Proper 15 August 17, 2008.

Position:Preaching Helps

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8

Psalm 67

Romans 11:1 l:l-2a, 29 -32

Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

First Reading

Each of these readings emphasizes the great religious debate about in-crowd and out-crowd. Isaiah's prophecy demonstrates to us very clearly that God's intention has always been to gather all the peoples of the world, not just Israel. For those who would draw sharp distinctions between "the God of the Old Testament" and "the God of the New Testament" or between two convenants, this prophecy reminds us that God's intention has always been inclusion.

So what is it that determines who is in, who gets gathered on the holy mountain and in the house of prayer? Verse 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, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant--." In great Hebrew popetry parallelism, we hear the requirements: (1) join yourself to the LORD and love the name of the LORD, and (2) minister to the LORD and be the LORD' servant. Finally, (3) keep the Sabbath and the covenant.

The phrase "minister to him" caught my attention. It struck me as rather inward-focused (in terms of the community). Shouldn't we instead be ministering to the world? The verb used ([??][??][??]) is used of ministering in several different ways. One is of ministerial service in the sense of house-hold or royal service., It specifically speaks of high service: the chief household stewartm,.rd, the royal "prime minister." Another usage of the word speaks of levitical or priestly ministry in temple worship. There are two lessons here, I believe. First, we humans are seen as quite important in God's realm--parallel to a prime minister or a chief officer of the court. Also, God takes worship seriously and sees it as an important part of our lives as God's people. Those who would join themselves to the LORD are those also who worship, who minister, who offer prayers and offerings before God.

The passage from Romans also speaks of the inclusivity of God's kingdom, from a slightly different direction. Instead of Isaiah's insistence that the kingdom be opened to include all the nations other than Israel, paulPaul reminds us that the promises to Israel ares are still intact: "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:29). When God calls a people it is forever. When God makes a promise it is forever.

The Gospel reading deserves a much more in-depth treatment...

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