Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Isaiah 56:1,6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
“… 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.”
Way back in the time of Isaiah, in the 700’s B.C, and into the 600’s B.C., God was calling all peoples. God was saying through Isaiah that foreigners are welcome to enter God’s house if they act in such a way that demonstrates their love of the Lord God.. God is saying, “… these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; …”
Moving to the New Testament in the 1st Century A.D., we find Jesus being confronted by a Gentile woman – a Canaanite woman – which is to say that she was not of Hebrew heritage. She comes to Jesus asking for healing for her daughter. The healing that was needed was to call a demon from the woman’s daughter. Listen to this! Jesus did not say, “Sure, bring your daughter here.”
Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She pleaded some more. But Jesus said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is very cruel to say the least. He is saying that anyone who is not Hebrew is much less in his eyes than people of his own race. Can you imagine? Very unlike our image of Jesus. But this woman is clever. She counters this cruelty with, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” What did Jesus say or do next?
Jesus said, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Was the daughter healed of the demon? Listen! “And her daughter was healed instantly.” Matthew 15:28
As Jesus’ life on earth was nearing the end, we find Jesus offering the cup to his disciples and to many people. Jesus does not say that this gift he is offering by dying on the cross is exclusively for the Hebrew people. It is for outsiders also. Jesus is announcing that this cup he is holding represents his own blood that will become a new promise, a new covenant. This, not just for his disciples but for many people just as God was saying through Isaiah in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.; anyone who believes is welcome to claim this gift of salvation. Whoever believes in this God and is welcome to work and worship for the kingdom of God is welcome to have the benefits.
Benefits. What are they? The benefits of being inside the kingdom of God. Why do people want into the kingdom – this kingdom of God on earth, the one that is not finished. It is not complete. Satan still dwells within. Well, why do you care about coming to church, about helping other people, about changing your speech to eliminate profane words, about following the other commandments, about feeling God surrounding you, about feeling that God is listening to your prayers, about seeing and feeling God’s answers and work in your life?
The Psalm today – Psalm 67 – seems to express the desire and results of people who are glad to be part of the Kingdom of God.
“May God be merciful to us and bless us;
may the light of God’s face shine upon us.
Let your way be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations on earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you;
The earth has brought forth its increase;
God, our own God, has blessed us.
May God give us blessing,
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe.”
Perhaps by now we are feeling welcome and embraced in the Kingdom of God as it exists on earth. Have we closed the door behind us? We surely don’t want everyone to enter that door which opened for us. Surely, there must be a line – a qualifying line! Well, not with God’s blessing will there be qualifications based on economic level, on intelligence level, on skin-color level, on whatever level.
The qualifications are based on the desire and attitude of the person who stands and knocks. There are commandments to be obeyed – you know; commandments from Exodus 20 – those 10 commandments. Then there are the commandments of Jesus to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength; then the extreme commandment – to love each other as much as we love ourselves and even more stringent – as much as Jesus loves us. Did you know that both these commandments – to love God and to love each other – come from the Old Testament in the books of law? (Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 6:5) So once again we see a tie between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
I think of these Old Testament/New Testament ties as the game of ping-pong. Back and forth, back and forth. Or maybe like bookends which have a spring between the ends. The ends want to be together. As soon as the books become less, the ends move together. So it is with God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. But, the kingdom of the New Testament is more than one end of a spring or one side of a magnet or one bounce of a ping-pong ball. The New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. And the true, final Kingdom of God is the fulfillment of the New Testament.
Where are we in this movement? What difference does it make to us? We can jump on this moving spirit or we can watch from the sidelines or we can try to paddle against the stream. As the kingdom moved from the beginning of time toward Jesus’ time on earth toward the complete Kingdom of God in all its fullness, it would be advisable to allow ourselves to move with this flow; this gushing stream. It takes a bit of courage, a bit of trust, and bit of faith to knock on the door or to jump into the quickly moving water as the Spirit takes charge of us.
Why are we doing this and why are we leaving the door open when we are invited to enter this earthly Kingdom of God? Do you remember that when God was speaking through Isaiah, God said, “I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer…”?
God was meaning the outsiders. Most of us would be the outsiders had we lived in the days of Isaiah. Most of us would have been the outsiders in the time of Jesus as was the Caananite woman. Even in the time of Isaiah God seems to have had the plan for Jesus to die for all who believe. It is all one story! One story! The End of the story is the best ending ever.
This house of prayer that we read in Isaiah, what is it? Is it any place where worship of God is happening? Maybe so. That sounds right. Or, is there something special about the use of the word “prayer?” See if you agree. What or who gave us the courage to try the door? What or who gave us the courage to jump into this fast-flowing stream of water from the beginning of time until this very day and on toward life-everlasting?
We are hearing about the wild rides at amusement parks. Some of us need large injections of courage to say, “Okay, where do I get a ticket?” How did that decision happen? Maybe the need to prove that fear is not our controlling feeling. Maybe we were scared to be different when all our friends were buying tickets. Maybe our life needed some zing. Something inside of us was urging us to try; to join this thrill. We wanted to know if we could be part of this excitement.
So opening the door of a church is similar. We need something inside which urges us to be part of the excitement. We need courage to enter this house of prayer. Once we open the door and feel the welcome, we are blessed by the Spirit within. When we have jumped into the rush of water flowing through time to the heavenly kingdom, we are not alone. The Spirit is there giving to us safety and an abundance of joy such as we have never known. It is the Spirit in our lives that carries us forward to the presence of the total God. We meet this God full force.
This Spirit of God takes charge. It is like being gathered in the most wonderful arms ever. It is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in One. Oh those arms! And we are not even the declared Holy People. Everyone is welcome as long as we believe in this God who is not a distant God. This is a God who offers the gift of prayer to everyone who believes. Prayer can be personal and confidential; just one person connected with God. But imagine now this open prayer experience in which joy abides. This prayer is open to include every single person no matter the heritage. It is many people connected with God. Do we want this deep prayer that is shared with everyone in the whole world? Let us allow ourselves to be swept into the ever-widening circle of prayer. God is the hub of the wheel. We are the rim of the wheel. The spokes of the wheel are the prayers which keep the rim on the hub.
We can be happy that we are in that wheel along with people of all ethnic groups, all people who walk from the fringes of society. Is everyone in? Wait, someone is drawing close who does not please my senses. Am I really supposed to make space for that unpleasant looking person? It is like this: If I don’t make space, I will find myself outside the circle of prayer, outside the kingdom of God, and the person behind me will be invited and welcomed.
Let us pray. God of all peoples, your arms reach out to embrace all those who call upon you. Teach us, as disciples of your Son, to love the world with compassion and constancy, that your name may be known throughout the earth, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.