“From Foreigners to Family… God’s Own”

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“From Foreigners to Family… God’s Own”
August 23, 2017

Sermon Text: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

“Foreigners.” Just mentioning the word and the subject of starts the mind heading down a number of neuropathways of memories and thoughts… not to mention feelings and opinions. But before we go any further, we need to clarify which foreigners, what foreigners, we are talking about here and in what sense are they considered to be “foreigners.” Foreigners in God’s sight or in the world’s sight? I know this will come as a surprise, but let’s go with God’s sight, shall we? And ponder what He shares with us in our Old Testament text.

For us as Christians, what the Lord says… what He commands, all that He commands… drives our daily lives… who we are, what we say, what we do, how we think… and this, not with the mind and mentality of the world, but with the mind of Christ… that which is ours by the Holy Spirit who works so wonderfully and graciously through the Word of God and the blessed Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In Scripture, we have come to know again and again… because God reminds, reiterates and emphasizes it again and again… His love for all people… His love for the crown of His creation, namely mankind, ALL of mankind, every man, woman and child beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with whomever will be the very last person born here on earth.

And, too, we know of God’s great love for the people of Israel, whom He addresses here in our text. But what can be so easily misunderstood is that God choosing this nation to be His own did not mean, does not mean, that He turned His back on all other peoples and nations.

That could not be farther from the truth because God had all people in mind when He chose Israel in the fact that from Israel would come the Savior of the world… the WORLD!

In our text, the Prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel, sharing with them the Word of the Lord, saying “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.’” (Isaiah 56:1)

And lest they think such salvation and deliverance was exclusively theirs, look what the Lord goes on to say to the Israelites. “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, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)

Behold! God’s great love for all peoples. Those already in what He refers to as His “house” … His Holy House, namely the Church… and those who come into His House from the outside… the outsiders, the foreigners, the strangers here mentioned.

Outsiders who, by grace, become “insiders.” Those who, by the mighty working of the Spirit, come into God’s House and “join themselves to the Lord.” We are talking about those who once were joined to sin and Satan, but no longer… thankfully, no longer.

Like almost every other portion of Scripture, you may be aware that the one before us has been so misused and misinterpreted. Some would say that the passage “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” means God’s house is a house yes, for Christian prayers, but also for Muslim prayers, Mormon prayers, Buddhist prayers, and the like.

Such misguided people totally miss what it says here and throughout Scripture… that all who come into the House of the one true God leave behind all false gods, false beliefs, false ways and false worship and “join themselves to the Lord” as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and is confessed and worshiped in the one true Church where Christ is Head of all, Lord of all. Indeed, we are talking about those who are joined to Jesus Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism.

My friends, the reality of all of this is… just like the fact that we were once all foreigners in regard to this land, this nation we call home… so we were once foreigners to another home, a greater home, a permanent and everlasting home… our church home… God’s Holy House. We were once very much foreigners before our Baptism… before we came to faith.

We were once among those standing on the outside… true strangers and among those estranged from God. We were once among those sitting in the darkness of sin… the darkness of this world. We were once among those who belonged to the prince of darkness… among those who will spend eternity in darkness.

But St. Peter wonderfully reminds us who we are now by God’s grace. And if it sounds like he is referring to Israel you are right. However, not the old Israel, but the new Israel… all of us… all believers in Jesus Christ… the One through whom the salvation and deliverance God mentioned in the Old Testament would come… did come. The Apostle declares to us,

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

How amazing this is… so much so that we cannot stop pondering the same, giving thanks and praise for the same… that in Jesus Christ we have gone from foreigners to family… God’s own… now and forevermore. Amen!

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“From Foreigners to Family – God’s Own” 8/23/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL