"A House of Prayer for All Nations--That Means You" August 7, 2011--Pride Sunday in River City


Isaiah 56:1-7
Thus says our God: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.  Happy is the human who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.  Do not let the foreigner joined to God say, "The Holy One will surely separate me from God’s people"; and do not let the eunuch say, "I am just a dry tree."   For thus says our God: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,  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.   And the foreigners who join themselves to the Holy One, to minister to God, to love the name of God, and to be God’s 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.”

Mark 11:15-19
 Then Jesus and his disciples came to Jerusalem. And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."  And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

I would ask you to pray with and for me. Holy One of all nations, be with us now. Open our hearts, minds and spirits to the truth you would have us hear. Give us grace to see as you see—to know that all human beings are your children, that all are welcome in your house, at your table of grace—that you do not exclude, hate or deny anyone. Open our eyes to your presence in all those around us, even those who hurt us or anger us; may we see and understand with your heart and your love. In your many names, amen.

A house of prayer for all nations. Isaiah quotes God saying it, Jesus repeats it.

All nations.

We know, most of us, where we belong.  Sometimes we cross those borders—as they say, everyone is Irish on March 17! But we know where we belong—we have our certainties of kinship and tribe. For those of you who are gay, bisexual or lesbian, do you remember the first time you went to an LGBT gathering? Maybe it was the women’s potluck, or a bar; perhaps it was a friend’s party. Do you remember the sense of belonging, suddenly? Of knowing, “yes, these are my people and I am home.”

I have felt the same way in other situations too—have you? I’ll admit to a large dollop of geekiness and say I felt that way the first time I stepped into a science fiction convention. I feel that way in some churches, too—and always in book stores.

Maybe for you it’s a yoga studio, or a stage; or your garden. For others, a sailboat, a barn, a woodshop.

It’s that sense of knowing that you are home—that you are among your own who love and support you and even if they disagree with you, are allied with you.  There might be internal disagreements, but woe betide the outsider who dares to attack one of you!

That’s a tribe—our tribe, as the moderator—the head—of Metropolitan Community Churches, Rev. Nancy Wilson put it.

But—and this is what Jesus is pointing out here—God’s place is for all people. Tribes and divisions do not matter in God’s house, because all those borders and boundaries are transcended before God, who created all of us, without borders or limits.

Jesus was not upset and offended that there was commerce going on in the Temple—it was necessary for the people to buy animals for the sacrifices and to obtain the temple coins for their donations. He’s angry because outrageous profits are being made at the expense of the people. “Thieves,” he calls the sellers. Not that they were selling, but that they were taking more than they should. And by selling at high prices, they were drawing lines around who could afford to worship God as they were commanded—they were making it impossible for some people to be able to fulfill God’s laws.

Jesus did not exclude on the basis of income or station in life. Now, I have to be honest here and admit that yes, for a good part of his ministry Jesus did limit his teaching to his fellow Jewish people—but he learned from a woman who challenged him—the Syro-Phonecian woman—who said to him, in effect, “You may insult me and call me a dog, but even a dog is part of the household and deserves to be cared for.” And Jesus realised she was right, and opened his teaching to all people. And always, he was in the company of marginalized people—the poor, the homeless, sex workers, fishermen, widows—the ones on the edges of polite society.

“God’s house should be a house of prayer for all people.”

There are some today who would close God’s house to certain people—people who don’t speak the same language, or live in the same country, or marry the same people as they do. People who are different, in other words. Such people are drawing the lines of tribes too closely. Instead of support and care, their boundaries of tribe, of nation, are strangling and suffocating. Too many churches deny the gifts of their own people, because they are—well, you name it. Women, or they don’t speak the “right” language, or they are gay, or not from the “right” country or don’t have skin the “right” colour, or they are lesbian, or transgender or not educated or… Humans can come up with amazing lists of people they feel are not worthy.

But that is not God’s plan; it is not God’s intention that anyone be turned away from God’s house. All of us are welcome in God’s house, part of God’s family. Even those whom the world despises—or maybe especially those the world despises—will be elevated, welcomed, into God’s house of prayer.

God does not turn anyone away. If you have been told you are not “good enough” in some way, that you must change who you are, that you may not express who you are in church—turn away from those who tell you that. Because God made you as you are—beautiful, amazing, and good. Yes, there are behaviours we need to change—we all have actions and deeds we are ashamed of, when we have hurt others, or been untrue to our own standards and morals. But we should not be ashamed of who God made us to be, whether we are made lesbian, disabled,  straight, black,  left-handed, bisexual, Latino, gay, red-headed, transgendered, two-spirited…any of the ways the world likes to slot people away, mark them as less-than, different and unworthy.

When we give in to the shaming of these people, these institutions that dare to call themselves Godly, we are denying the very gifts of God in our lives—the gift of who we are as God made us. When we hide who we are, who we love, how we know we should be living, we are saying that God screwed up, that we are not as we should be—that we are mistakes, we are errors. God, my sisters and brothers, does not make trash.

Everyone of you is fearfully and wonderfully made, in the very image of God—beautiful, lovely in God’s sight, worthy of love and life and all the gifts God has to offer you—a partner who loves you truly, a life of fulfillment, hope and peace, friends who care and support you, a community of mutual support, an amazing world to live in—and a loving God of grace to love and worship.

A house of prayer for all nations. That means you and me, brothers and sisters—everyone of us here in this tent, on this riverfront, in this city, this nation, this continent, this world. All of us—straight, Muslim, two-spirited, poor, Christian, black, bisexual, disabled, Buddhist, lesbian, educated, rich, Latino, Jewish, gay, Asian, unionized or not—every one of us has a place in God’s house of prayer, at God’s table, at God’s feast.  God created each of us in love, and that love welcomes us home to this feast of hope and joy in God’s house, which is for all nations.

Remember this, sisters and brothers. Next time you are made to feel that you are less than—whether it is because of your skin colour, the language you speak, who you love, how you earn a living—whatever it is—know that God made you as you are, intended you to be as you are, and declared you good. Claim that goodness, that God spark in yourself, that knowledge that God made and loves and claims you as God’s own and do not allow yourself to be turned away from God’s house, for it is for all nations—even yours, even ours, even theirs—for all nations.

In the name of our loving God, amen.

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