Based around Isaiah 56:1-8.
The other evening I watched a documentary about the Beatles; there was some footage of the time when they played a short set from the roof of a building, and I found myself thinking ‘Where have I seen that before?’ Only to find myself answering “Oh yes…The Simpsons.”
In an episode where Homer and his friends form a Barbershop Quartet, they do their farewell performance from the roof of Moe’s bar, after finding out in a magazine ‘Are they hot, or are they not?’ article that they are now most definitely ‘Not’. They were no longer part of the ‘In’ crowd; no longer ‘beautiful people’, no longer part of what CS Lewis called the ‘Inner Ring’ – those folks that seem somehow materially blessed and separated from the rest of us. Mundane life was calling them home.
CS Lewis wrote in an essay the following:
“Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. … As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.
In the Old Testament there existed a particular covenant between God and the people of Israel; one that excluded foreigners; one that even excluded some people who were maimed. Some people in Israel – who may have been there for generations – were excluded from worshipping God. The exclusive nature of the relationship between God and the people of Israel would last until the coming of Jesus Christ, but as is often the case, Isaiah prophesies the changes that are to come when the Messiah comes.
Things are going to change; that a new covenant between God and man will make all of us God’s chosen.
Tonight’s reading from Isaiah reminds us that with God there is inclusion; no one will keep us away from God. There are no ‘gatekeepers’ or ‘style arbiters’ – just a desire from us to be part of His kingdom.
In Verses 1 and 2 we’re given a pretty simple reminder of what we need to do to be blessed by God.
We need to be just; to maintain justice. This can be hard in our day to day lives – but it is required of us.
We need to do what is right, and not commit acts of evil.
We need to keep the Sabbath – putting regular time aside for the worship of God, time in which we re-centre ourselves and make God the centre of our world.
The observant amongst you will have noticed that the reading tonight is what I call a ‘book end’ reading – there are a couple of verses, then a skipped section of the Bible, then the reading finishes with a couple more verses. Let me share with you the words of Verses 3 to 5 of tonight’s reading.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
Verse 3 and 6 both mention ‘foreigners’ – those people who were not of Israel, who were not Jews, but who had bene living in Israel for several generations in some cases and who had been forbidden to worship God. Not any more; God is saying ‘Don’t feel that you’re separated from me because you’re not of my people’. If they serve God, love the name of the Lord, worship God and keep the Sabbath – most likely meant to describe the religious observances of the day – they too are welcome in God’s all inclusive Kingdom.
The rest of this excluded section deals with a particular section of society – eunuchs – men who were typically servants or soldiers who had been castrated. This group too were traditionally ‘outsiders’ and were excluded from worship under one of the Deuteronomic Laws that excluded any who had been emasculated by cutting or crushing. They were indeed regarded as ‘dry trees’ – as branches of the Jewish nation that could not produce children, at a time when the family history and family lineage were important. This group too would be welcome as long as they follow the observances required and worship the Lord. The eunuchs are being told that within God’s Kingdom – within the Temple and it’s walls – they will have a memorial and an ongoing name as God’s offspring that will be better than sons and daughters.
As an aside, the Hebrew for “a memorial and a name” is Yad Vashem; this was chosen from Verse 5 as the name given to the main Holocaust monument in modern Jerusalem.
Verse 6 reminds us that that we come to the Lord to serve him, to worship him, to enter in to a covenant or relationship with him, and by doing so we will be blessed by Him.
In Verse 7 we’re told that God will bring these people – now His people – US – to His Kingdom. He will guide us, bring us to prayer and worship and then bring us joy. We may come to God mourning, damaged, broken, hurt; but through Him we will find joy.
We’re told that our sacrifices and offerings will be accepted on God’s alter – that we will be accepted by God. And God’s house of prayer will be for all nations – not just the Jews of the Old Testament; not just the Gentiles and Jews of the New Testament – but all people, everywhere.
God wants to include us all in His plans; He wants all of us – Jew and Gentile, ‘foreigner’, the whole and the broken. Those excluded previously by tradition; those who have been in our lives and communities for generations and yet who still feel excluded.
We are all offered the opportunity to be ‘In’ with God and His Kingdom. We can all be hot; we can all be within the Inner Ring for all eternity, and God has not finished bringing us all in to His Kingdom yet.
Reader Joe Pritchard