August 29-31, 2020
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
“A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS!”
1. Sin divides.
2. Christ unites.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 (NIV 1984) “This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed….6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
All of the portions of God’s Word we have listened to today were set up many years ago in a series of Bible readings for each Sunday called a pericope. The careful listener noticed each one had a similar tension in them. A tension that only God could overcome. A tension between Jew and foreigner, Jew and Gentile, Jesus and a Gentile. It reminds us of a similar tension that is boiling in our country, over issues of race. Apparently God knows what we need to hear way before we need to hear it.
It’s important that we listen to Him. There are many voices talking to you about race issues. Reporters’ voices, bloggers’ voices, hurting people voices, angry people voices. I remind you that it is the privilege and responsibility of every child of God to listen to what God has to say first. What does He tell us in the word about issues of race? I guess first that there aren’t supposed to be any. God only created one race. The human race. Everyone is a descendant of Adam and Eve and the only distinction God ever made was between male and female, designed by God to be distinctly different and at the same time completely complementary. God did not intend that difference to be a divider but rather a uniter. Male and female need each other and only together are they the human race. God made man in his own image. Male and female He created them. Two sexes. One race.
Then sin happened. And sin divides. Sin pits male and female against each other instead of working in harmony as a team. Even Christian husband and wife don’t always get along, do they? Sin also pits brother against brother. We are not told in years but we are told in generations just how long it took for hatred to develop between brothers. One. Just one generation! Adam and Eve’s first children. Cain and Abel. And Cain hated his own brother Abel and killed him. The history of the world recorded in Genesis shows more hatred and sin so much so that God reset things with the worldwide flood. Once again we find the convergence of ancestry. One race. All are descended from Noah and his wife. But sin continues to divide. The Tower of Babel happens resulting in the confusing of languages and the separating of clans leading to accentuating human characteristics in pockets of peoples leading to differences in how we look by color of skin, eyes and hair. What we identify as races are really sub races of the human race. Now I wonder what sin is going to do with that? You know. Divide. Hate its brother.
The history of the world recorded in the Bible and outside of the Bible is an ongoing litany of brother hating and hurting brother. Jews hate the Gentiles and Samaritans. Samaritans hate the Jews. The early Christian church was divided by Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. You get a little more modern and black skinned people were considered inferior and in their right place as slaves. American Indian tribes fought and looted each other and then were treated as inferior in America when Europeans took over. Turks hated and killed Armenians. Japanese hated Chinese. Chinese hated Japanese. Nazis tried to wipe out Jews, gypsies and Russians. In Africa’s Rwanda the Hutus killed some 800,000 of their Tutsi brothers. Folks, I’m just touching the surface. You get the picture? Race related issues may look like a skin problem but it’s really a sin problem. Sin divides. Sin hates. Sin hurts.
Now what does this all have to do with us? We are sinners. The same sinful nature that lived in the people whose history I quickly recounted lives in us. Each one of us is more than capable of hating our brother. It might be subtle in that I am just more comfortable being around people who look like me and talk like me than those who do not. It might be a little more overt as I think people like me are better than those who don’t look like me. It might come out stronger in words that disparage people whose skin color, hair color, eye color is different than mine. It might show in doing harm by refusing to hire or sit next to or by making fun of. Sadly, we fall into the sin of Cain because God says each person is my brother, my neighbor.
Let’s add to that. In America in addition to racism we also have what I might call jobism. By that I mean we disparage people and despise them grouping them together with a career we might not like because we or others have had a bad experience. Let me give you an example. I only personally know a handful of lawyers. Every one of them is a nice hardworking, honest person. One is a pastor’s wife. And yet I will laugh at the lawyer jokes and call them sharks. Shame on me! Some of you may have had a bad teacher along the way in your education, someone whose primary reason for going into teaching was getting summers off (which good teachers don’t actually get. I live with a teacher and work with them so I know.) But if you have a bad experience with a teacher would you say it is right to have all teachers take a pay cut because there are bad teachers out there? Would God say it is right? I know a number of police officers. Every office I know personally is hardworking and honest and became an officer to try to make a difference and to protect people. They sacrifice and have families praying they will come home each day. Would you say it is right for me to hate them and disparage them and treat them like they are officers who have done the wrong some officers have done? Would God say that is right? Again our local area has turmoil because of an officer involved shooting. I make no comment on the rightness or wrongness. I will wait until all information comes out. In our country we have the right to peacefully protest to make a point. But God does not give anyone the right to destroy or steal other people’s property or harm others if they are upset. God calls that sin. And sin divides, friends. My sin. Your sin. Others’ sin. When brother is set against brother, when people are hated and mistreated because of how they look or what they do it is sin. It is so important for us to remember it is a sin problem as we talk about solutions.
Now back to God’s word. Finally, you say! Remember the tension. Remember how it was resolved. Only in Christ. Our reading from Isaiah was addressed to foreigners and eunuchs, people who by Old Testament law were not allowed to be in the Temple, God’s house. And yet God Himself said they would be welcomed in. He would have a house of prayer for all nations. How could that happen? Isaiah was looking ahead to what Jesus would accomplish. Jesus, the Messiah, would pay for sin. There would be no need for Old Testament laws that were used to teach how sin separates not just people from people but people from God. Jesus would live the perfect life of love. Jesus would make the sin payments for what everyone else had done in the past and would do in the future. Foreigners and eunuchs would believe and they would show their faith this way. They would “Maintain justice and do what is right, …and bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, and keep the New Testament Sabbath by loving God’s word and worshipping willingly, by bringing the sacrifices of a broken heart and lives as offerings devoted to God. And so God’s house is a house of prayer for all nations, for all who believe in Jesus.
That is an important distinction between people that God makes. Not by color or profession but by faith or lack of it. Most of you know John 3:16. It is unfortunate that the whole of it is not always quoted together. All of that portion of John 3 together reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into to the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Whoever believes is not condemned but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Only Christ unites us with God. Friends, I contend that only Christ can truly unite us with one another. God calls us to look into ourselves and as believers repent where needed. Am I in any way hating, disparaging, wanting a person hurt because of how they look or what they do? Do I downplay someone else’s hurt because I am not hurting? Is St Jacobi a house of prayer for all nations? In Christ we have forgiveness for our sins against others. In Christ we know how to forgive others who have sinned against us. In Christ we find motivation to see His face on everyone else’s body so we know how to act and what we would never do or say. And finally only when Christ comes back to put an end to sin for good will there be true justice and peace. Justice delivered by God. Peace between God and man and one another.
A final note of encouragement and instruction. Brothers and sisters, it is the privilege and responsibility of every believer to be an ambassador for Jesus. Jesus has left us on this planet specifically to be his witnesses. As you blog, tweet, post, talk, dialogue or advocate for change for any social issue that God approves, don’t abandon your post as an ambassador for Christ. Protect it. Remember it. Be it. Ask yourself it what you are posting will help you be a witness for Jesus or harm it. Do you really want to be known as anything other than a Christ first person? For only Christ unites for eternity. Our Lord Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” If in our efforts to save babies from the murder of abortion, or to have fair and kind treatment for all people, or to stomp out childhood hunger or American poverty we forget to give Christ, and our work produces a bunch of well off, healthy and kind unbelievers, what have we gained for heaven? Sin divides. Christ unites. And with Him we get to look forward to a perfect house of prayer for all the nations. Until then let’s make sure this house and all of our own houses look as much like God’s as we can.
A side note. It’s hard to address the multilayered issues before us in a 20 plus minute sermon. I may not have spoken as clearly as I desire. If you have questions or concerns please speak with me. My heartfelt desire is that we unite in Christ. Amen.