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.”
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.
Good morning and happy Pride! Welcome, all of you, to this worship celebration of the Windsor Pride Festival!
Will you pray with and for me? You who are, speak to us—grant us wisdom to understand, courage to act, and strength to keep on keeping on. May our words and our actions speak of your grace and reflect your love. In all your many names we pray, amen.
I love these two readings. Isaiah is so welcoming and warm, it was a comfort to me in the days when I wasn’t sure where I would end up, where I would be able to serve, if my call to serve God’s people had been a delusion, if there was anywhere I could live out that call with integrity. But always I came back to the final verse—“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.” For all peoples. Somehow, someway, I knew there would be a place for me—because God’s hosue—God’s true home—is one where everyone has a place. Family and reproduction was very important to Isaiah’s people—they wanted to be able to hold their own against the nations around them, and that mean population. So the eunuchs—people who could not procreate, for whatever reason—were disdained, and looked down upon—and therefore would feel they were “dry trees,” bearing no fruit, unproductive, a drag on the nation. And so God’s declaration that they will have a name better than many offspring—that is truly a revelation and a source of hope. This whole section of Isaiah is full of hope for those who feel hopeless, God promising good things to those who feel worthless. Even when we don’t feel productive or that we have anything to offer, we are still welcome in God’s realm, at God’s table of grace, in God’s house.
Matthew is a little tougher. We often think of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” who never spoke in his own defense at a capital trial—but this is a very different Jesus. He is taking no prisoners—he doesn’t hold back, either in word or action. He turns the tables over, he gets a whip and starts to use it, he uses brutal language to speak truth to power. But this too, is comforting, in spite of the violence. Why? Because Jesus is going to bat for people not like him. He was a Jewish adult male, with at least some Talmudic training. True, he is not a scribe or a priest, but he had every right to be there in the Temple, to be doing what he was doing. But he knew that others were not as privileged—they were poor and could not afford the sacrifices, or they were being gouged by the exchange rates—and even if those profits were going to the Temple, it was not right that they were made on the backs of people who were trying to follow the rules, and yet could never hope to be seen as righteous by those priests. A brief history lesson—the Jewish purity laws—for people to be seen as purified and in right relationship with God—required sacrifices. This were different depending on what someone was being cleansed from—sometimes a dove or a calf or sometimes grain. The animal sacrifices had to be perfect, so it was easier to get them at Temple, where they had been approved for sacrificial use than to try to bring a calf or dove from home. Also, only Temple coins could be spent in the Temple, so they needed to change the money brought with them into temple shekels in order to buy those animals for the sacrifice. End of history lesson! Jesus is objecting to the high fees charged for money changing and the cost of the animals for sacrifices. If a person was poor, it would be difficult for him or her to pay those prices. This is why Jesus is calling it a den of robbers. His anger is that people with a desire to be holy are prevented from doing so by the greed of others—and so he echoes Isaiah 56, that God’s house should be a house of prayer for all nations, for everyone.
And this is what is so beautiful about these verses--no one is turned away from God. No one. In Isaiah, God is inviting and including everyone into the realm; in Mark, Jesus is rebuking people who by their actions are keeping others from God’s realm, and repeating Isaiah’s message of welcome for everyone.
The reality is, we all are welcome in God’s realm
When have we felt left out, pushed aside, ignored, barred? I know everyone of us here, no matter your age, orientation, race, origin, ability or faith—all of us have at some point, for some reason, been told, thorough words or actions or even the law, that we are not good enough in some way. But all God’s good gifts are meant for all people, not just the ones who look like us, or speak like us, or live where we do, or love the way we love, or even worship God the way we do. In the book of the prophet Micah, God asks that we do justice and love mercy and be humble before the power of love in the universe. And this is not exclusive to any faith tradition—every one that I know much about directs kindness to the oppressed, mercy, and acknowledgement of a power greater than we are. So not only the people we know, the people like us, but every person is welcome in God’s realm
That means you and me—every member of the LGBTTIQA community, we who so often have been told we cannot hear God speaking, we cannot be good parents, we cannot marry the person we love, who makes our heart sing; we who have been barred from God’s love so many times. It also means our sisters and brothers who are of another skin colour, or age or ability or nationality—and us again too, because we too are all ages, all colours, all abilities and nationalities. It means the people who have hurt us, who spread fictions about us, who gossip about us, who just don’t understand.
Every one of us here—you here in the chairs, you listening from your booths and around the edges of the plaza—every single one of us is beloved of God and invited to God’s realm. No one is ever turned away from God’s love. Some of us may feel we don’t need God’s love or that God doesn’t even exist. And that’s OK. If and when we open ourselves to the possibility of God’s existence and God’s love for us, God will welcome us. If we have been told by other people that we are sinful, or blasphemous, or evil, or just plain wrong; if we have internalised those messages telling us we are a huge mistake, a plague; if we have ever been afraid to reach out to that sense we have of something greater than us—whatever name we use—Grandfather, Grandmother, Creator of the Universe, Divine Source, Allah, Ground of our Being, Higher Power; if we believe we are unacceptable as we are, in our innermost self—that is not truth. We are not mistakes, we are not evil or sinful. The One who created us simply loves us. We are all welcome in God’s realm just as we are—there are no requirements of productivity or purity or wealth.
Remember this, my friends—God loves you, as you are, in spite of what you may have been told or perhaps even believe. God hates no one. God loves us all, as we are—in all our wonderful diversity of faith, colour, gender identity, origin, ability, sexual orientation, age, or anything else that is used to divide us. We are all God’s beloved children, and all are welcome in God’s house of prayer and in God’s realm. In all God’s many names, amen.