Scripture: Isaiah 56:1-8

Sermon: “Finding Hope Together” by Pastor Todd Buurstra

The story is told of the day that Mahatma Gandhi visited a Christian church in college.    He had been reading the gospels and considered giving his life to Jesus because it was clear to him how Jesus could end the destructive, divisive caste system in India.  So one Sunday he stepped into his neighboring church, expecting to talk to the minister afterwards about conversion.  But he never talked to the minister, and never converted.  Why?  Because the English usher greeted him at the door with words like, You are not welcome here.  Worship with your own people. Gandhi left saddened because he reasoned, If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu. He continued, as I often say, to read the Sermon on the Mount daily for 50 years, but that one usher changed the course of missionary history.

When have you felt like an outsider in need of the hope found in community?

God helps outsiders find hope in community.  Hopeful community consists of walls and bridges like any physical community.  In this vein you can divide the whole Bible in half:

Old Testament (Walls)
God forming community, a people, Israel;
God’s loving expectations: Law, the big ten c’s;
New Testament (Bridges)
Jesus bringing outsiders into the community;
Love God and neighbor; great C
Jew and Gentile

All to say that healthy community needs walls for identity and bridges to welcome outsiders.

The church today, however, is known for exclusion, not inclusion, right?  Katie, bar the door! This has been true for the last 30 years, but this type of church is dying.  It’s as if we hang out a sign that says DO NOT ENTER to Cohabitors, Aborters, Gays, Liberals, People with tattoos or piercings, etc, instead of an ENTER AND BE CHANGED sign to all.  Today’s church doesn’t need to relearn the wall story, but the bridge story.  Isaiah 56 is a turning point here.

Written when the children of Israel first came back from exile, when there was a lot of pressure to wall in to be a pure community, God says in v. 3…  (WALLS: Do not miss that the outsiders had already “been joined to the Lord.”  In other words, this is not just a welcome everyone text, whether they sacrifice kittens to Satan or not, it’s a welcome those seeking Jesus text.  I won’t belabor this point, but I don’t want you to miss it because there has to be a clear identity to which you welcome folks, and that identity is Jesus.  Back to BRIDGES:)  Why the foreigner? Because some of the locals in Persia were so impressed with the Jewish community in exile, it’s Sabbath and worship of one Creator, etc., that they followed the Jews back home.  More delicately, why the castrated eunuch? Because they were folk who really needed the Sabbath and God’s healthy expectations in the law.  You see, the rulers of Babylon and Persia castrated their high-ranking officials so that the VIPs wouldn’t impregnate any of the ruler’s harem and thereby push the ruler out of power for their child.  In other words, eunuchs chose career over family.  Glad that doesn’t happen anymore!  But it did then—and it was even against God’s law (Deuteronomy 23:1), but God wanted them reinstated into a hopeful community.

Jesus continued this radical inclusion.  Within his 12 disciples he had Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot.  The tax collector was like a corrupt IRS agent, but what was the Zealot?  They were part of a group called the Sukarii who aimed to violently overthrow Rome.  The Sukarii hid thin knives in their cloaks to assassinate Roman officials, like Matthew.  And Jesus had Matthew and Simon room together!  Like rooming Mullah Omar with Don Rumsfeld.

And the Holy Spirit continued to motivate this hand-holding in the early church!  Every day of the first century the exclusivist Jewish rabbi arrogantly prayed,

Lord, thank you that I am not a Gentile, slave or woman!

But in Acts 16, those three groups are exactly the people the Spirit draws into the early church community.  Lydia, the woman; a fortune-telling slave girl, and the gentile, Roman jailer.

Jared Ayers, our 2011 mission speaker and eventual church plant partner, and much of the inspiration for this Advent sermon series on hope, talks about Izzy, a goth chick from a painfully broken home.  Izzy invited Jared and Monica to her boyfriend’s shock rock concert.  Jared says that he was inappropriately dressed because the concert kids wore a lot of fishnet, leather, metal and fake blood, and he left his fake blood at home.  Izzy’s boyfriend would introduce a song, this song is about my mom, aaaaaaaaahhhh!; this song is about lost love, aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!;  this song is about the Declaration of Independence, aaaaahhhhh! But at the very end, Izzy’s boyfriend bent down, held hands with some fans and said, You are my family.  I don’t have any other family, but you. God helps outsiders find hope in community.

Contrary to popular opinion, the gospel is the best resource for open, hopeful community.  Many think that our faith makes us think we can speak for God, and thereby judge others.  However, in reality the gospel helps us think humbly of ourselves—we’re not God—and think graciously of outsiders—those wearing fishnet.  For in the end, the Christian story tells us that heaven will be made up of every nation, tribe, language and people.  Apparently, we do not control the invite list to God’s family reunion.  So if that’s where we’re headed, with whom do we need to hold hands now?  As we’ll end this service by holding hands during the benediction, which hand might we hold this week, of which outsider, that they might be welcomed in?