On Isaiah 56:1-8

Inger B. Hanson

Year A / Pentecost 11

Shepherd of the Mountains, Jackson, WY

August 20, 2017 (the day before Great American Solar Eclipse)

 

On Isaiah 56:1-8  Gather Us In

 

While this might surprise some of you, I test as an “ambivert,”

– with some extrovert behaviors but also some introvert tendencies.

So a gathering evokes both excitement and anxiety.

And a gathering for a special event like tomorrow’s total solar eclipse?

That’s another order of magnitude.

Will the church swell with visitors,

or will we have the lowest attendance of the summer

as people “shelter in place?”

We wondered about having a special evening worship service

versus taxing already stretched community resources.

Jackson already feels the strain of being a gathering place,

with our proximity to two national parks.

On a personal level, I love hosting and reconnecting with

far flung friends, but I abhore traffic.

I love meeting new people,

but sometimes I wish I could pick and choose which ones.

And then there’s my participation in the event itself.

I’m a luke-warm umbraphile

(I didn’t even know the term until a News & Guide article a few weeks ago

naming the lovers of eclipses who often travel to see them).

Do I deserve to be here for this “once in a lifetime” event?

Do I care enough?

I’m intrigued, but to be honest, I’m glad the eclipse is coming to me,

rather than taking any extra effort on my part.

I have, however, bought a commemorative hat and protective eyewear.

So, for better or for worse, the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017

is gathering others besides who already find ourselves here.

And yet I hope it will be like other gatherings we have all known,

where the traffic isn’t as bad as we thought,

and worth the community and energy created,

where all that caused anxiety is proved false.

In Isaiah, the Lord God talks about an even bigger gathering.

The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says

“I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”

In the following verses, two groups traditionally named as outsiders

are explicitly named as being invited in:

the foreigner and the eunuch.

Now, the gathering parallel isn’t as simple

as your second cousin twice removed being invited to the party,

or the luke-warm umbraphile getting to be in Jackson

for the total solar eclipse.

Scholars note that the biblical legislation in Deuteronomy and Leviticus,

the laws that governed the Israelite community,

“might incline the foreigner and eunuch

to consider themselves excluded from God’s blessings.”[1]

This would be bringing in those we’d normally deny access to,

formally or informally.

So who are the foreigners or eunuchs today?

The concept of a foreigner doesn’t seem to have changed much

over time.  Someone whose culture, language,

and appearance might be different from our own.

At first, the only eunuchs who came to mind for me

where characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

But eunuchs aren’t just part of a bygone, fantastical era.

In the US, those afflicted with prostrate cancer

sometimes are effectively rendered eunuchs as part of their treatment.[2]

Some see the eunuch as representing alternative sexualities.

Sometimes there is legislation that excludes our foreigners and eunuchs of today.

Sometimes it’s less official, and more social.

The side effects of treatment for prostrate cancer

can be psychologically and physically distressing for men.

Let’s push further.

Our other scripture readings also raise this theme of inclusion,

naming different groups viewed as outsiders

by the communities and contexts they address.

So more metaphorically,

who are the foreigners and eunuchs in your life?

At the Tuesday men’s breakfast study, we talked about how

the implication that a eunuch will not have their own offspring

resonated for single people (or for those married but childless).

There are times those who are childless

are made to feel incomplete or less than those who are not.

There is official legislation, like tax advantages,

for being married, or having children.

More poignant is the social legislation.

In my life, I am very grateful for married friends

that find ways to continue to include me,

even when I’m a “fifth wheel,”

or do not have kids of my own to talk about or bring to a gathering.

Who are the foreigners and eunuchs in your life?

Who do the communities you belong to legislate –

officially or unofficially – as “out”?

Maybe you picture an individual’s face.

Perhaps you think of a group of people.

What does it mean to imagine God as inviting those people in?

And further, when have you felt like foreigner or a eunuch?

What does it mean to imagine God gathering you in,

gathering you up with those

who have at some point made you feel excluded?

It’s a bit tempting to use the description of the foreigner and eunuch’s relationship to God

as a qualifier or conditional statement,

to use it to reduce the traffic at this gathering,

or let in only those we approve of,

that understand serving God the way we do.

We’re tempted to say,

“Okay God, I guess you’re also letting in our foreigners and eunuchs –

but only the ones joined to you,

keeping Sabbaths and choosing the right things.”

I think this is a slippery slope,

putting us in danger of judging one another,

tempting us to evaluate just how well people are doing.

God doesn’t ask us to take on that role.

If anything, our role is to remind those that identify as foreigner

or a eunuch

of their relationship to God.

“Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”

Our role is to remind them that whatever makes them strange, or dry,

does not separate them from the love of God.[3]

Our role is to remind ourselves that whatever makes us strange, or dry,

does not separate us from the love of God.

Before we ever love God, God loves us[4],

forgives and renews us:

working to transform our lives so that we can keep God’s Sabbaths,

choose the things that please the Lord, and hold fast to God’s covenant.

Our role in the gathering is that reminder.

Our other charge is to “maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.”

As God gathers, we wait,

but our waiting isn’t idle.

Maintain justice.  Do what is right.

Wait for the Lord, because soon God’s salvation will come,

and God’s deliverance be revealed.

That “soon” in the first verse

reminded me of Andrae Crouch’s great hymn “Soon and Very Soon.”

The bridge lyrics echo Isaiah’s and also Revelation’s vision of a great gathering,

and talk about God giving us the strength

to maintain justice and do what is right,

to overcome any obstacles to being gathered.

Should there be any rivers we must cross,

Should there be any mountains we must climb,

God will supply all the strength that we need,

Give us grace ’til we reach the other side.

We have come from every nation,

God knows each of us by name.

Jesus took His blood and He washed our sins,

And He washed them all away.

Yes, there are some of us,

Who have laid down our lives,

But we all shall live again,

On the other side.

 

Maintain justice.  Do what is right.

Wait for the Lord, because soon God’s salvation will come,

and God’s deliverance be revealed.

May it be soon and very soon.

Amen.

 

 

[1] Harper Collins Study Bible, notes on Isaiah 56:3.

[2] http://bigthink.com/experts-corner/the-surprising-truth-about-modern-eunuchs

[3] As Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39

[4] As we hear in 1 John 4:19


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