The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, 20 August 2023
A Sermon on Isaiah 56:1-8 by Vicar Robert Alan Shivers
Isaiah 56:1-8 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
Thus says the LORD:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am 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.
6 “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,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
7 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.”
8 The Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
Holy Communion: A Joyful House
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are We Doing Our Part?
In the first lesson, God is telling His people that all are welcome into His house. Those who believe in Him, who wish to be His servants, and those who seek to keep the law are invited to be part of God’s Chosen People. Now one can imagine the Israelites were not happy about this. They have come back from their exile in Babylon, and they are rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the temple. They are likely thinking to themselves, “Seriously? We just got back, we are rebuilding our lives in the land that you promised us and you want us to let the Gentiles in? Are you crazy, God?” What are they forgetting? Just earlier in Isaiah chapter forty-two verse six, they are told, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” and again in chapter forty-nine verse six they are told, “I will make you as a light for the nations”. Notice the word “for”. God is telling the Israelites that they are supposed to be an example to the Gentiles as to how to live and to show God’s gracious love. He wants His chosen people to welcome the Gentiles with open arms. As we read in verse three, “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’” God wants those coming in to be welcomed graciously and not treated as “unclean”. Take note, God is asking the Israelites to accept those who want to worship Him and to be His servants, He is not asking them to let just any Gentile in. When I was thinking about all of this I started to wonder, do we accept “foreigners” with open arms? Now, I am not saying we have to accept those who blatantly disregard the word of God out of spite nor those who blatantly act out just to cause frustration and anger. I am talking about those who are either curious or desire to become a child of God. Do we invite others to join us in God’s house of worship? Do we invite them to join us in a bible study or in a mission group? Do we make them feel welcomed? Do we, as Christians, really do our part in evangelism? Yes, that person may not be like you or me, but he or she is still our neighbor. Even God says in verse four, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who chose 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” . Remember, eunuchs can not pass along their name nor their blood. They are childless. In Deuteronomy chapter 23 we read that they were considered unclean. Therefore, they could not enter the house of the Lord. Yet God is saying, “Come, worship me, I am your God. For your faithfulness you shall have that which is greater than children”. So if God accepts eunuchs, and gives them those things that are greater than children, who are we to turn people away that truly desire to answer God’s call? We should be actively inviting our neighbors to worship. We should be making those, who are answering God’s call, to feel welcomed.
The Path to Christ
There are times that I wonder how people can separate the Old and the New Testament. The first lesson is a prime example of the foreshadowing of what is to come, as verse one tells us “… for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.” When you are reading this, do you not think it is talking about Christ? Remember, Christ is the salvation, the redeemer of the world. Through him our baptism means something, it does something. We become children of God. We are washed in the blood of the lamb. What will you do with that cleansing? What are you doing to keep justice and do what is righteous? Are you living the Christian life or are you worshiping on the weekends but living as an atheist during the week? No matter how righteous we think we live, we live in a sinful world and our actions do not bring about salvation. But Christ died for your sins and for mine. Because God knew then just as He knows now, we will not be able to keep justice and do what is righteous just as the Israelites could not. Sin, death, and the devil are a part of this life. Daily we fight these three things and daily we fail. But that is why Christ, the servant Son of God, gave himself to die on the cross. So surely our call to servanthood, which starts at our baptism, is not too much to ask. Will you continue to follow that calling? Will you live to serve those you know and those you do not know?
Be aware, it does not end there. Again, I will say, our actions do nothing to save us. They do nothing to bring salvation, only Jesus Christ can do that. And he did that when he died on the cross. He lived the perfect life and died the perfect death so that we may live. He lived a life without sin, which is something we can never do. He was like a lamb without a blemish, perfect in every way, and he was led to the alter to be sacrificed. Because he is the Son of God, and because of that purity, he bore the weight of our sins on the cross. And that is seen when we put the white pall on the casket or on the box that our late Bob Stansbury, who was a member for eighteen years, made for the cremains of our loved ones. Those white palls say to anyone who sees them, “This is a baptized child of God, washed in the blood of the lamb and they will live a new life with a new body with our Lord.” It tells those who are mourning, “you may mourn their death, but rejoice, for they are with the Lord.” Those of us that are still here can commune with our loved ones at the table where we receive the precious body and blood. The communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins is found here, around the railing, at the altar. This is where we receive our Lord’s most precious body and blood. And we should rejoice when we leave, for we have communed not just with our brothers and sisters here, but with the saints above and with those who can not be here but yet still receive our Lord. Let this house of prayer be a joyful house, a house where we give thanks for the gifts that we have received. Do not go without the gift of Christ being recognized.
When you leave here today, I want this to be on your mind: It is not for us to decide who should and should not attend the services of God’s house, so long as they come in good faith. It does not matter one’s race, ethnicity, culture, or their appearance, God invites all to His house of worship so that it may be a joyful house. So pray for and invite others to come to worship and other activities at church. Do this so they can see what a difference it makes when they are part of God’s family, a brother or sister through Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Vicar Robert Alan Shivers
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina