13th October 2022 Jubilee 13 A House of Prayer for All People
Reading: Isaiah 56: 1 – 8
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. Blessed is the one who does this – the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind 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 without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant – 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.” The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
Growing up a Catholic, I was attracted to the post Vatican II image of the Church as a pilgrim people. My own journey of faith has been something of a pilgrimage – coming to a lively faith within Catholicism, spending some of my formative years in a charismatic evangelical Anglican congregation, and then, after coming out as gay man, spending many years as a member, and then minister, of an lgbt based denomination, before finally arriving in the URC about 10 years ago. At each stage of my journey I’ve felt God call me forward despite some of the movement being very difficult and causing pain to some of those dear to me.
What attracted me to the URC wasn’t so much the openness to lgbt people as the sense of being provisional – this is what we believe, but we know that, in God’s good time, new truth from the Word may shine forth. This idea of being ready to change, ready to embrace all that God sends, is echoed in our passage from Isaiah – good news for those who felt themselves excluded from the Jewish people. Eunuchs and foreigners are promised a memorial better than descendents – a place in God’s own house – a house of prayer for all people.
In our efforts to include, carefully discern, and follow where God calls us, I believe we are trying to embody much of what the writer of today’s passage had in mind – this call to be both faithful and inclusive. Of course the theory is more attractive than the reality – careful discernment can be incredibly frustrating, ensuring good order can be infuriating, hearing views different to our own can be very irritating. When I get frustrated I remember the words attributed to the proto-reformer Erasmus whose evangelical friends kept urging him to leave the Catholic Church – “I put up with much in the Church as it puts up with much in me.”
Holy God, You call us to be faithful and provisional; to hold fast to what we know to be true, yet willing to follow where You call. Help us to be true pilgrims, unafraid to follow, faithful and fruitful, incisive and inclusive, that we may be a house of prayer for all people. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the Minister for Digital Worship and a member of the Peedie Kirk URC in Kirkwall, Orkney.