mentioned. Back home that night, she couldn’t shake the blues, so she decided to do something about it. She decided to go downtown to the local department store and mingle with holiday shoppers.
She was browsing in the picture frame department when she noticed a woman looking for a special frame to give a friend as a Christmas gift. It seems she had found just the right one but the price was more than she could afford. She discussed the matter briefly with the clerk and then walked away looking sad. At that point, a couple standing near to Maude, said to the saleslady, “We’d like to buy that frame for her. Put it on our account. But don’t tell her who paid for it.” Immediately, the clerk ran after her customer. “Pardon me, but you own this frame. Someone bought it for you.” The woman began to cry, the saleslady began to cry, Maude began to cry because of these two modern-day Melchizedeks. They didn’t offer bread and wine, like Melchizedek did to Abraham, but a simple picture frame did the trick.
Folks, as we reflect on Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek this morning, let me offer two things for us to consider. First, consider believing the best first, not second.
Bruce Larson tells the story of leading a tour to Holy Land which included a Mediterranean Cruise. He was leading a trip during the days when communism was still very strong in Eastern Europe, and they docked in Yugoslavia. All 500 passengers went ashore to see the wonderful medieval city of Dubrovnik, but after the excursion, only 498 passengers returned. The two missing passengers were Larson’s daughter and her roommate. Now, this was especially serious in a communist country. The ship cannot leave unless everyone is on board since they don’t want any CIA agents left behind! So Larson hailed a cab and went into town to look for the two girls, accompanied by the ship’s first mate.
As they drove off, Larson shared his anxieties. He said, “I know something terrible has happened to them. These are two sophisticated, knowledgeable young women. One’s a lawyer and one’s a banker. They are responsible and intelligent. They would be here unless something awful has happened. They were either kidnapped by white slave traders or they’re in a hospital. I just know it.” Now, the first mate of the S. S. Victoria, not knowing that he was talking to a minister, turned to Larson and offered some words of wisdom. He said, “Mister, let me give you a rule to live by the rest of your life. ‘Always expect the best first.’”
Not bad advice, and by the way, Larson never found the girls, but by the time he had gotten back to the ship, they had already returned. They had simply gotten the sailing time confused. But Larson had wasted a lot of energy expecting the worst. When you least expect it, God often surprises us with something good.
It’s like the story of the policeman who came upon a circle of people trying to revive an woman lying prone in the street in front of a car. “Who’s the driver of this car?” asked the policeman.
“I didn’t hit her,” came the reply. “I was turning the corner and I stopped to let her cross the street and she fainted.”
Like the lady in the street, a lot of us are programmed to believe that life is going to run us down. We expect the worst, not the best. Some of us have a bumper sticker in our mind which reads, “We’re born naked, wet & hungry. Then things get worse.” Some of us see flowers and expect a casket. Others, however, believe the best and as a result enjoy life much more than their contemporaries. They expect good things to happen. They expect God to send a Melchizedek into their lives even when times are bad. Believe the best first, not second.
Second, in light of this story, consider becoming a contemporary Melchizedek. You see, like Melchizedek, we have the same opportunity to be an unexpected blessing to others when they least expect it.
Remember the pre-schooler who got his mother through a really tough day? It had to be one of the most trying days in mom’s life: appliances breaking, telephone and door bell ringing, bills arriving without the money to pay.
Feeling like she was at the breaking point, this young mother picked up her young son and put him in his high chair. She then dropped her head on the tray of his high chair and began to cry!
The little boy watched his mother for a moment, then took the pacifier out of his mouth and placed it into the mouth of his crying mother.
I bet the bread and the wine and the blessing that Melchizedek offered Abraham was as effective as that pacifier in refreshing his spirit.
Years ago the Denver Post told the story of a pastor who told his congregation about a needy family at Christmas. One young father decided to do something about it. He took his young son, got into the family pickup and set out to cut down a fresh evergreen and deliver it to the destitute family. Unfortunately, they ran into a rockslide and a boulder hit the truck. The truck was damaged, the windshield smashed, and the young son was cut by broken glass and bleeding severely. The father tried to wave down passing motorists for help, but to no avail. Finally, after 200 hundred cars had whizzed by, one stopped. The couple in the car took care of the injured boy, returned the two of them to their home, and then went on. The father and the son never got the name of the two Melchizedeks.
A week later they tried again. On Christmas Eve, the pastor asked this same man if he would deliver a basket of food and toys to the needy family. He was glad to give it another go. They loaded up the truck and drove to the address they were given and rang the doorbell. Who should answer the door but the couple who had stopped to help him on the highway just a week before. They proved to be Melchizedeks to one another.
When you least expect it, look for a blessing or try to be one. Amen.