August 17, 2017 A House of Prayer for ALL People – Isaiah 56:6-8

brother other mother

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:6-8 (NRSV)

Some of us have known the privilege of making a friend from a wildly different culture, nationality or unfamiliar ethnicity, and finding that we share a great deal in common. It is one of those “happy accidents” of God when we meet up with a “brother from another mother” so to speak.  Those sorts of friendships broaden our horizons and enrich our own human experience.

Much has been said in social and political discourse of late that pits human against human in petty and pointless arguments about skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or race, or heritage. The fact is that humans sin and fail each other for many reasons.  The reality is that none of us can erase what oppressions our ancestors suffered at the hands of others, nor can we take back what suffering or unfair treatment our ancestors imposed upon others.  Throughout history groups of humans have enslaved and oppressed other groups of humans. At one point or another should we look back far enough, we will find both oppressors and oppressed in our family histories, regardless of what ethnic groups or cultures we come from.

The only positive, God-honoring action we can take in response to racial and cultural hate is to love each other and treat each other respectfully NOW. The oppression and unfairness and discrimination can stop with us.  We are all human, created in the image of God, like it or not.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah is speaking about the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Christ ALL humans are welcome to participate in God’s kingdom, regardless of nationality or ethnic background, or skin color, regardless of their mistakes, or their family’s mistakes, or their pasts.

God is gathering ALL people to His kingdom. He is calling people who we disagree with.  He is calling people who may currently be our enemies.  He is calling anyone who will hear Him.

Are our hearts also houses of prayer, in which all who seek God and His kingdom are welcome?

 

August 3, 2017 Healthy Priorities or Vain Toil? Isaiah 55:1-2, Ecclesiastes 2:10-12, Matthew 6:31-33

vanity

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Isaiah 55:1-2 (NRSV)

 

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-12 (NRSV)

 

(Jesus said): Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

Vanity has a similar meaning to futility. When we appeal to our vanity we are looking at either instant gratification or outward appearances. Both are temporary. Often we do things that don’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of it all just for appearance sake. We think less about what we really need and more about keeping up with the Joneses. We put a lot of time and effort and money into things and activities that don’t do much to edify ourselves or build anyone else up.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon warns about things done in excess and/or things done for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve, or that we should take up hair shirts and austerity as a lifestyle. God’s gifts are good.  There is nothing evil about achievement, gaining wealth, or material things in and of themselves.  Our stewardship and use of those resources is what matters.

Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God. That is where our fulfillment and joy and purpose originate.  Is that where our priorities in life lie?  Do our vocation and our leisure time activities glorify God?

God knows better than we do what we need. This shouldn’t be taken to say that we should just sit back and let provision fall from the sky, but that our first priority should be going after the things that God wants in our lives.  We run into trouble when we become obsessed with work or the pursuit of money or the pursuit of stuff instead of seeking a balanced life focused on God first.

There is no cost for us to come to God. We don’t have to put on a show either.  We are invited to come to Him exactly as we are. We can trust that as we reach out to Him He will provide us what we need.

Isn’t it a relief knowing that we can stop chasing after the wind?