A House of Prayer for Who?

This was the Old Testament reading in our congregation this past weekend:

Thus says the Lord:
    Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my deliverance be revealed...
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—
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.
Thus says the Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
    besides those already gathered.

God calls on His people to maintain justice, to do what is right. But then He presents an incredible vision. He says that Gentiles will be able to come to His mountain. They will be able to serve in His house, meaning His Temple. And He promises that His house will be a house of prayer for all peoples.

That’s a lovely picture, isn’t it? But we forget how shocking and revolutionary it was. These words were first spoken to a people who could claim a common ancestry, a unified family tree, people who believed that they alone could be chosen and holy due to their genetic code. God’s vision of His Temple being a refuge for people of every nation is beautiful.

Sadly, it’s a vision that’s being neglected.

If we remember that God’s New Testament Temple (which was established after His salvation came, as per verse one of the above reading) is the Church, then the question we have to ask is this: are our little corners of the New Temple really a sanctuary for all nations? If you look around the sanctuary on Sunday morning (or really, any time your brothers and sisters come together), how different are the people gathered there?

The sad truth is, that while the Church is made up of people from every tribe, nation, and race and spans the globe, we don’t reflect that diversity within our local branches. We like to congregate with those who are similar to us, even if the community around our little brick building has changed to be unlike “us” in significant ways.

And that sort of homogenous nature of the local church can have long-term ramifications. We forget that our brothers and sisters from different social, economic, or ethnic backgrounds are our brothers and sisters. We regard them as Other, different, strange.

We forget that they are people for whom Jesus died.

I’m not suggesting that I have the answers. I don’t. Any. I come from a denomination that, historically, has been very good at reaching out to those around us… so long as those around us tend to be of Germanic descent. When I graduated from the Seminary, it was in a class of over a hundred, and I can count the number of non-white students on one hand. Many of our congregations are facing a demographic shift where their membership no longer matches their community.

What I do know is this: rather than regard those around us with a wary eye, let’s reach out beyond the walls we’ve built in God’s House and take the hands of those who are different. Let us strive to fulfill His vision. May we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters and welcome all into His house of prayer.

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